Daniel Cichocki, Principal, Commercial Finance Policy, UK Finance
Access to finance is now far less of a concern to SME businesses than other factors such as ‘legislation and red tape, political uncertainty and the current economic climate’, the latest SME Finance Monitor published by BVA BDRC shows.
Bank lending stood at around £57 billion in 2017 and credit is readily available. There are also a variety of options for those not successful in their application, such as a voluntary appeals process and the offer of a referral to a government-designated finance platform. The fall in firms claiming access to finance as a reported barrier probably reflects the encouraging fact that 85 percent of finance applications are successful.
What we are now seeing is in fact a level of general caution amongst SMEs. Many are sitting on cash buffers, often reporting a reluctance to use finance (including with the acceptance of forgoing growth) as a result of uncertainty over future trading conditions.
The low levels of finance demand evident in the SME Finance Monitor (around half of all SMEs are classed as permanent non-borrowers) has led to an increasing recognition that there is also a question of demand, as much as supply. Clearly not all SMEs should be borrowing, or need to borrow, but is important that those who seek finance for growth or working capital have the necessary access and understanding of the diverse options available to them. Helping SMEs understand and navigate this is a collective endeavour and UK Finance was pleased to be an editorial partner in the British Business Bank’s Finance Hub. This new tool is designed to explore and understand which finance options are best suited to a business’s ambitions.
One noticeable change in the latest SME Finance Monitor is the increased proportion of SMEs reporting late payment as an obstacle to running the business, which increased again in Q2 2018. The continued focus on action to address poor payment practice is therefore evident in this data; additionally, the Government has announced further measures to address this issue, notably the strengthening of the Prompt Payment Code. The Small Business Commissioner has already made an important contribution to tackling this issue and our members continue to work closely with his office to understand how the finance industry can support these initiatives.
Monitoring changes in sentiment as Britain’s post-Brexit settlement becomes clearer will be relevant to all those involved in financing SMEs. The SME Finance Monitor remains an unrivalled insight into SMEs’ attitudes towards and experience of finance.