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Banking ups and downs

Published: 12/10/2016

At the start of the year Barclays Bank announced their pledge help to 15,000 businesses export within the next five years in support of the government's own export initiative. Seven key points were unveiled as future plans:

  1. Development of Digital Products and capability – through digital transformation of systems, staff training and development of digital products to support businesses exporting.
  2. Increase the number of first time exporters – a pledge to support 15,000 businesses exporting for the first time or those returning to exports by 2020.
  3. Increase exports by Medium Sized and High Growth Businesses – through trade missions, export summits and at UKTI Export Week. A UKTI MSB adviser will be available to Barclays clients for support, while Barclays and UKTI also pledge to support high growth businesses by exploring propositions to help their specific trade ambitions.
  4. Winning of overseas High Value Opportunities and sector development – Barclays and UKTI sector and project finance teams will exchange information and collaboratively support networking between UK Medium Sized Businesses (MSB) and Prime Contractors to aid the formation of UK supply chains for High Value Opportunities overseas, in addition to improvements in the response to HVOs, to increase UK export success.
  5. Increase trade with Africa – identifying opportunities with targeted trade programmes. Barclays has identified a £3.6bn export opportunity for UK businesses by 2020, up from £1.2bn currently for the five African Sleeping Giant countries. Total consumer spending in Sub-Saharan African countries is expected to grow by 4- 5% over the next 5-10 years.
  6. Encourage inward investment from priority overseas markets – Raise awareness of UK as an investment destination through Barclays global reach and UKTI networks
  7. Drive exports through marketing, initiatives & events – UKTI and Barclays will work closely to promote the Exporting is Great campaign.

Fast forward to post-referendum Britain; the recent plunge in Sterling and the relative degree of market turbulence engendered by Brexit, current market conditions make it a favourable time for SMEs to embark on a concerted export drive, according to Barclays Bank.

The bank is reaffirming its commitment to assist exporters – this follows a 3% increase in the number of businesses that Barclays has helped to grow has since the start of 2016, with some 12,000 SMEs helped in their export drives in the first six months of the year.

The bank now plans to offer specialist help to SMEs; Steve Childs, Barclays Head of International, said that now is a “great time” for businesses to export with a “wealth of opportunities” for UK products and services.

"While there are challenges for businesses that import, these are equalled, if not outweighed, by the possibilities that arise from exporting,” he said."

And on the home front...

There's a slightly less positive outlook as a quarter of small businesses (26%) do not feel supported by their banks, according to a survey of 500 SMEs conducted by YouGov.

The sentiment is most pronounced in the category of businesses turning over less than £1m, in which 30% claim to feel ‘unsupported’.

The research, commissioned by P2P finance specialist Nucleus Commercial Finance, also revealed that SMEs are in the dark regarding the notice periods on their business overdrafts.

Some 40% claimed their banks had to give them at least a week’s notice or didn’t actually know what the notice period was.

The most popular overdraft notice period answers were three months or more than three months, with 14% of small businesses and 19% of medium sized businesses claiming their banks were obliged to give them at least three months’ notice.

Chirag Shah, CEO of Nucleus Commercial Finance, commented: “Unfortunately for SMEs, banks don’t need to give them any notice at all before removing their overdrafts – but they often don’t make this clear. Businesses work this source of unsecured funding into their budgets and rely on their overdrafts to plug working capital gaps on a month-by-month basis.

“The fact that a three-month overdraft notice period was the most popular answer suggests many SMEs have a shock coming further down the road when this lifeline disappears.”

Shah continues: “Banks are simply reluctant to make this type of unsecured lending available. Basel III required them to acquire more capital to sustain the same level of risk, and SMEs are often their least profitable and therefore lowest priority business customers.

“That small businesses don't feel supported isn’t a shock: according to figures from the Bank of England, SME lending via overdrafts alone has fallen almost £8.5bn in four years. In fact, the latest BBA figures show in Q1 this year, banks approved £6.1bn of new SME loan and overdraft facilities. This was 18% lower than in the same quarter last year. It’s a worrying trend for SMEs.

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