Payment terms: SMEs better than large companies

The slow decline in payment terms between companies continues, according to a study published by Altares. Having climbed to 14.4 days in the summer of 2020, payment delays fell back to an average of 12.5 days by the end of 2021. SMEs are among the best performers. An overview of the subject.

Significant differences by company size and sector

After two difficult years marked by the health crisis, SMEs have had less difficulty than large groups in getting back on their feet. A study unveiled by Altares on March 30 reveals that payment delays (in excess of the legal 60 days) have fallen in companies with fewer than 200 employees, from 12.9 days in 2020 to 12.6 days one year later.

In companies with between 200 and 999 employees, payment delays were maintained at an average of 14.9 days. Companies with over 1,000 employees record the longest delays, rising from 17.1 days in 2020 to 17.4 days in 2021.

In its report "Payment delays by French companies in 2021", Altares points out that "payment delays are becoming increasingly contrasted according to company size".

Indeed, the gap between companies with fewer than 50 employees and those with more than 1,000 reached 5 days late in 2021, compared with 4.4 days late the previous year.

Disparities also persist by sector. In the accommodation and catering sector, payment times remained above 20 days, and even passed the 25-day mark during the pandemic. Even if there are signs of improvement by the end of 2021, Thierry Million, Director of Research at Altares, believes that the sector "will continue to default". In the logistics transport sector, where legal payment terms are set at 30 days, payment delays have risen by an average of 16 days. Lastly, in the retail sector, payment delays fell below 14 days, but rose to 18 days in the clothing sector.

An overall improvement in payment times

Overall, payment times improved in 2021 to 12.5 days (versus 14 days in summer 2020). France is above the European average of 13.6 days. The best performers on this scale are the Netherlands and Germany, with delays of 4.5 and 6.4 days respectively. Belgium follows in third place, with 10.6 days' delay, just ahead of France.

Despite this improvement, the current environment is cause for concern. Faced with supply difficulties and rising raw material and energy prices, companies are taking a cautious approach. At a press conference on March 15, Pierre Pelouzet, the French business ombudsman, announced the creation of a crisis unit to identify supply-related cases.