Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Quality Opportunity?

In our post of June 23 we wrote about the differences among the principal types of financial statements that privately-owned companies produce.

The companies that sell receivables on The Receivables Exchange are privately-owned firms that usually do not have audited financial statements. Many, in fact, don’t provide even “reviewed” or “compiled” statements; the financial statements available to a TRE Buyer are most often those of the management only, without independent review.

In our June post we quoted a report of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants that a “compiled” financial statement carries with it “no assurance” of reliability from the accounting firm that has prepared the statement. Clearly a report that is prepared and presented by management alone can be considered no more credible than one complied by an independent CPA.

It’s not that management-prepared statements are necessarily less accurate than those prepared by independent accountants but I think it’s fair to say that the odds of material error or misstatement are far greater in a management-prepared financial statement than in one audited by an independent accountant.

If TRE is to become a major force in the receivables-finance industry, as we certainly hope it will, it will have to attract thousands of Sellers and it will have to attract sufficient Buyer capital to meet the needs of those Sellers. It will ultimately need to provide Buyers with more and better tools to make decisions regarding the quality of Sellers and the risks involved in buying the receivables of those Sellers.

Just as we suggested that eventually TRE would do well to go back to the model of having an independent invoice-verification agent, it also would do well to actively promote the establishment of an independent Seller-quality rating system.

It is unrealistic to expect that each Buyer will be able to maintain appropriate due-diligence information on thousands of TRE Sellers. It is also unrealistic to expect that TRE growth targets will be met unless Buyers have some source of risk analysis independent of TRE itself.

Many of the Buyers that TRE will certainly want to attract will be capital sources with some (at least internal) quality-rating requirements on funding. Recent experience in the markets for "new" financial products also suggests that those with oversight responsibility for the investments of potential Buyers will find it prudent to have third-party quality opinions.

At some point, attracting capital is inevitably going to require greater perceived objectivity and independence in analysis of Seller risk.

My guess is that TRE understands this. My hope is that they are working on it.

There are several possible models for establishing rating mechanisms. There are qualified entities already in the business of analyzing the financial condition of private companies. If a convincing case can be made for the ultimate success of TRE, and I think one can, there should be someone interested in providing a rating system of some sort for its Sellers.

There are just as many potential difficulties and inconveniences for TRE in dealing with an independent quality-rating system as there are with an independent invoice-verification system. Dealing with those inconveniences and solving those problems is part of the price of success.

It’s one of those examples of the paradox of control: the more control, in this case over the analysis of risk, that TRE is ultimately willing to give up, the more likely it is to actually accomplish its objective.

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