The British Business Bank’s 2018 Small Business Finance Markets report reveals welcome evidence that the UK’s small businesses are diversifying in their choice of finance. Although still the predominant channel, there are encouraging signs that small businesses are looking beyond their main bank for finance and turning to alternative sources.
The value of SME asset finance deals (up 12%) and peer-to-peer business lending (up 51%) in 2017 both showed strong growth. Although net bank lending volumes remained positive (£0.7bn) in 2017, they were weaker than in both 2016 (£3bn) and 2015 (£2bn). Significant increases were seen in 2017 in both the value and number of SME equity deals (up 79% and 12% respectively).
While the regional distribution of bank lending closely matches the distribution of the business population, regional disparities in other sources of business finance continue.
Equity deals remain skewed towards London and the South East. Whilst London Boroughs formed nearly half of the top 25 areas for most equity deals. London and South East continue to dominate in awareness of venture capital as a source of external finance – 69% of London and South East smaller businesses registered an awareness of VC compared to only 58% in the North.
Though the report finds that some progress has been made in developing high-growth businesses in the UK, and in the provision of equity finance to support that growth, British Business Bank analysis suggests more UK start-ups could become fast-growth businesses with greater availability of long-term patient capital. Such finance is a key ingredient in enabling firms to scale up and a significant economic impact could be made if availability was raised to the same level as the US.
The Bank’s 2017 Equity Tracker showed that UK VC funds are around one third smaller than in the US (£118m vs £180m), and that UK businesses receive fewer funding rounds than their US counterparts (an average of 1.9 rounds vs 2.7 rounds).
While scale-up businesses’ financing needs are complex, the recent Autumn 2017 Budget announcement of a programme to help enable up to £13bn of patient capital through the British Business Bank’s activities is a significant step toward meeting those needs.
Entrepreneurial activity in the UK remains strong, with a highest-ever population of 5.7m businesses at the start of 2017 including a record number of new businesses created (c414,000) in the preceding year.
The report finds a decline in smaller business confidence and low demand for external finance is becoming entrenched as their cash balances rise. Bank analysis finds that, over the last ten quarters, only 1.7% of smaller businesses sought new loans, a record low since the SME Finance Monitor began in 2011. Less than half (43%) were confident they would get a loan if they applied, even though most new loan applications (72%) are approved. Moreover, 70% of SMEs are willing to forgo growth rather than borrow, continuing a trend identified in last year’s Small Business Finance Markets report.
Keith Morgan, British Business Bank CEO, said: “A core objective of the British Business Bank is to encourage greater diversity of finance, so we welcome the growth in the uptake of equity finance and other alternatives to traditional lending.
“It can’t be overstated how important it is to build a more complete funding ladder for economically important high-growth businesses in Scotland. Scale-ups need more long-term patient capital throughout all stages of their development to be world-beating companies, and we look forward to using our new resources allocated at Autumn Budget to unlock more of this type of capital.”
British Business Bank is supporting the government’s recent Industrial Strategy and Patient Capital Review, in two important areas:
Building confidence and stimulating demand: The report highlights that, particularly for smaller businesses with growth potential, there would be benefit in improving the information available to them about their finance options. The British Business Bank is introducing a new digital information hub in 2018 for smaller businesses, to better enable them to seek the finance best suited to their needs.
Patient capital: In November’s Budget, the government allocated additional resources to the British Business Bank in response to the Patient Capital Review. Enabling greater access to patient capital is a key element of helping high-growth start-ups reach scale, and of funding capital-intensive research & development-based businesses. The success of these businesses can play a vital role in the UK’s future economic growth.
Small Business Minister Andrew Griffiths said: “Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and this Government’s Industrial Strategy is building a Britain in which they can continue to thrive.
“Today’s report from the British Business Bank shows that although challenges remain, more small businesses are accessing finance from a wider range of sources. The British Business Bank plays a vital role in this, which is why we are working with them to establish a new £2.5bn Investment Fund to ensure small businesses can access the finance they need to succeed.”