The Challenge of Phoenix Companies in Bankruptcy and How to Safeguard Your Business
During 2023 corporate bankruptcy filings have risen leading to concerns not only for the companies involved but also for their stakeholders. While bankruptcy can be a legitimate business tool, some unscrupulous owners may exploit it to defraud creditors and restart their enterprises while utilizing new aliases. In this article, the concept of “phoenix” companies is further discussed and how you can protect your business from falling victim to the deceptive practices of these organizations.
Understanding Phoenix Companies
Phoenix companies have their name coined from their ability to rise from the ashes of failed enterprises, often leveraging the reputation and relationships of their predecessors to further the new operation. The scheme typically involves a company’s owner intentionally letting the business slip into insolvency, acquiring its assets for pennies on the dollar from liquidators, and then resuming operations as a similar company in a similar industry. Some repeat this cycle multiple times, perpetuating their fraudulent actions and continually taking advantage of stakeholders.
Recognizing the Red Flags
Differentiating between legitimate asset sales and deceptive practices can be challenging particularly when you have insiders and related parties involved. Selling assets at market value or transferring the business to existing management is legal, making it hard to determine if a company’s actions are genuine or an attempt to evade liabilities. Proving that a bankrupt company has funneled assets into a new venture is even more complicated. When a seemingly healthy organization takes a turn for the worse it is easy to jump to conclusions, but it requires critical attention to detail and thorough evaluation to ascertain if foul play is involved.
The Role of Forensic Accounting
Forensic accountants can play a crucial role in investigating the backgrounds of business owners and analyzing a company’s history, particularly in sectors like construction and hospitality, where phoenix companies are more prevalent. They meticulously search for red flags, such as evidence of intentional debt accumulation prior to bankruptcy or selective payments to certain creditors who later supply the new entity. Finding these hidden relationships can become critical in uncovering phoenix companies as without the investigation of these situations the bankruptcy can seem legitimate and necessary from an arm’s length. This is why if a phoenix company is suspected, a thorough investigation into the conditions that brought on the insolvency is necessary.
Protecting Your Business
To safeguard your business from potential fraud by phoenix companies, it is essential to exercise caution in your dealings with customers and suppliers, with a particular focus on your suppliers. Thoroughly vet potential customers before extending credit and consider implementing a payment policy that mitigates your risks. Avoid making upfront payments to suppliers unless you have verified their honesty and reliability. If in your business you maintain partners with significant control, be certain that controls are in place requiring the review of major decisions and the direction of the company, because if you do not you may become victim to your partner in one of these schemes.
Responding to Bankrupt Business Partners
If one of your business partners files for bankruptcy and claims inability to repay creditors, respond proactively by enlisting the expertise of professionals, namely an attorney and a forensic accountant. A detailed investigation will help assess the legitimacy of their claims and protect your interests as a creditor.
While bankruptcy can serve as a substantial tool for businesses in tough times, it also reveals vulnerabilities for dishonest owners to exploit the system through phoenix companies. Vigilance, proactive due diligence, and seeking professional assistance are essential in safeguarding your business from falling prey to such deceitful and predatory practices. By staying informed and responsive, you can protect your business and maintain its financial stability amidst a challenging corporate landscape.
How NAFA can Help
North American Forensic Accounting can help evaluate the legitimacy of transactions of bankrupt organization identifying such things as preferential payments. If you have any concerns about a bankruptcy case and believe you may need a forensic accountant, contact us today to find out how we can help.