Business

Businesses 'paying more' to borrow than last year

five pound notes
Image caption Businesses borrowing money are paying more for their loans

Bank fees and costs for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have risen since the end of last year.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) says many small businesses are unable to borrow from banks, because their lending criteria are too restrictive.

Banks say demand has fallen as firms focus on paying back existing loans.

A separate report shows commercial lending is still sharply lower than at the height of the boom.

The annual survey from the National Association of Commercial Finance Brokers (NACFB) reveals that in the mid-2000s, nearly £20bn was being borrowed, but this went down to under £7bn and is now just over that.

"If you look at late 2007 [to] early 2008, our members probably had over 100 lenders to choose from for commercial finance. That now is below 50," Adam Tyler, the NACFB's chief executive, told BBC Radio 5 live's Wake Up To Money.

"It's become increasingly difficult to actually place business, whether it's with the High Street lenders or with smaller companies."

Last week, the government set up a task force involving the major banks and key government departments to examine whether banks are making life too tough for SMEs.

In a piece published on the BBC News website, Angela Knight, the chief executive of the British Bankers' Association, points to last week's Trends in Lending report from the Bank of England, which said the evidence was that demand from small businesses for bank loans remained weak.

'More choosy'

The ICAEW's findings were published in its latest business confidence monitor, put together with Grant Thornton.

Michael Izza, the chief executive of ICAEW, said: "Before the recession, banks were lending to businesses they probably shouldn't have been lending to and they were guilty of probably being rather exuberant in their lending.

"[Now] banks are being a little more choosy about who they lend to. They're also charging more money, they're making sure that the lending they do make to businesses, they can make money on. They've been getting their balance sheets in order for the last year or so."

As well as noting a rise in fees, such as those levied for arranging an overdraft, the ICAEW backed up the banks' assertion about demand, saying many SMEs were concentrating on paying off debts and managing with the money they had.

Despite complaints from some businesses about the banks' attitude to lending, the ICAEW survey found the percentage of SMEs saying access to capital is a challenge fell to 20%, from 30% at the end of 2009.

It added that businesses reporting late payment was a "considerably more stubborn problem" for them.

The report also found waning confidence among businesses, despite what it called a noticeable improvement in their financial health.

It suggests the economy, which is currently running at more than 4% below pre-recession levels, will slow later this year.

'Factor invoicing'

Meanwhile, the NACFB, which is the UK's trade body for business finance brokers, says it has seen an increase in the total amount of business written in the past year.

However, this is only 39% of the volume of business being written in 2007.

The NACFB's report said the biggest growth area of lending had come in "factor invoicing".

Mr Tyler explained how it works: "As you raise an invoice, you pass that invoice to a company who will pay you a percentage of that invoice immediately.

"If you take a figure of 90% - if you raise an invoice for £10,000, you'll receive £9,000 immediately. You'll receive the balance, or a percentage of the balance, once that invoice is actually settled by the company."

But the cost of using factor invoicing can be high, with finance firms charging a percentage of the value of the invoice and administration fees.

James Winnister runs a security and fire installation business called J-Tech Systems, and has to use factor invoicing to manage his cashflow.

He says it costs him between £500 and £1,000 a month - money he would like to put back into the business.

Radio 5 live's Wake up to Money programme will be focusing on bank lending to business on Monday 23 and Tuesday 24 August, at 0530.

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