Small Business confidence, funding and the potential for growth

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1 Small Business confidence, funding and the potential for growth Executive Summary Following the 2013 budget in March, Bibby Financial Services conducted three surveys, surveying a total of 1,450 SMEs to gauge an understanding of the feeling in the small business community and the impact the reforms were expected to have, as well as the success rate of business lending applications. This white paper examines the perception amongst the small business community in relation to the new government policies and the ongoing pressures experienced by SMEs in the UK, during the first two quarters of 2013 and into the future. Immediately apparent is the lack of support many small businesses feel the Coalition Government has given them, stating that much needed financial support is required immediately, as opposed to reforms that provide benefit in the future. In contrast to this perceived lack of support, optimism continues to grow with more and more businesses establishing themselves on their chosen markets, as well as those SMEs surveyed showing an increase in customers during Q2. As more and more businesses are being created, government policy must keep up with the needs of those businesses. Currently the feeling is that it isn t; something has to give. In no small part down to the lack of confidence in finance from traditional routes with amendments proposed through the Funding for Lending Scheme, a continued number of small businesses are turning to alternative forms of finance. For many, this could be the support they need and ultimately the funding which will boost the economy as a whole. The problems of small businesses continue, the economy is stumbling and questions remain concerning the most viable solution for growth.

2 Small Business confidence, funding and the potential for growth Introduction The first half of 2013 was an interesting time for small businesses throughout the UK. March s budget announcement saw the promise of more financial assistance for small businesses in the form of the Funding for Lending Scheme (FLS) extension (the scheme was first announced in 2012) and through the new Employment Allowance eliminating the first 2,000 of the National Insurance bill for employers. However, there was little detail provided which initially left many questioning how the FLS would be extended and subsequently how this would help to support SMEs. Such questions were answered by the Chancellor, George Osborne, at the end of April when he confirmed that the scheme would be refocused and increased to concentrate on providing assistance to small businesses as opposed to individuals 1. For many, the stability of the UK economy rests with the establishment and growth of small businesses. On the face of it, this is being reflected in the latest government policy. But what is the feeling amongst the small and medium sized business community and those on the front line of rebuilding the economy? Small business confidence In order to provide a snapshot of the feeling among SMEs in the country, Bibby Financial Services the UK s largest independent invoice finance provider - commissioned an independent survey of 450 SMEs across the UK during Q1 of The key findings were as follows: Exactly half of those small businesses surveyed felt that the budget had not done enough to help businesses grow over the next 12 months 24% felt that more business support was needed immediately 34% felt that this support should be financial In addition to this, only 10% of those SMEs surveyed felt that the 2013 budget would in fact support businesses growth, with only 5% stating that the current government understands the needs of their business. 1 Guardian 2013

3 That was the feeling immediately following the budget. Now the dust has settled on the proposed government policies and businesses are back to the day to day running of their operations. Has opinion changed? Bibby conducted a further study involving 1,000 SME managers and directors during the second quarter of the year aimed to provide a snapshot of small business perception in relation to the approach taken by the Coalition Government aimed at breathing life into the economy. It found that: Just over half (51%) felt the UK had not become a better place to run a business since 2010 Only six per cent said the proposed Business Bank (created through the FLS) would benefit their company Confidence in the government and their current policies clearly remains low, with finance remaining one of the key issues. Small businesses optimism In stark contrast to the sentiment towards the government, looking at the statistics in relation to the number of businesses in the UK, there appears to be continued entrepreneurial optimism with more and more businesses being created each year. Specifically in 2008, there were 4.26 million businesses in the UK, but by 2013 this has increased to over 5 million 2 showing an increase just short of a million since the start of the recession. In fact, according to the statistics from last year SMEs made up for 99.9% of all private sector businesses in the UK 3. This willingness amongst the small business community and the appetite to run a business is also reflected in the positive trend in business confidence and activity seen in Q2 of Again in Q2 Bibby surveyed 450 small businesses across the UK to gauge levels of optimism and productivity. The survey provided the following statistics: Almost a third of business owners have seen an increase in orders in Q2 (this was up from 24% in Q1 and 23% from this time last year) Just under half (40%) say they have seen an increase in new customers this quarter this is up from 38% in Q1 This is also in line with the current statistics in relation to the economic growth of the UK. Q saw GDP grow by 0.4%, narrowly avoiding a triple dip recession, with growth again shown in Q2 to the tune of 0.6%. SMEs are growing (especially in the manufacturing and construction section) and the economy is following suit. But is the current support network strong enough for SMEs to continue to grow? Small business support The government clearly recognises the importance of SMEs to the UK economy, reflected in the wealth of support available, including information on HR, accounting, import and export and sales 2 3

4 and marketing. In fact, the Chancellor this year announced 30million of funding which will be provided in Growth Vouchers for small businesses. The aim of this project is to provide external advice to grow businesses in the UK, as well as create a competitive market for business advice; making it easier for SMEs to access this support network. There may be clear plans to try and assist businesses with all elements of their operation, from bank loan applications to taking on an employee, however, access to funding is most often the stumbling block preventing SMEs from growing. It s clear that many businesses are struggling to access funding through traditional channels such as the bank. For many, this necessitates the need to widen their gaze beyond the banks if they are to obtain the vital funding support they require. Small business finance While things might be looking up in terms of the number of businesses, an increase in customers, and a wide support network the same issues continue to arise in terms of finance. From the above statistics it appears that small businesses are also having to look for new customers as opposed to simply relying on their existing customer base. If successful this may ensure they continue to perform thus doing their bit to drive UK economic growth but continually having to rely on attracting new customers can prove extremely costly. This again highlights the need for continued access to finance for SMEs, something which appears to be on the decrease. In fact, according to the SMEs surveyed there is a continued concern that a lack of business investment may have a detrimental impact on long-term recovery. Analysing the data over the last four years it is clear to see the problem in terms of small business investment. Whereas in 2009, 20% of small businesses had cash available to invest, this is now down to just 2%. One of the biggest factors of this drastic decline has been the increase in customer late payments most notably from bigger businesses. Lack of cash flow due to late payments from customers (often big businesses) is one of the biggest challenges faced by small enterprises. Not only does it restrict the capital being available to meet their own payment deadlines and achieve stability, it is restricting the ability to grow their business and take it to the next level. This has lead to calls for bigger businesses in the UK to face up to their responsibilities and support SMEs, simply by ensuring the prompt payment of invoices. Alternative Forms of finance This position is however, in contrast to the level of funding provided by Bibby Financial Services. In fact the start of 2013 has seen a significant increase in the level of funding provided by Bibby. In Q1 2013, 61,497,030 was made available purely for new clients. This is an increase of 18% from Q This statistic is purely for new customers, as opposed to Bibby s existing client base suggesting that small businesses (both new start-ups and existing SMEs) are looking for finance, but they are in fact turning away from the traditional routes. This was further clarified when questioning the 1,000 SME 4 1_2013_HighRes.ashx

5 managers and directors. Accordingly it was revealed that 77 per cent of them that have applied for funding have been refused the amount they require. Invoice Finance The most common form of alternative finance for SMEs is invoice finance. Invoice finance is a way to free up cash flow by releasing existing funds, which are tied up in invoices. It works along the following lines: - As soon as an invoice is issued by the business, the invoice finance provider will release an agreed percentage of the total (most often 85-95%) within 24 hours - Once payment in full is made the remainder, minus a small admin fee taken by the funder, will be released to the SME One of the main benefits of invoice finance is that it provides a steady flow of cash to small businesses without having to take on further debt. Businesses know when they will receive funds enabling them to make plans to meet their own payment deadlines, as well as building for the future. Factoring and invoice discounting In simplified terms, invoice finance can be broken down into two distinct products; - Factoring - Invoice discounting Factoring as part of a factoring service the funder will chase outstanding invoices on behalf of the business. This frees up time to get on with the day to day running of the operation. Many small businesses end up losing a lot of time and expenditure chasing clients for payment. Invoice discounting businesses that choose invoice discounting will retain the task of chasing invoices and simply use the finance facility. Invoice Finance and Funding for Lending Trends in lending from Q provided by the Bank of England s Credit Conditions Survey showed that the Funding for Lending Scheme (FLS) was important in increasing credit availability for the corporate sector. However, demand for lending through the banks in this quarter from SMEs remained subdued, while it continued to grow for those seeking alternative forms of finance. On the ground, opinion from small businesses is that whilst these policies are in place, they don t seem to benefit the enterprises that need them most. Speaking on the subject, Angela Goudry, Owner of Chillfast Couriers based in Durham commented: We hear a lot of reports in the media about funding being made available for small businesses, such as the Funding for Lending scheme, but it doesn t seem to be making its way from the banks to the businesses that need it most.

6 Small businesses need to look elsewhere for funding support to help them grow, such as invoice finance, which is available and offers support and flexibility. Conclusion Narrowly avoiding a triple dip recession in the first quarter of 2013 and despite continued growth, the UK economy is still volatile. Where growth is shown in certain sectors during certain quarters, this is often offset against other sectors where growth has slowed down considerably or completely halted. The importance of small and medium sized enterprises has therefore never been more important to the UK economy. The government is aware and is putting support networks in place to help this growth. In the eyes of many SMEs this is falling short when it comes to the most important element of support funding. Those businesses that require funding, and that have applied through the traditional channels have been unable to secure the requisite funds to drive their business forward, or even save it from financial ruin. This has created a funding gap which is being filled by alternative finance providers offering products such as invoice finance. Those offering these services are increasing the amount of money available, as seen by that made available by Bibby for new clients in the first part of This is also set to continue on a regional basis throughout the UK. Confidence in the government and recent policies put in place may be low, but there are solutions available to businesses. For the economy to continue to move forward, it is essential that SMEs are provided with the right support networks. If Funding for Lending is falling short, businesses will continue to look elsewhere for the funds they need.

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