The impact of GST on invoicing, and thus on revenue and profit of organizations operating in India - exploring one of the factors impacting the economy right now
Because of GST, organizations have to bill the clients in each state that is involved because of GST norms. If before GST this required one bill, it now means multiple bills depending on the number of states involved. It could go as high 36 bills (29 states + 7 union territories.) This means that if pre-GST X effort was required to make 100 rupees, it now requires n*X effort (1 to 36) to make 100 rupees. Meaning that the work required to make the same amount of money has increased by 100% to 3500%
This has impacted the profit of the companies and thus the economy.
Before I begin, I am not an expert on taxation - I am a business guy working in B2B sales for an Indian MNC. My 3.5 year career has been largely post-GST, but I have experienced the pre-GST era as well. I constantly have to deal with GST and its numerous requirements.
My objective is to highlight a major roadblock that I and many other business folks have encountered due to GST, and I feel that this aspect is playing a big role in the slowdown and at the same time has been left largely unexplored till now because of the grassroot nature of the problem. The people higher up don't encounter this directly and anyone who doesn't encounter this wouldn't understand the gravity of the problem aka reporters, etc. Again to reiterate, I am not trying to debate the improvements over VAT and I am merely here to highlight a side of GST which is hindering my revenue and my profit, thus my business.
Let's start with some basic concepts first:
/1) Invoicing: The act of giving a 'bill' for the products or services utilized by a customer. For most people, this is a simple receipt at the end of a meal for instance, or at the checkout counter of a clothing store for the clothes you've purchased, or a bill given by a cleaning service for cleaning their homes.
But for an organization, an invoice is the means to collect money from a client. Anything that is sold to a client will generate an invoice for the products delivered/services rendered. The invoice will also have the tax details (GST number, billing address, registered address, shipping address, list of items that need to be paid for, applicable tax - CGST, IGST, SGST, payment due date, and authorized signatures)
An invoice is a means to collect cash from the client. Without a proper invoice, cash cannot be collected. This is where the problem starts. Since not having a 'proper invoice' gives a lot of ground to the client to delay the payment.
/2) The process of Invoicing / Invoicing function in an organization: Once the product is delivered or the services rendered, or sometimes before they are delivered, invoicing is triggered, meaning that a 'bill' is generated and the money has to be collected from the client. This is usually done through an ERP like SAP or Oracle. The invoice then reaches the collections department, where the collection manager submits the invoice to the client for verification and payment. The collection managers are the front line people tasked with bringing money into the organization. They are one of the most important people for running the business because their performance impacts the cash flow of the organization.
They are normally tagged to accounts, aka clients. One collection manager could be handling anywhere from one client to thousands, depending on the nature and size of their clients.
Once the client verifies the invoice, the money is transferred to the selling organization and it becomes revenue and subsequently profit for them.
If the client holds the invoice for any reason, then it becomes lost revenue or a bad debt (loss) for the selling organization. The longer the client holds this money, the lesser the value that money holds due to the concept of time-value of money. 100 rupees today is considered as more money than 100 rupees one month from now due to the time-value of money. Thus a delayed payment impacts the profitability of the organization.
/3) GST for the services industry: GST dictates that the invoicing for services will be done in the state where the services have been delivered. I will explain this concept in detail as this is the crux of the problem. To start off, I will outline a simple sale and how that sale would translate into the pre-GST and post-GST era:
Problem Statement: Assume that Tata Motors intend to buy 5000 chairs for their offices from Pepperfry for 50 lakh rupees. Tata Motors also wants Pepperfry to install the chairs in their offices (5 lakh rupees), and then provide 5 years warranty including a checkup every year to determine the life of the chair, and any repairs required (15 lakh rupees.) Tata Motors wants the chairs to be delivered to 50 offices in india, across 20 different states. This is a mix of products (chairs) & services (installation and maintenance.) The total bill is for 70 lakh rupees -
5000 Chairs - INR 50 Lakhs
Installation of Chairs in 50 Offices across 20 states - INR 5 Lakhs
Maintenance of Chairs for 5 years - INR 15 Lakhs
Pepperfry sales executives will take the purchase order from Tata Motors and put the order into their system. The input of the purcahse order will trigger three functions:
a) Delivery of the products & services
b) Invoicing and payment for the order
c) Post-Sale service & maintenance
Before GST came into the picture, the above bill would be generated by Pepperfry as a single bill centrally ie they would generate a bill for 70 lakhs, with the extra relevant VAT and the tax details of the two organizations. This would be on ONE SINGLE BILL for the entire deal, irrespective of state, city, etc. They would just give Tata Motors one single piece of paper saying that they are owed 70 lakhs with the due date for the payment.
Manoj who is Pepperfrys collection manager for Tata Motors will submit this single invoice at the Tata Motors office where it will be checked by the Tata Motors procurement and finance teams, and if there is nothing wrong with the invoice, the payment will be cleared off by the due date.
Again the point to focus on here is that only ONE INVOICE is needed for the delivery of the chairs and services to the entire country. Manoj has to submit just one invoice, follow up on invoice, and collect the payment on one invoice. Tata Motors teams have to verify one invoice, and process the payment on one invoice. Only one tax number and billing address is needed on the invoice because it is being done CENTRALLY.
If there is something wrong with the invoice, Manoj has to correct only one invoice and resubmit it to Tata Motors.
Like I mentioned before, GST dictates that the invoicing be done in the state where the services have been delivered ie separate GST filing for all states. Explaining further this means that a separate invoice has to be generated for each state that is involved in the transaction. If this one state involved, one invoice. If two states are involved, then two invoices. If five states are involved, then five invoices. And in this case since twenty states are involved, twenty invoices.
The values of the invoices are split in direct proportion to the usage. If 100 rs is the total bill value, in three states, Maharashtra, UP & Kerala with 60:30:10 usage, then the bills will be:
Maharashtra - 60
UP - 30
Kerala - 10
So in a sense it is a separate company in each state in terms of GST.
Moving on to the implication in the Tata Motors - Pepperfry transaction:
Since the chairs have to be delivered in 20 states, Tata Motors & Pepperfry will have to have a registered office in all twenty states along with a GST number for each state. Tata Motors will have to issue 20 purchase orders in the proportionate value to Pepperfry ie 70 lakhs split proportionally into 20 states. The sales executive will enter twenty purchase orders into the system. Then deliveries will be triggered for 20 states and 20 different invoices will be handed over to Manoj after generation.
Manoj will submit 20 invoices to Pepperfry, whose procurement department will then verify 20 invoices, give it to finance to verify and then initiate 20 payments. Then 20 payments will be received by Tata Motors (with 20 banking transaction ID's) and Manoj will verify the 20 payments and close the transaction for now. This is the ideal scenario.
As you might have been able to tell, the effort required by everyone involved in the deal has gone up 20 times. This effort required will be the same as before if there is only one state involved on the buying side, ie Maharastra selling to Maharashtra. It'll be twice the effort if two states are involved on the buying side, ie Maharashtra selling to UP & Kerala. It has a possibility of going upto 36 time the effort required previously for the same amount of money since there are 29 states and 7 Union Territories. Yes Union Territories are treated separately as well.
The impact from this is:
/1) Efficiency/Effort: Pepperfry is still going to make 70 lakhs on the deal but the effort required will be twenty times that of before because Tata Motors will give 20 purchase orders on which 20 invoices will be generated. The time taken to process these invoices is the same because their value does not impact the time taken to collect the money on them. This is because each invoice will be the same template, its just that their values will be different. Example:
Chairs - INR 5 Lakhs
Installation - INR 50K
Support - INR 1.5 Lakhs
Chairs - INR 3 Lakhs
Installation - INR 30K
Support - INR 90K
Chairs - INR 10 Lakhs
Installation - INR 1 Lakh
Support - INR 3 Lakhs
The total money being collected is the same as before but the sales executive, Manoj, the procurement guy & the finance guy have to do 20 times the work for it with no other added value.
Their efficiency in this scenario has gone down to 5% but it can arguably go down to 2.7% if all states and union territories are involved, although this is a rare case.
Also like I said that this is the ideal scenario. It doesn't always go this smoothly. Some of the challenges encountered are:
a) Incorrect proportions of purchase orders / invoices: Someone made a mistake if 10 needed to be allocated to UP, then they've allocated 11 or 15. The process has to be repeated again after finding the fault.
b) Incorrect GST on PO / invoice: Suppose a particular invoice has the wrong GST, it means that it can't be processed on incorrect tax information, which means that that money can't be collected on that invoice. Before GST there would be one wrong tax number, now it could be one or two or twenty. Mistakes happen in the real life. This is one of the most common things we face. Mistakes happened before GST as well, now they just happen in multiples. And we really can't expect people to make mistakes because they always will. Again efficiency goes down as multiple times the effort is required to fix the mistakes.
c) Missing GST: It isn't necessary that all companies will have a GST registration in every state. So Tata Motors might not have a registered office in 2 states for example ie they won't have a GST number. They will now have to provide a declaration to Pepperfry saying that they don't have a GST number for two states, and then Pepperfry will be able to give them the invoice. The payment of the money is delayed till then. Getting that declaration in my experience takes a long time because if Tata Motors says that, they aren't able to claim input tax credit in that state. That's like leaving money on the table for them - and getting this declaration basically saying that they are willing to lose money on the transaction, requires approvals upto the highest levels because it is a loss to the company. Manoj now has to follow up on two more time consuming things to get the same amount of money and thus efficiency goes down further.
/2) Cash Flow: Cash is the lifeline of a company. A company without cash cannot survive. They could be valued at a billion dollars but if they don't have cash to pay their employees, they will shut down. Kingfisher couldn't pay their employees, interest, vendors because they didn't have cash left, same for Jet - again doesn't have cash for payment of salaries, fuel, loan payments, etc. BSNL again is struggling to pay for things because they don't have cash.
Thus a healthy cash flow is one of the most important aspects of the business or for the survival of the company. If companies were people, cash flow would be the oxygen. Invoicing is how cash is brought into the company.
Because of the decrease in efficiency of the collection managers, a delay is introduced in the collection of the cash. So if pre-GST cash was being collected in 25 days, now it would be taking say 45 days because the collection managers efficiency has gone down.
And the tiny delays add up. Incorrect GST - add another 7 days for that cash to be collected, missing GST - add 15 days, etc.
This has two outcomes:
Firstly, because Pepperfry had earlier predicted that they'll get the money in 30 days but they are now receiving it in 45 days, that means the 70 lakhs they need at the 30th day for their daily expenses now needs to be found from somewhere else since this 70 days will now be coming after another 2 weeks. They will have to dip into the reserves for 15 days.
Secondly, the money has lost some value. It was 70 lakhs at the end of 30 days but now since time has passed, it has lost some value due to the time value of money. It could've generated interest or it could've been invested but now this is delayed and hence some value is lost. This is a loss to Pepperfry.
To summarize, GST has delayed the payment cycle of the company. It now takes longer to collect the same amount of money than it used to before GST was introduced. If money takes longer to come in, it takes longer to go out - salaries, interest payments, vendor payments, and other outflows are impacted.
/3 Profit: The profit made on a deal varies from company to company and deal to deal. Let us assume that Pepperfry made 10% profit on this deal ie 7 lakhs. Due to the following factors this profit will get impacted:
a) The payment cycle is delayed so they're collecting the profit after a longer duration. They will have to collect 63 lakhs before they start making a profit. This could be after say they've collected 13 of the 20 invoices. The remaining 7 will give them their profit. So basically profit generation is delayed because the cash flow has been delayed. This means that the profit made on the deal has lost some value. If pre-GST this was 7 lakhs, now it'll be less than 7 lakhs in value due to the time value of money. And again because efficiency has gone down, the effort required to generate the same amount of profit has gone up, and thus the profit on the deal has actually gone down.
b) There are 20 invoices to process. Not all will always go through. Many will get stuck and the payment will be delayed or may never come due to the process issues. The money that will just linger there and never come to Pepperfry will become a bad debt to them. If the invoice gets stuck for some reason like incorrect GST, missing GST, incorrect value, the cash won't be collected for that invoice and that amount will get reduced from the profit. So because the invoice hasn't gotten processed, the 7 lakhs profit will now be less say 5 lakhs. If more than 7 lakhs is not collected on the deal, then Pepperfry will actually make a loss on the deal.
The biggest culprits of this are PSU's like HPCL, BPCL, UBI, etc. Their requirements are so stringent that if there is a single mistake and they hold the invoice. This payment could get delayed for years and thus the profit on the deal is impacted. They just won't pay till everything on the invoice is correct or they could delay for multiple other reasons. Many businesses don't sell to PSU's because of this reason - their profits and cash get stuck in doing business with them.
This is different from pre-GST because earlier if say there was a mistake, there was one invoice to fix. Now there could be many. For the same amount of revenue as before, now chances are you won't make the same amount of profit.
Thus due to the lowered efficiency, longer payment cycle and stuck payments, the profit made has gotten impacted.
In conclusion to my ramblings, due to the state-specific nature of GST, the effort required to make the same amount of money as the pre-GST era has gone up. This has impacted the revenue and thus the profit made by companies and these are problems that everyone will face because of how GST is. If you want to do business in multiple states, you will have to be ready to face these challenges.
Feel free to discuss the impact this will have on our economy. In my opinion it has had a big impact but I really need someone much more knowledgeable than me to analyze and publish that. I feel this deserves a conversation at the very least because this one change has impacted revenue and profit extensively, it has made making money harder and thus is going to have a lasting impact on the economy. The worst part is it doesn't look like this system is going to change in the near future.
I'll probably put a tl;dr later.
submitted by zaplinaki