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Credit Management

Merry Christmas, but beware the "holiday risk"

By CreditMan Tuesday, December 22, 2015

By Craig Evans, Head of Business Development at Graydon

The internet is creaking at the seams with blogs and articles about export-related risks, from political and legal issues to bribery, graft and corruption, quarantine, exchange rate, non-payment and more. But nowhere could I find anything on a very clear and present danger – what I like to call “holiday risk”.

An annual challenge
As Christmas gallops towards us, this is something that’s familiar to just about anybody who’s trying to achieve business as usual. It’s an annual challenge that all too often means elevated stress levels, missed supplier deadlines and late payment by customers as companies close down for an extended break. For many people, the only saving grace for the season of goodwill is the fact that it comes but once a year (unless you’re Wiltshire-based Andy Park, that is, who in his alter-ego of “Mr Christmas” celebrates it every day throughout the entire calendar…)

But while Andy’s fixation is thankfully rare (if not unique), credit controllers and other managers in businesses with widespread global export networks might sometimes feel that they too are in a never-ending round of religious and public holidays that interrupt the normal flow of events. For while companies based in countries like the UK, the Netherlands and Belgium are mostly pretty adept at managing their way around the enforced slowdowns of Christmas and (to a lesser extent) Easter and other Bank Holidays, cultures across the world have their own festivals that can be at least as disruptive.

The Russian regime
Even the impact of Christmas differs from country to country. Take Russia, for example. Stay with me – this could be complicated. Christmas itself is celebrated on 7 January, and the two days either side are also established in law as non-working days. But that’s only where it starts. While not a public holiday, 25 December is widely treated as one by people across the country. Many people then “bridge” more time off right up to the next available official holiday on 1 January.

There’s more to come – the second to the fifth of January are also public holidays in Russia. And even when 7 January eventually comes around, many people choose to take it and the next few days off as well (possibly to recover from all the celebrations). So, if you’re dealing with suppliers or clients in Russia, be sure to really tie down just how long key personnel might be away for and make your plans accordingly.

Chinese New Year
What of that other great emerging market, China? Its most famous (and longest) festival follows Chinese New Year, which falls somewhere between 21 January and 20 February. The 15 days of celebration begin on Chinese New Year’s Eve and continue until the first day of the Lantern Festival. Thankfully for those dealing with companies in the Republic of China and other territories around the world, the entire period is only very seldom treated as a public holiday.

Extended break
This position is also complicated, by different countries taking very different amounts of time off. In the Republic of China itself, the first three days of the New Year are public holidays. However, the Saturday preceding New Year and the Sunday after it are both designated working days, with the two holidays gained in this way being tacked on to the official break to allow people seven consecutive days off.

In Indonesia, Mauritius and the Philippines, meanwhile, only New Year’s Day itself is generally taken off. But by way of contrast, in the US – home to some 2.7 million Chinese Americans – it’s not uncommon for celebrants to take the entire 15-day period as holidays.

I could carry on to look at a host of other festivals – the Hindu Diwali Festival of Lights and Muslim Eid-ul-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, are celebrated by many millions across the world. To a greater or lesser extent, Hanukkah in Israel, Thanksgiving in the US, Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) in Mexico, the Winter Solstice across Scandinavia, Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Spain and many other high days and holidays have their own impacts on normal working practices.

French leave
I’ve left the best (or worst) until last. It might be close to home (and not strictly speaking a festival) but have you ever tried dealing with a French company during August?

Essentially, this wide range of different practices and traditions means that you must do your research to find out what time away from work your export contacts intend to take. Then plan accordingly to minimise any adverse effects this might have on your own business. Even a single day of unexpected company closure can be extremely disruptive if that was when you were expecting to receive a significant payment or fulfil a contract. And do bear in mind that 17 March (St Patrick’s Day) isn’t the best date for doing business in Ireland.