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B2B credit risk in the UAE rises as businesses face cash flow constraints

DUBAI, UAE 25 October 2023 – The latest Atradius Payment Practices Barometer Survey for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) shows that 64% of companies reported longer wait times for B2B customer payments over the last 12 months amid a challenging market environment.The survey pointed to indicators of rising credit risk, particularly in the transport and chemicals sectors, with a notable deterioration in customer payment terms, days-sales-outstanding (DSO) – a measure tracking the average time a business must wait to receive payment for goods and services purchased on credit – and levels of unpaid debt. These findings underscore the need for companies to adopt effective credit risk management strategies, such as credit insurance, to remain resilient.

“Despite optimism among companies of a significant turnaround in the next 12 months, they still need to contend with the current liquidity and margin pressures. Managing customer credit risk becomes critically important for them to remain competitive,” says Rupa Jagannathan, Managing Director for the Middle East. “We believe credit insurance is an essential risk management tool in this environment, allowing companies to continue to offer reasonable levels of credit to their customers and explore new growth opportunities without being held back by market uncertainty.”

Nearly half (49%) of all B2B sales in the UAE were transacted on credit – highlighting the important role trade credit plays for companies.

Companies adopt various credit risk management strategies

The report revealed the various strategies companies deploy to manage their liquidity and cashflow risks, including using credit insurance and factoring, and delaying payments to their own suppliers. Companies also reported granting leniency by extending their payment terms of sales on credit to, on average, 69 days from invoicing – 10 days longer than last year. The DSO measure also deteriorated to exceed more than 100 days.

Delaying payments to their suppliers was the most common measure survey respondents took to minimise cash flow problems stemming from defaults by their B2B customers. Others reported spending more time, costs, and resources on chasing overdue invoices. Companies in the agriculture-food sector opted mostly for delaying supplier payments while many companies in the transport sector availed of short-term finance.

The financial challenges faced by companies in the UAE are also evident in the uptick in bad debt, accounting for, on average, 11% of all B2B invoiced sales, up from 8% last year. These figures present a severe threat to companies’ profitability. Fewer invoices were paid on time this year (33%) than last year (38%), while late payments increased to affect more than half (56%) of all B2B invoiced sales, slightly up from 53% last year.

While most companies polled (78%) said they prefer in-house retention and managing credit risk by setting aside funds to cover potential losses, many businesses in the chemicals sector said they are likely to outsource management of customer credit risk to specialised insurers during the coming months because they recognise the limitations of self-insurance in the face of sector-specific challenges.

Widespread optimism for a turnaround despite uncertainty

Despite current challenges, 60% of respondents expect their customers’ payment practices will improve in the next 12 months, while 7 out of 10 businesses said they anticipate an increase in profit margins in the same period. That said, respondents from the agriculture-food sector were less optimistic than other sectors in the UAE due to concerns over price volatility, supply-chain issues, and regulatory demands.

Atradius conducted the annual survey from the end of Q2 and the beginning of Q3 2023. Results should be viewed with this in mind, as business conditions may have changed since then. Responses were collected from businesses in the agriculture-food, chemicals, and pharmaceutical sectors.