Channelling the benefits of diversity and collaboration in business finance

Over 300,000 businesses have had government supported finance applications approved by accredited lenders and finance providers for almost £15 billion in the last few weeks ?double the rate of all lending in the last year. This is alongside the unprecedented levels of finance and support that lenders are providing to their customers.  For many small and medium sized businesses, this may have been the first time they have borrowed with the last few weeks undoubtedly being an anxious time, as future prospects remain uncertain, compounded by a heavy responsibility for staff and families as well as worries about illness.

Banks and finance providers have not been immune from the impact of the pandemic and like other businesses have been hit by absences, a rapid need to adapt operations, including to home working, and the need to get new schemes up and running, literally overnight. That hasn't always been smooth and we?ve had to adapt swiftly, and changes have had to be made both to ways of working and to the schemes themselves in real time. Now that government support is catching up in the form of tax reliefs, the job retention scheme and grants, and gaps in the support portfolio have been filled, it is time to think about the next phase.

As the government and businesses start cautiously to plan for re-opening, easing firms and companies off life support, we can expect emergency transfusions of cash to turn to rehabilitation as finance is needed to restart operations and trading. In contrast to the financial crisis, banks and finance providers, as a result of the measures put in place over the last 11 years, have the capacity to provide the support needed and have a mutual interest with their customers in the regeneration of the economy.  The sector's diversity will be essential to meeting the challenges of change as businesses reach for a new normal - likely more digital, with a premium on resilience and innovating to meet the big societal questions, not just of health and care but also of climate change, cyber threats and developing new international markets.

Invoice finance and asset based lending, the fintech sector and community finance as well as small and large commercial banks have all played their part. Many are accredited by the British Business Bank with the range continuing to widen. However, we need to ensure that there is the right support for these different operating models so they can continue to help businesses have a sustainable financial structure. Equity will have to play a more prominent role too, if the level of debt is not to weigh on the capacity to grow and take calculated risk.

That will require us all to maintain and build on the spirit of collaboration we?ve seen through this crisis, between different sectors of finance, government, business groups and professional services.  At UK Finance, it is one of our founding principles and tough though it has been, the work has only just begun.

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