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6 months ago

Borrowing Blues as SME Lending Drops Again

According to data released by UK Finance, lending to British SMEs has experienced its fifth consecutive quarterly drop, with a notable 20% decline. The repercussions of such a decline will be felt by businesses across various sectors. This article delves into the factors contributing to this trend and explores the potential ramifications for businesses.

Contributing Factors

SMEs are grappling with uncertainty over demand, impacting their confidence to borrow finance. As economic conditions remain volatile, businesses are cautious about taking on new financial commitments. Consistently high interest rates are acting as a deterrent for SMEs looking to borrow, with the increased cost prompting them to explore alternative finance options or rely on existing resources.

The aftermath of the COVID loan era has left its mark on SME financing, with the impact of these pandemic-related loans now becoming a major factor in the current weakness of the market. Traditional lenders have become more cautious with their criteria with a desire to mitigate risk, leaving viable businesses without the support they need to grow and thrive.

A ‘Super Complaint’

In response to what it deems harsh lending practices, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has issued a ‘super complaint’ to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). This move signals a desire for change in the lending landscape, with a focus on making business finance more accessible to small businesses.

An ongoing investigation by the Treasury Committee further underscores the urgency to address the disparities between funding options for small firms compared to larger corporations.

SMEs Struggling

With lending becoming more challenging all the time, SMEs are increasingly reliant on their existing financial resources to fund operations. A survey by YFM Equity Partners reveals that 38% of business owners have resorted to tapping into their personal savings, an already concerning number which rises to 43% in London.

The review by UK Finance suggests that SMEs are hesitant to focus on long-term investments and expansion until a clear path to a stronger economic recovery reveals itself. While sensible in some cases, this caution will impede the growth of many.

The hospitality industry appears to be the hardest hit, where smaller businesses are regularly using overdrafts to manage cash flow challenges. However, there has also been a steady decline in overdraft approvals throughout 2023.

The Outlook

As SMEs in the UK face a daunting challenge, it’s crucial to address the barriers to business finance that are hindering growth. Government initiatives, regulatory changes and collaboration with lenders will play pivotal roles in shaping a more favourable market for all parties.

The resilience of British SMEs is of the utmost importance to economic prosperity, so concerted efforts are needed to ensure they have the financial tools and support necessary to thrive.

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Sam White