Insolvency Meaning

Insolvency is a temporary state where an entity is unable to meet debt and financial obligations. The liabilities of insolvent individuals or businesses surpass their assets. Insolvency is a financial condition that can lead to bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy, on the other hand, is a legal status. But insolvent individuals or businesses can try and avoid bankruptcy by increasing income and reducing expenses. Specialized insolvency practitioners restructure liabilities and debts. Insolvency does not affect credit ratings. But if an insolvent individual or business files for bankruptcy, it will affect credit ratings.

Key Takeaways
  • Insolvency is a temporary state where an individual or a business entity encounters financial problems due to a shortage of cash.
  • The insolvency proceedings include administration, liquidation, receivership, and voluntary arrangement.
  • Insolvency and bankruptcy are two different terms; the former can lead to the latter. An induvial or firm declares bankruptcy in a court of law by filing for it.  In doing so, the individual or firm declares that they won’t be able to pay their debts any further.

Understanding Insolvency

Insolvency is also knowns as administration. It is a repairable condition where a person or company’s total assets are deficient in meeting liabilities. The insolvency practitioners restructure the corporate liabilities and debts. Simultaneously they try to increase income.

In business, two different factors dictate the prospect:

  1. The controllable factors are where one can improve the bottom line. Business owners have to understand the risk of taking too much debt. Businesses at all times should be aware of how they are utilizing funds. They have to track the money coming in and anticipate future cash flows.
  2. Additionally, businesses need to plan for uncontrollable elements like global economic crashes, political issues, and industrial outrage. There has to be a contingency plan in place.  Businesses that plan for emergencies stay afloat even during terrible mishaps.

The owners of many insolvent firms abuse the system and take advantage of bankruptcy laws. They become insolvent so that they don’t have to pay back debts. Then they appoint an administrator to sell company assets. This practice is known as a pre-pack administration. After this, the company can legally start up again. Instead, they start the same firm under a different name. They buy back all the assets they sold and avoid the creditors altogether.

Insolvency Examples

Let us now discuss the example of two real-life insolvent companies:

#1 – Toys R Us

The British unit of “Toys R Us” went into administration, putting 3200 jobs at risk. Toys R Us had been losing business to online retailers and had been heavily leveraged.

British unit of Toys R Us

#2 – Global Brands Group USA

North America; Global Brands Group filed for bankruptcy when its sales fell by 44% by the end of March 2021 amidst the Covid situation. Subsequently, the company sold off various assets, including Aquatalia and other brands.  

Factors Leading to Insolvency

Businesses become insolvent due to the following factors:


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  • Investment Project Failures: One of the biggest reasons behind businesses becoming insolvent is an improper investment. It is a failure of the business expansion strategy. If such a business investment becomes unsuccessful, the company faces massive loss or gets over-burdened with debts. But a lack of analysis or planning is at the root of bad financial decisions.
  • Poor Planning and Budgeting: Many organizations lack proper financial planning. The budget estimation is inefficient. Partially this is down to cost-cutting. Firms fail to hire competent managers. In the end, they pay the hefty price of losing assets and capital.  
  • Improper Debt Management and Excessive Borrowings: Sometimes, companies get over-leveraged, and the cost of borrowings exceeds earnings. This happens when the management ignores the ability to repay loans.  
  • Weak Debt Recovery Mechanism: Companies often allow a lenient credit period to their debtors for a short time. During that phase, the company is insolvent as they lack cash flow. Moreover, some of these organizations don’t have a proper system for recovering customer dues and creating bad debts. Also, at times the biggest client of the firm, who owes a substantial amount, goes bankrupt.
  • Ignoring Competitors and Framing Incompetent Business Strategy: When an organization prepares the business strategy in isolation, i.e., not considering the competitors’ moves, it adversely affects the business sales and profitability. Such losses make a company insolvent.
  • Inefficient Finance Department and Managers: Human resource is crucial in any business. Often companies hire a team of poorly skilled finance executives. They lack experience, which is why their decision-making quickly exhausts the firm’s assets and financial resources.

Alternatively, a higher cost of production caused by a change in suppliers can render a business insolvent. Similarly, a shift in consumer preference can bring down sales, and the firms become insolvent. Some of these factors cannot be anticipated and are attributed to the standard market risk of doing business.

Individuals become insolvent due to accidents, loss of employment, demotion, medical expenses, improper finance management, credit card debts, and business losses. Sometimes individuals lose a lot of money by getting sued. Consequently, these individuals can become insolvent. 

Insolvency Types and Tests

Following are the relevant tests determining financial distress:

#1 – Balance Sheet Insolvency

The balance sheet records the complete list of the corporate assets and liabilities. So, when the overall liabilities go beyond the fair valuation of its total assets, the company becomes insolvent. In such scenarios, the net assets tend to be negative. Eventually, most of these companies go bankrupt.

The balance sheet test examines net assets by deducting the total liabilities from the total assets. Both the variables are fair market values (here, exemptions and the loss from fraudulent practices are not taken into consideration). The result so derived is a negative value. Therefore, it requires expert intervention to rescue the company; otherwise, it will lead to liquidation.

#2 – Cash Flow Insolvency

It is a state where the company faces a cash shortage. As a result, the company is unable to pay creditors and clear operational debts. Here, the current liabilities exceed the liquid assets of the firm, creating a negative cash flow situation.

It is possible to anticipate such problems before they occur. An ability to pay test or the cash flow test can be conducted. Cash outflows are subtracted from the cash inflows, and the outcome is a negative value. This situation is under managerial control. It can be resolved by planning relevant payment periods for creditors and debtors. Additionally, the terms and conditions need to be revisited.

Insolvency Proceedings

An insolvent organization can seek a practitioner’s advice for dealing with such circumstances. Following are four ways an insolvent company can proceed with:

  1. Administration: The foremost thing an expert does is pull the insolvent organization out through debt restructuring.
  2. Liquidation: This is a dissolution strategy, where the company’s overall cash, funds, and assets are liquidated to pay the creditors and the lenders.
  3. Receivership: Here, the bank or the court appoints a receiver to take hold of corporate assets; both tangible and intangible. This is done to meet financial liabilities.
  4. Company Voluntary Arrangement: This is a method where the firm’s creditors agree receiving only a proportion of the debts. To emulate this provision, 75% of the creditors have to vote in favor.

Insolvency vs. Bankruptcy

Insolvency is the trigger that causes bankruptcy. But it may not always lead to bankruptcy. Insolvent firms can rectify their financial condition by increasing income or reducing expenses.

Insolvency Vs. Bankruptcy

Insolvency is a negative financial situation where the individual or corporate assets fall short of meeting the obligations. Bankruptcy, on the other hand, is the consequence of being insolvent.

It is a temporary state. A firm being insolvent, therefore, has no impact on the credit ratings. Bankruptcy, though, involves the court and is thus more serious. Bankruptcy is a permanent record and does affect credit scores.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How long does an insolvency order last?

A debt relief or insolvency order is initially issued for one year and is called a moratorium. Post the moratorium period, the insolvent individual or firm is released from the imposed restrictions.

What are the reasons for insolvency?

Following reasons led to insolvency:
• Excessive credit and inability to recover customer dues or debts
• Poorly managed cash flows and long-term finances
• Improper budgeting
• Over-indebtedness and borrowings
• Incompetent business strategy and ignoring competitors
• Investment failures.

Does insolvency affect credit rating?

The state of insolvency doesn’t much affect the credit rating of a person or company until it leads to bankruptcy. However, bad credit scores due to bankruptcy can lead to difficulty in borrowing money, availing of a credit card facility, or opening a current account. An insolvent individual or organization may even end up taking on expensive debts.

This has been a guide to insolvency and its meaning. Here we discuss the insolvency process, types, tests examples, and factors leading up to it. You may also have a look at the following articles on Corporate Finance –