There is no underestimating the importance of small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) for the UK: the market is a key driver of economic growth and contributes greatly to the GDP. Statistics released by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) last year found that 99.9% of the 5.2 million private sector businesses are SMEs, which together represent an annual turnover of £1.6 trillion. SMEs dominate the industrial market and account for 60% of private sector employment.
Needless to say, supporting SMEs is vital for economic stability and growth; something which has been addressed by all key political parties in the run-up to May’s general election. For our part, we have been committed to this market since our inception in 1990, helping business to acquire the finance they to need in order to succeed and grow.
Obviously, the financing climate has changed a lot since our business venture began. Here, we take a look at how funding for SMEs has evolved over the past 25 years:
A brief history
At the start of 1990, and indeed through to the start of the millennium, businesses like our own were experiencing significant growth. In a recent article, Dr Khaled Sofani, Senior Teaching Faculty member in Finance at the University of Cambridge, attributes this growth to a range of factors: the end of the Cold War, the removing of financial regulations, and China gaining significant economic power.
There were also two more reasons. The first, of course, was the rise of the internet. The world wide web helped facilitate business-consumer engagement and for the very first time, businesses could reach customers across the globe without having to establish a physical presence in those countries. The second reason was that it was relatively simple for SMEs to acquire funding at the time which, as Dr Sofani states, was due to the fact that private equity funds and venture capitalists were both able to seek funding from financial organisations with ease.
During this time, the banking market was overcrowded with companies wanting market share. And, with credit being easily accessible for SMEs, they were able to grow and succeed, creating more job opportunities and boosting economic confidence.
Then everything changed
But then, the financial crisis hit and everything changed. Many banks and financial organisations went bust, or at the very least found themselves facing severe solvency and liquidity issues. Banks and other funding houses were forced to become far stricter in their lending terms; they became much more constrained and risk averse, making it increasingly difficult for business to acquire the funding they needed. According to BIS statistics, bank lending peaked during 2009 and since then, it has been declining year-on-year.
In the years that followed the financial crisis, there was huge uncertainty in the market. Aware of this, SMEs were holding off investment plans: in the six months leading up to February 2011, there was a 19% reduction in application value for small businesses applying for new term loans and overdrafts. A total 3% of SMEs at that time admitted to delaying borrowing because of the climate.
At times of economic instability, SMEs are at a significant disadvantage. Whereas larger companies are able to cut costs by doing things like limiting their services, losing employees or restructuring, this is virtually impossible for smaller businesses with little space to manoeuvre. Plus, cuts to alternative finance solutions during these times leaves small businesses increasingly vulnerable, as they often rely on short-term credit, loans and overdrafts for their day-to-day operations.
Yet now, years on from the financial crisis, the economic climate has significantly improved, and confidence in the market is returning. SMEs have the tools they need to grow and succeed, and individuals that were perhaps apprehensive before now feel encouraged to begin their own business ventures. In fact, the number of SMEs has increased by 1.8 million since 2001, up 51%. And these businesses aren’t just confident in the market but in lending, too, with the government’s latest SME Business Barometer report showing that 77% of SMEs seeking finance last year thought they would be successful.
Despite the numerous challenges, the SME market soldiers on relentlessly. What is needed going forward is assurance by the government, banks and financial providers like ourselves that we are able to continue supporting this market in any way we can. SMEs are the lifeblood of the UK economy and we must ensure that their needs, both financial and other, are met.
We are a leading provider of finance solutions to this market. If you are a small or medium-sized business, we are able to offer short-term business loans, finance for your new assets, and provide finance for your IT needs. Contact us today.