REAL ESTATE INSTITUTE OF AUSTRALIA SMALL BUSINESS CREDIT RESOLUTION SERVICE DISCUSSION PAPER

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1 Real Estate Institute of Australia 16 Thesiger Court I PO Box 234, Deakin ACT 2600 Phone (02) I Fax (02) REAL ESTATE INSTITUTE OF AUSTRALIA SMALL BUSINESS CREDIT RESOLUTION SERVICE DISCUSSION PAPER PURPOSE On 29 May 2013, the Council of Small Business of Australia (COSBOA) brought together key decision makers to critically assess available data and information on access to finance issues for small businesses. The roundtable was attended by members of COSBOA, including the Real Estate Institute of Australia, and key stakeholders from the Australian Bankers Association (ABA), APRA, RBA, ASIC, Treasury, ATO and the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, research and Tertiary Education. Research firm DBM who have undertaken a survey on small business lending also participated. DBM reported that access to finance is a real issue faced by over a hundred thousand small businesses in Australia. For those businesses that are actively expanding, the issue is more acute with growing small businesses being twice as likely to identify access to credit as a principal concern. BACKGROUND In February 2011, the REIA expressed its concerns about access to and the cost of finance to real estate agencies as small businesses in a Submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services: Access for Small and Medium Business to Finance. For the inquiry the REIA conducted a survey of real estate agents across Australia to provide real evidence of the impact that lessening in competition in the financial services sector had in the post GFC period. REIA survey respondents in their comments felt that the financial sector did not understand the small business sector and furthermore tended to group all small businesses in the one basket without any differentiation. Major concerns expressed by respondents were more difficult access to finance, more stringent requirements by financial institutions and higher rates relative to official interest rates for small businesses in the post-gfc environment. A good example of distorting lending practices was the treatment of rent rolls as security against borrowings. In 2010, a number of respondents to the REIA survey indicated that financial institutions did not recognise rent rolls as an asset despite low vacancy ratios in the rental market and the cash flow stability offered by the rent rolls. Issues faced by small real estate businesses were confirmed in the Macquarie s 2012 Residential Real Estate Benchmarking Report. While 41 per cent of all real estate agencies were planning on funding part or all of their future growth through bank finance, the proportion for small real estate 1

2 agencies was only 29 per cent. In contrast, larger agencies were more likely to utilise bank credit to fund part or all of their growth with 49 per cent of larger agencies relying on this type of funding. Examining barriers to innovation faced by Australian business, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) found that in , of businesses employing up to 4 persons, 20.5 per cent were lacking access to additional funds. Of businesses employing 5 to 19 persons, 22.8 per cent reported a lack of access to additional funds as a barrier to innovation. COSBOA s members nominate access to credit as one of their top five concerns along with unfair tenancy contracts, red tape, competition policy and industrial relations issues. Distorting lending practices, however, may be one of several factors affecting access of small business to credit. Price fluctuations in the residential property market, for example, may influence banks lending decisions. A decline in property prices and a more conservative approach to property may reduce banks willingness to provide the amount required by small businesses to finance operating and investing activities. The RBA confirms this when it notes that most lending to small businesses is secured against residential property and observes the importance of housing loans in small businesses funding 1. The fact that most small business lending is secured against residential property can contribute to financial distress, especially if in the presence of declining property prices the levels of debt are significant. This not only has economic consequences but also social implications. Around 80 per cent of households owning a business had a median debt to income ratio of almost 200 per cent in Unfortunately for these households, this means they will not only have to cease their business activities but also to dispose of their family home to meet bank lending repayments. Risks could be exacerbated by declining rates of home ownership. An analysis of Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey finds the home-ownership rate declined for all age groups with the greatest decline among Australians aged 35 to 54 years old. Between 2001 and 2010, the home ownership rate fell 1.8 percentage points to 43.1 per cent among year olds, 4.5 percentage to 67.8 per cent among 35 to 44-year olds and 5.5 percentage points to 77.9 per cent among 45 to 54-year olds. Given the role of residential property as a security for lending to small businesses, access to finance remains especially low for small business run by Generation Y with only two out of five younger Australians owning their home. DISCUSSION According to ABS figures, there were approximately 2.14 million actively trading businesses in Australia at June Of them, 95.9 per cent were small businesses employing fewer than 20 persons. Of all actively trading businesses, 61 per cent did not employ and 34.9 per cent employed fewer than 20 employees. At June 2012, there were 2.01 million actively trading businesses with an annual turnover less than $2 million 93.9 per cent of all businesses. In , small businesses contributed 34.4 per cent of the total industry value added and 43.3 per cent of the total employment (excluding financial and insurance services). 1 RBA s submission to Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporation and Financial Services inquiry into access for SMEs to finance and RBA 2012 Small Business Finance Roundtable. 2

3 With 225,013 entities, Rental, Hiring and Real Estate Services subsector had the third highest number of businesses operating in Australia. The sector had the second lowest entry rate of 8.8 per cent in and for businesses operating in June 2008 the sector s survival rate of 69.4 per cent was the third highest. Of the total gross value added by Rental, Hiring and Real Estate Services subsector in , 79.9 per cent were accounted by small businesses; they also contributed 78.1 per cent of the sector s employment. Among the services sector, eight per cent of the total small business contribution to industry value added was attributed to the rental, hiring and real estate services subsector. REIA represents an integral element of the small business sector. According to the Centre for International Economics, 95.9 per cent of real estate services businesses employ fewer than 20 employees (over 60 per cent of this portion do not employ). Of all real estate services businesses, 59 per cent have a turnover of $200,000 or less. Access to finance is critical for small businesses. Bank credit presents the opportunity for businesses to facilitate their ongoing development without placing excessive strain on cash reserves or working capital. However usually perceived to carry a higher degree of financial risk, small businesses often face higher costs from financial institutions when accessing credit. Since November 2011, the RBA has cut the official cash rate from 4.75 per cent to 2.75 per cent. Remarkably, lending rates declined by just 143 basis points for small businesses while larger businesses enjoyed much larger reduction of 191 basis points. In its Statement of Monetary Policy the RBA reports that at 30 April 2013, average lending rate on residentially secured loan to small businesses was 7.20 per cent, or 208 basis points higher than the average rate on loans to large businesses. Intermediaries Lending rates Level at 30 April 2013, per cent Change since end October 2011, basis points Small Business (variable rates) Residentially secured, advertised - Term loans Overdraft Average rate Large Business Average rate (variable rate and bill funding) Source: RBA

4 12.00 Lending Rates % Mar-2003 Aug-2003 Jan-2004 Jun-2004 Nov-2004 Apr-2005 Sep-2005 Feb-2006 Jul-2006 Dec-2006 May-2007 Oct-2007 Mar-2008 Aug-2008 Jan-2009 Jun-2009 Nov-2009 Apr-2010 Sep-2010 Feb-2011 Jul-2011 Dec-2011 May-2012 Oct-2012 cash rate average rate small business average rate large business Source: RBA Small business development is often hampered by the lending policies of banks. In term this leads to lower economic growth than would otherwise be the case. ACCESS TO CREDIT AND ROLE OF CREDIT MEDIATION SERVICES The OECD notes that conflicts between small businesses and financial institutions are, in some cases, related to disagreement on business plans or on viability of investment plans. Sometimes, the business owners may be unclear in the request of the credit and explaining cash flow needs. In other cases, business plans are not presented with sufficient clarity or may have inconsistencies. On the other hand, financial institutions may be unclear in its request for documentation or, in the case of small regional credit providers, may be limited by sufficient authority to make decisions regarding credit approvals. Some European countries put in place credit mediation services to assist small businesses whose credit applications were refused during the GFC. In most cases, the role of the mediation service is to examine the applications made by small businesses to whom credit has been refused with a view to restoring dialogue between the small business and the credit institutions. This is achieved by facilitating information exchange between banks and small business borrowers, providing advice to small businesses on supporting services, monitoring on credit markets and reporting to competent authorities. In countries like Belgium, France and Ireland the share of mediated cases that resulted in loan acceptance was 60%, 62% and 56%, respectively. Country level evidence: success rates Country Period Success rate Belgium % France % Ireland % Source: OECD,

5 AN AUSTRALIAN RESPONSE: CREATION OF AN AUSTRALIAN SMALL BUSINESS CREDIT RESOLUTION SERVICE An Australian Small Business Credit Resolution Service (AUSBCRES) would mediate between financial institutions and small business when credit applications are refused, with the purpose of ensuring that all applications for funding by small businesses are adequately and properly assessed. AUSBCRES would achieve this by: 1. Conducting impartial assessments of loan applications and articulating reasons of rejection. 2. Facilitating communication between small businesses and financial institutions. 3. Referring small businesses to financial literacy skill enhancing services. 4. Providing advice on alternative financing methods and how to make a credit request. 5. Reporting annually on small business finance issues to government. AUSBCRES would be created as a division of the Small Business Commissioner / Small Business Ombudsman and would be an adjunct role to it. Unlike the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) which resolves disputes between consumers and FOS member financial services providers, the AUSBCRES would resolve disputes between consumers and all financial institutions carrying on business in Australia. Unlike the FOS, AUSBCRES would not limit availability of its services to only those small businesses employing 20 employees or less but would be available for all small businesses operating in Australia. PROPOSED AUSBCRES MEDIATION PROCESS i. AUSBCRES will assist small businesses when credit applications fail. ii. AUSBCRES will have a direct role in the credit application process when mediation service is requested but will not have power of enforcement. iii. Small Business Commissioner s Office / Small Business Ombudsman s Office will incorporate AUSBCRES to mediate between financial institutions and small businesses. iv. Financial institutions decide whether or not approve credit application after receiving credit review assessment by AUSBCRES 5

6 Benefits of AUSBCRES The AUSBCRES will: i. promote banking relationship by providing mediation services, ii. reduce communication problems between financial institutions and small business borrowers by ensuring clarity and high quality in credit requests, iii. reduce disagreements on business plans by ensuring business plans are presented in a clear manner and financial institutions do not request unnecessary documentation, iv. increase awareness of importance of financial reporting to accessing finance, and v. encourage small businesses, whose credit application has been rejected, to continue seeking credit. RECOMMENDATIONS That Government establish an Australian Small Business Credit Resolution Service to ensure that all applications for funding by small business are adequately and properly assessed. PREPARED BY Real Estate Institute of Australia July

7 Appendix 1 Employment by sector and business size, at end June 2012 Industry sector Small Medium Large Excluding financial and insurance services (0 19 employees) ( employees) Business size (200+ employees) Total employment Small business share of employment in each sector ( 000s) ( 000s) ( 000s) ( 000s) % Agriculture, forestry and fishing Mining Manufacturing Services Electricity, gas, water and waste services Construction Wholesale trade ,930 2,369 2,805 9, , Retail trade , Accommodation and food services Transport, postal and warehousing Information media and telecommunications Rental, hiring and real estate services Professional, scientific and technical services Administrative and support services Public administration and safety (private) Education and training (private) Health care and social assistance (private) , Arts and recreation services Other services TOTAL SELECTED INDUSTRIES Data source: ABS ,649 2,758 3,320 10,

8 Appendix 2 Industry value added by sector and business size, Industry sector Small Medium Large Excluding financial and insurance services (0 19 employees) ( employees) (200+ employees) Business size Total Small business share of gross value added in each sector ($m) ($m) ($m) ($m) % Agriculture, forestry and fishing 20,323 3, , Mining Manufacturing 15,076 18,225 99, , ,174 29,267 52, , Services 292, , , , Electricity, gas, water and waste services 3,810 3,202 32,825 39, Construction Wholesale trade 47,797 26,406 25,271 99, ,886 22,837 22,114 62, Retail trade 25,963 17,263 28,885 72, Accommodation and food services 15,039 14,400 7,972 37, Transport, postal and warehousing 15,448 10,626 36,288 62, Information media and telecommunications 2,766 3,696 29,375 35, Rental, hiring and real estate services 48,308 5,262 6,919 60, Professional, scientific and technical services 46,137 29,597 27, , Administrative and support services 14,606 13,618 20,758 48, Public administration and safety (private) 1,977 1,253 1,852 5, Education and training (private) 5,308 8,718 6,910 20, Health care and social assistance (private) 27,476 12,526 23,041 63, Arts and recreation services 3,089 3,350 5,033 11, Other services 17,222 7,305 3,912 28, TOTAL SELECTED INDUSTRIES 348, , ,404 1,012, Data source: ABS 8

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