Failure to meet financial obligations on their due date

Over 1.8 million professionals use CFI to learn accounting, financial analysis, modeling and more. Start with a free account to explore 20+ always-free courses and hundreds of finance templates and cheat sheets. Start Free

What is Insolvency?

Insolvency refers to the situation in which a firm or individual is unable to meet financial obligations to creditors as debts become due. Before beginning legal insolvency proceedings, the firm or individual may get involved in making an informal arrangement with their creditors, such as crafting alternative payment options.

An insolvent firm may decide to file for bankruptcy protection, which is a court order that oversees the liquidation of the company’s assets.  Insolvency is a state of financial distress, whereas bankruptcy is a legal proceeding.


Types of Insolvency

1. Cash-flow insolvency

This occurs when the firm or individual theoretically has enough assets to pay off creditors but not the appropriate form of payment. In short, the debtor may have considerable assets but lack cash on hand. Cash flow insolvency refers to a lack of liquid assets to fulfill debt obligations.

Such a situation can sometimes be solved by negotiation. For instance, the creditor may be willing to wait for repayment, giving the debtor a reasonable amount of time to sell less liquid assets, converting them into cash. In exchange for being granted more time to pay down their debt, the debtor may offer or agree to pay the lender a penalty in addition to the principal and interest owed.

2. Balance-sheet insolvency

When the firm or individual does not have enough assets to meet financial obligations to creditors, that is called balance-sheet insolvency. The company or individual has negative net assets. In this case, there is a much higher probability that bankruptcy proceedings will be filed.

Factors Leading to Insolvency

  • Inadequate accounting or human resource personnel: Sometimes, hiring personnel who lack proper skills and experience may lead to insolvency. This can lead to improper creation and follow-up of budgets and expenses, leading to dilution of the company’s resources, accompanied by inadequate revenues.
  • Lawsuits from customers or business associates: A business that has become subject to multiple lawsuits, with potentially very high contingent liabilities, may suffer so much damage to its daily operations that it cannot remain a viable business.
  • Inability to cater to changing customer needs: Sometimes companies fail to evolve according to the changing needs or desires of customers. They tend to lose customers who find better quality or variety of products or services from other companies. The company loses market share, and thus profits, and develops unpaid bills if it does not adapt to the changing marketplace.
  • Increasing production costs: Sometimes a business may incur higher production or procurement costs, such that its profit margins are significantly reduced. This, in turn, leads to loss of income and the company’s inability to fulfill its obligations to creditors.

Business Recovery

Modern insolvency legislation does not focus on the liquidation and elimination of insolvent entities. Rather, it aims more to remodel the financial structure of the debtors so as to enable the continuation of the business. This is referred to as a business turnaround or business recovery.  However, in some jurisdictions, it is an offense for a company to continue after being insolvent.

Debt restructuring is a process that permits a firm or an individual facing financial distress or problems in cash flow to renegotiate their debts in order to restore liquidity and enable them to continue operating. The process is generally handled by professional insolvency and debt restructuring professionals. It is usually a less expensive and better alternative to bankruptcy.

Insolvency/Bankruptcy Legislation in Different Countries

CanadaRegulated by the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and Companies’ Creditors Arrangements Act (in case debt exceeds $5 million)
IndiaRegulated by the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code
TurkeyRegulated by Enforcement and Bankruptcy Law (Code No: 2004)
South AfricaBusinesses that underwent insolvency become personally liable for the debts. Trading, even when insolvent, is a common business practice
AustraliaCorporate insolvencies are governed by Corporations Act 2001
SwitzerlandInsolvency is preceded by seizure and auctioning off of the assets of individuals and bankruptcy proceedings are carried out in case of registered companies
United KingdomRegulated by UK Insolvency Act 1986, Section 123
United StatesThe Uniform Commercial Code regulates insolvency in the United States. Insolvency is also defined by the Bankruptcy Code

Other Resources

The free CFI resources below may be helpful in deepening your understanding of insolvency issues, bankruptcy, and corporate financing.

0 search results for ‘