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It can be personally challenging to acknowledge that a company is facing financial difficulties. We spoke to Mark Bowen at MB Insolvency to understand insolvency in business and how to prevent financial problems from becoming unmanageable.

Directors and business owners faced numerous challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic. A gloomy economic outlook following the Autumn Statement has many of us preparing for even more obstacles.

Challenging trading circumstances can cause financial distress in which a person or business cannot pay their debts. For those companies facing difficulties, there are two essential steps to take to deal with those difficulties: act early and seek advice

What is insolvency in business?

Insolvency in business is when you cannot pay the company’s debts.

Being a company director or business owner comes with various duties and responsibilities. One of the most critical roles is to promote the financial success of the company. When facing financial difficulties, it is vital to seek advice early.

Taking early advice will help you to understand your options to prevent financial problems from becoming unmanageable. Importantly, not sticking your head in the sand puts you in a better position to resolve the company’s financial situation.

What are the warning signs of insolvency?

When caught up in the day-to-day running of a company, it can be easy to miss the warning signs of insolvency.

A typical sign of financial distress is when a company is lengthening its creditor days, i.e. the number of days it takes to pay suppliers from the date the payment is due. Longer creditor days are often a sign of cashflow issues, indicating the company is increasingly less able to pay its debts as they fall due.  

Other signs that a business doesn’t have sufficient cash or working capital to pay debts as they fall due include: 

Tax debts

Failure to pay tax liabilities such as National Insurance, PAYE, or VAT can often be a key element in losing control of company finances. HMRC can sometimes become a significant creditor in failing businesses with numerous debts to recoup. 

Pension deductions

Failure to pay pension deductions from employee wages to a pension provider due to a lack of funds can signify possible insolvency.

Cancelling staff bonuses

Failure to pay bonuses may indicate that finances are on the decline. 

Lack of investment

Failure to invest in new technology, people or marketing, or essential repairs not being undertaken to buildings or machinery due to a lack of funds can signify possible insolvency.

Directors’ remuneration

The director’s inability to draw an income from the business can signify financial distress. 

Stock levels

An increase in stock levels may be an early indication that incoming orders are reducing, clearly signalling that a company’s financial position is deteriorating.

An increase in stress

A distressed company usually results in increased stress for its directors and management.

Are insolvency and bankruptcy the same thing?

Essentially, insolvency and bankruptcy share similarities but are not the same thing.

Insolvency in business is when you cannot pay the company’s debts. Specifically, when a company’s liabilities are more significant than its assets, it cannot pay its debts. This type of insolvency is called balance sheet insolvency.

Bankruptcy, on the other hand, is a term usually applied to an individual to describe a failure in financial words. Bankruptcy is a form of personal insolvency. Therefore, a court usually declares bankruptcy when an individual’s assets are worth less than the liabilities. In this scenario, the company’s creditors cannot get anything back from the business.

Someone bankrupt is insolvent. However, being insolvent does not necessarily mean bankruptcy.

How do I apply to become bankrupt?

You can apply online via HMRC to make yourself bankrupt if you cannot pay your debts.

Where should I go for business insolvency advice?

Talking about money can be difficult, but dealing with money worries can be even more challenging.

If your company has financial problems, even temporary ones, the key to recovery is to act early.

It would help if you considered getting professional advice from a:

Members of the insolvency and restructuring profession, including insolvency practitioners, can act as impartial sounding boards. Crucially, they can help you understand your options and relieve you of the burden of dealing with the situation alone. 

At MB Insolvency, we help people and businesses facing financial difficulty. We offer a free initial consultation to help those seeking help with their business finances or resolving a financial situation.

About the Author:

Mark Bowen is the Managing Director at MB Insolvency, preserving businesses, reputations and livelihoods in even the most challenging situations. Connect with Mark on LinkedIn, visit MB-i.co.uk or call 07920 773643.

Grenfell James Technology Adoption Index

How does your business perform against others adopting financial tech? Find out with our interactive diagnostic:


How does your business receive invoices?


Invoices are mainly received in paper form


Invoices are mainly received by email


Invoices are emailed then automatically forwarded to a designated mailbox


How are purchase invoices processed?


Invoices are entered manually


Invoices are attached to manually raised invoices


Automated software (e.g. ReceiptBank, 1Tap, HubDoc etc) collates invoices


How are accounts processed?


Using Excel/paper-based


Using Computer-based, offline software


Using cloud-based accountancy software


How often is business data revised?


Data is updated annually


Data is updated quarterly


Data is updated monthly or more often


How is banking updated for your business?


Banking is updated manually


Banking is updated by imports


Banking is updated via a live feed


How are bank payments made?


Bank payments are manual


Bank payments are made using bulk imports


Bank payments are made directly via accounting software


How are bank receipts reconciled?


Receipts are chased and reconciled manually


Receipts are chased and reconciled automatically


A third-party platform is used to chase debts and collect fees


How often are management reports produced?


No reports are provided


Reports are provided but often too late to be valuable


Reports are automated with real-time information

Score 8-12:

Curious Exploration

Your financial technology phase is Curious Exploration

% of respondent businesses are in this phase too.

Switching accountancy systems may seem like an upheaval, but can be much more straightforward than most businesses imagine. From talking to our clients, they have found moving from paper invoicing and desktop-based accounting software to the cloud and apps quickly makes the transition process a worthwhile investment of time. Digital accounting solutions bring in streamlined processes, up-to-date business data and greater confidence in the accuracy of information when making financial decisions.

Grenfell James works with your team to fully assess the needs of your business and minimise the impact of any transitions for solutions we recommend.

Find out more about App Advisory


Score 13-19:

Measured Discovery

Your financial technology phase is Measured Discovery

% of respondent businesses are in this phase too.

Once cloud accountancy software is in place, there’s still plenty of scope to improve your accountancy processes and make sure your business is maximising the benefits of adopting a digital accounting solution. Grenfell James assesses each business to understand how any implemented solutions are being used, identify areas for improvement and the needs of the business overall to support your business goals and achieve success.

Our team of experts can discuss a range of time-saving automation and get different apps and cloud-based solutions talking to create and manage a digital accountancy eco-system to help your business grow.

Find out more about App Advisory


Score 20-24:

Bold Innovation

Your financial technology phase is Bold Innovation

% of respondent businesses are in this phase too.

You know the benefits of accounting technology and the impact it can have on your business goals. If you want to take it a step further, our team can conduct a systematic review of your processes, apps and business goals to ensure your digital accountancy ecosystem is keeping pace with the changing needs of a growing business.