Business Appetite to Borrow Continues to Fall… So How Will Growth Be Funded?

The latest SME Finance Monitor Report shows how much the funding and finance landscape is changing with small businesses demonstrating cautiousness and a reluctance to engage in seeking out finance.

One of the key findings from the latest quarterly report, which surveys 5,000 UK small business owners, is that issues around access to finance is now slipping off the list of obstacles to running to a business.

The current economic climate continues to be cited as the main obstacle to running the business in the next 12 months with 17% of SMEs quoting this as the main barrier. In terms of access to finance only 8% claimed it to be an issue (compared to 12% in Q1 2013), which appears to be counter to how much press the relationship between banks and small businesses is given.

Interestingly 65% of those surveyed said they see no major obstacles which could hold them back from going for growth. This is an encouraging sign.

With access of finance being seen as less of an issue than we may think, how does this translate in to actually usage of finance?

The report found that 39% of SMEs were using external finance in the second quarter of 2014, which is in line with most quarters since 2012. This means that 60% of SMEs either fund their business via shareholders/directors or don’t borrow.

In fact 39% classified themselves as a ‘Permanent non-borrower’. These are businesses which have not borrowed over the last five years and have no intention of borrowing over the next three months. The number of small businesses who declare themselves as not interested in borrowing has increased steadily over time, having been 34% in 2011 and 2012.

Even the number of businesses which have not borrowed over the last twelve months is remarkably low. Referred to as ‘Happy non-seekers’ these amount to 78% of those surveyed. So nearly 80% of SMEs are quite comfortable in not borrowing at all. This number is also on an upward trend having increased from 66% in Q2 2012.

You do begin to wonder why so much attention is given to the issue of access to finance when so many businesses declare themselves as not interested! But this does have one implication and that is as to how future growth will be funded. Growth typically needs cash to support working capital and investment needs so it is important for businesses to realise that growth usually needs finance and not to shy away from seeking it out.

Of those who do borrow, the range of finance products they use is also beginning to change. The report found that 30% of SMEs used ‘core’ products (loans, overdrafts and/or credit cards), but this is a declining proportion over time (it was 36% in Q2 2012). Other forms of finance, such as leasing, invoice discounting, private loans and crowdfunding, are being used by 17% of businesses so there is a lot of scope for alternative lenders to grow.

It’s clear that many businesses are comfortable where they are but for them to grow a finance need will kick in and it’s vital they don’t fall into the trap of going for growth with no cash… that can only end in disaster. But there is also a need for all finance providers to ensure that funds are there when needed and sending a clear signal that they are ‘open for business’. We don’t want businesses assuming they will get a ‘no’ and not even approaching a bank in the first place.

We will continue our look in to the findings of the latest SME Finance Monitor Report in future blogs.

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