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There are, very likely, a huge number of cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) which have not yet been identified. Businesses have started to close and thousands are in isolation. On top of that, the cost to the global economy of the coronavirus pandemic is estimated in the trillions. Marco Piacquadio, director at BTG Global Advisory, considers what this means for insolvency practitioners (IPs).
In short, yes. We have since week commencing Monday 16 March seen a sharp rise in enquiries from directors seeking advice on restructuring options available. What makes this current situation so unique is that enquiries are coming through in respect of otherwise extremely healthy and viable businesses. We are also engaged in discussions with financial institutions as lenders seek to understand the extent to which they may be required to assist with debt solutions and funding options.
Clearly it makes the old saying of ‘kicking the tyres’ much more difficult. Under the circumstances we are being advised by the government to apply social distancing, which would include all non-essential travel and face-to-face meetings. Therefore, site visits are being replaced generally by conference and video call. Fortunately we live in a world where technology is developed enough to allow for almost a ‘business as usual’ approach even whilst working remotely, at least for the time being.
I think the biggest challenge will be that we are facing a totally novel situation never experienced before. Advising boards of directors in the event of insolvency is relatively vanilla and generally straightforward. However, we are now being asked to provide advice to solvent and historically thriving businesses who overnight have potentially had to mitigate for the loss of future income of anywhere between 1-100%. The added complexity is that currently it is impossible to know how long the economic impact of coronavirus will last. Therefore, even rescue tools such as administration become trickier than usual, given that potential purchasers of the business (whether connected or non-connected) will have little to no idea how much working capital will be required post-acquisition to survive, until footfall and trade returns to something like normal. Regular communication with key stakeholders and creditors will remain vital to address concerns. In particular those key creditors who, while having their own financial commitments, may be encouraged under the circumstances to adopt a slightly less aggressive approach.
Managing workload is always going to be a challenge in the event of a spike in enquiry levels. There will be challenges but standards must remain at the highest level.
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