A survey released today refocused attention on some of the most elementary challenges which are facing the UK's exports sector.
How will the sector face a potential European Union exit? How can the government bypass the banks and get funding to exporters quickly and efficiently?
But few can be more basic than the quandary of how to encourage small businesses to take out an insurance policy on getting paid.
The International Trade Survey took responses from almost 3,000 UK companies involved in the export business. Just 37% of them have credit insurance – quite simply defined as insurance taken out against bad debts. That's down 13% on a similar sample quizzed last year.
Most people insure their car, their house, their life. But their debtors – which can often account for 60% of a business's balance sheet – seem to fall oddly between the cracks. People, it would seem, are slightly more benevolent when it comes to their livelihoods.
And it works on a sliding scale: every respondent with a turnover of more than £100mn has insurance.
Will Clark, the head of UK trade credit at AIG – an insurance giant ranked by Forbes as the 62<sup>nd largest public company in the world – confirmed to IBTimes UK at the survey's launched that insurers are still looking for ways to engage with small businesses.
The figures back him up – of businesses with a turnover of under £1mn, fewer than 30% use credit insurance. It's not much better for those between the sizes of £1mn and £5mn.
Consider another report which was released last week: the annual European Payments Index. The index found that €360bn in late debt or unpaid debt had been written off by European companies last year. 46% of those companies involved in the research felt the problem was getting worse, rather than better.
Yet, in the UK fewer companies are using insurance: despite the fact that the risk of not getting paid is getting greater.
When asked about the situation in Ukraine and Russia, Clark said that AIG (or any other insurer for that matter) would "absolutely not" be providing new policies at the current time – meaning that those who are tied to export contracts in the area, with an escalating risk of not getting paid, have no chance of taking out insurance.
The horse has already bolted.
The same may apply for Egypt, Libya, Venezuela and any other market considered volatile. Six months ago, few could have predicted that Russia – one of the erstwhile heralded BRIC economies – would fall into that same category.
Mark Runiewicz, who authored the survey for Trade and Export Finance Ltd, told IBTimes UK that most of the small companies he speaks with will only seek insurance if they're forced to by the overseas buyer – a trend which seems frighteningly short-sighted.
The rhetoric from Downing Street, that we're on the way to recovery, that the worst financial crisis in our history is over, can be misleading. A small business is only one missed payment away from collapse, yet few are taking the measures required to protect themselves against even the slightest whiff of a crisis.