What are the 4 Cs of Credit?(Copyright, 2002-2007, Credit Guru.com.)
Credit investigation could get intricate and dense. The information that is being gathered could be getting strewn and scattered all over the place. The 4 Cs of Credit helps in making the evaluation of credit risk systematic. They provide a framework within which the information could be gathered, segregated and analyzed. It binds the information collected into 4 broad categories namely Character; Capacity; Capital and Conditions. These Cs have been extended to 5 by adding 'Collateral', or extended to 6 by adding 'Competition' to it (Reference: Credit Management and Debt Recovery by Bobby Rozario, Puru Grover). How about 'Computer' being one of the Cs in this day and age?...or mere 'Common Sense'!
No matter how many Cs we come up with, the fundamental question that remains to be answered by the framework of our analysis is:'Will I get paid on time?'
So let's discuss the structure of our credit analysis within the context of the 4 Cs of Credit.
JP Morgan, a successful businessman once said that 'I will do business with anyone as long as he/she is honest!'
In analyzing Consumer Credit one would consider the following:
- Has the person declared bankruptcy in the past
- Does the person have a good credit record
- Does he/she have a stable job What is the level of education/experience
- What is the person earning and what is the earning potential
- Stability at the place of residence, whether rented or owned.
- The size of the operations The number of years in business
- The legal form of the business By this one means 'Retail', 'Wholesale', 'Service' or 'Manufacturing'. Typically the incidence of business failures is high in the Retail and Service segments. Is the business a Parent, Subsidiary or a divisiono Does the business have a Holding company?" The structure of the businesso Is the business a Sole Proprietor, Partnership or Corporation?For Sole proprietor or Partnership type one would further seek personal information on individual(s) running the business.
- The number of employees. There are Industry specific Norms for 'Employees to Sales' ratio.
- The management record of the company
- The location of the company
- Any previous evidence of fraud
- Any previous Insolvency record?
- Any Labor disputes or issues?
- Are the products/service sold by the prospect complimenting products/service to the ones that you may sell?
- Is the business practice ethical?
- Is the business seasonal/ non-seasonal
- Is the business Local/ National or International. The economy of a business accordingly could depend upon local/ national or international economy.
- Is there a growing or a going market for this business or the business redefining itself and what would be the impact of the internet on this business. See what computer downloads (E.g. Napster in the recent past) has done to the music industry
- How willing is the prospect to share information?
- How diligently does the prospect fill your Credit Agreement/Application?
- What are the references saying?
- Are there too many lay-offs especially of key personnel?
- Are there any Law suits pending against the company?
- What does the website of the company say and look like?
- Is there any recent media coverage about the company? Is it positive or negative. Or are there any rumors floating?
- If the company's stock is publicly traded then see how its stock is performing? One can also check the indices for a particular type of Industry to see how in general the Industry is doing. The collapse of the NASDAQ last year was a warning of the debacle of the tech companies.
What does one analyze under this segment? Is it:
- Capacity of the business to pay?
- Capacity of the business in getting paid?
- Capacity of the business to receive/absorb?
- Capacity of the credit grantor to expose?
Sometime a business that you are analyzing might not have the required Capacity in kind but the same could be latent and hidden in some other form. For example a start-up business should have a good business blue-print of succeeding namely a good business plan. A contractor might have a good media advertising plan, say an Ad in the local Yellow Pages. All this adds to the capacity of a business to carry on trade and perhaps be successful.
Innovation, Education, Experience, Knowledge would be some other considerations. Management should be able to foresee trends in the marketplace and blend accordingly. It should have plans both for good and bad turns in the economy. Adoption of sound management techniques and computer-related technologies is important. Companies must remain Relevant with their processes; products and operate with Speed in today's Digital age. Larger businesses should also have people that know how not just to manage the company but also its main asset, its people.
Cash and Only Cash can pay bills. The capacity of a business to pay its bills would stem from good cash-flow. A business could become cash strapped if it does not collect its accounts receivable on time. You must have heard of DSO! What is DSO? Isn't it a measure of ones capacity to pay? Say if a business has a DSO of 55 days. This means that at an average this business gets paid by its customers in 55 days. The question then arises that when will this business then pay its suppliers? In all probability the answer is that its capacity to pay its suppliers will be after 55 days. In this event you may want to evaluate its borrowing capacity to see if you can cajole this company to pay you in time even if it means that this business borrows to pay you.
This would bring on the analysis of how the debt of the company is structured in terms of secured and unsecured debt with an operating lender, generally the bank. Short term borrowing could be calculated as a percentage of the inventory and A/R on hand. One should look at the line of credit and see if there is capacity for more borrowing. Also check for any negative occurrences as bad checks (cheques) or any default against operating loans or covenants.
The capacity of your product to influence payment is also important. If your product being sold is fiercely competitive then it may not have the capacity to influence timely payment. If your product does not directly contribute to the COGS (Cost of goods sold) of the buyer then again it might not have the capacity of influencing timely payment. Competition definitely influences Capacity.
The Capacity to expose and increase your credit risk also depends upon your own ability and resilience to getting hit with either slow payment or perhaps no payment! Credit departments that have a lot of confidence in their collection ability and ability to influence payment have a wider capacity to expose and absorb.
Your product-margin will also influence this capacity.
Capital would refer to the financial resources obtained from financial records that a company may have in order to deal with its debt. Many a time's credit analysts would make this portion of the credit analysis the most important one. Weight is given on Balance Sheet items and components like Working Capital , Net Worth and Cash Flow.
One must know how to read financial statements and that too from the perspective of a creditor. Short term liquidity is important if you are expecting to get paid in the short term. You should be able to see whether this company has the ability to absorb more debt and then where does your loan (selling on credit is a loan - isn't it?) fit in the overall debt-framework of this business. You should also evaluate to see if you can depend on the numbers whether they are audited, unaudited or company prepared. If required speak with the firm or person who has prepared the statements.Leveraged borrowing depends on the equity/ net worth that a company has and it is a good idea to see if the company is committed to improve its borrowing-power by contributing to its Equity/Capital/Net Worth . One way of doing this is by retaining all or portions of its earnings.But all said, done and then undone Cash and ONLY Cash pays bills. Thus, keep an eye of the company's cash-flow and cash-position.
But one must be cognizant of the fact that financial records are snapshots of the past and credit analysis is trying to figure out the future. Thus all 4 Cs of credit are important in the overall analysis of a company or an individual where you combine elements of the past to make a futuristic prediction.
This refers to the external conditions surrounding the business that you are analyzing.
For example the construction industry might get influenced with the changes in the government's wide range of policies on immigration, interest rates and taxation.
There might be likelihood that a company that you are evaluating deals in international trade and a shift in the currency rates might have a detrimental or beneficial effect on it.The events on Sept 11th have had added a new meaning to Force Majuere in context of International Trade terms and conditions. Air Travel has been impacted.Ford recently announced closing 5 plants in North America asides from thousands of layoffs one will have to be vigilant on the impact that it will bear on the suppliers to the Ford Motor Company.
Business with local economies would be prone to the social climate and their influence on the local society. Torontonians must have heard of the flamboyant discount retailer "Honest" Ed Mirvish who treats the local community to free turkeys every Christmas. On another note a lot of businesses became insolvent in the Ice Storm a few years ago in eastern parts of the US and Canada that were totally dependant on the local economy. A mild winter has a detrimental effect on businesses that depend on snow. Importers and exporters are affected by currency fluctuations.
Again, one might look at how the internet is redefining business. Recently I was at a very small camera shop and soon realized that the business was generating big revenues on the internet and especially eBay.
All of this can again influence the ability or intention of a customer to pay his/her bills.
Thus in evaluating the degree of risk of a customer, information revolving around the 4Cs of credit would be normally necessary.