The Government’s announcement of the partnership between UK Export Finance (UKEF) and five UK banks to help it deliver £3 billion of export finance is a positive one. Boosting the UK’s export capability is a key priority but this initiative shows that whilst the message is correct, the approach is blinkered.
Recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the UK’s current account deficit – the difference between the value of goods imported and exported – expanded by £4.8bn to nearly £17bn in Q1, 2017. The UK is currently lagging behind a number of countries around the world in exporting, and there are concerns that UK trade could weaken further as we move closer towards exiting the EU.
The partnership between UKEF and high street banks will look to offset these fears as the government will provide banks with a guarantee to reduce some of the risk that they take on when lending to small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs). The partnership will assist the banks in providing export-related trade finance, such as working capital loans, while UKEF takes on 80% of the risk of the loan. This is certainly a step in the right direction for the UK economy.
Increasing exports is of key importance as we exit the EU and strive towards the ambition of becoming a global trading nation. However, the government needs to recognise that there are specialist funders available with products and teams dedicated to helping SMEs trade overseas with confidence. Banks are just one route to financing. At BFS we provide funding solutions to SMEs all over the UK and across the world.
The government needs to work with financiers that understand support is about more than just funding. Understanding the complexities around international commercial terms, freight and logistics, border regulations, legal practices, languages, currency and payment collections are all extremely important. In fact, our Global Business Monitor report last year revealed that almost a quarter (24%) of SMEs across the world see currency fluctuation as the key barrier to cross-border trade. Cashflow was cited as the second biggest obstacle, followed by managing overseas customer payments. At BFS we have specialist teams that secure currency rates that will protect SMEs sales margins, and our overseas credit control teams can collect payments in multiple languages.
The International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, said this deal “lifts a common barrier to exporting” and was aimed at helping small businesses “seize the global demand for British exports”. At BFS we have seen a demand from UK SMEs to begin fulfilling this demand. Our Q2 2017 SME Confidence Tracker revealed that one in ten plan to invest in preparing their businesses to export over the next three months and 17% have ambitions to export over the next 12 months.
Ultimately the government is firmly on the pulse of business; the message is correct with UKEF’s partnership, but the approach is missing out on fulfilling a much greater potential. There are many funders that are extremely well placed in understanding the complexities of exporting. I urge the government to also look beyond traditional high street banks and work with those that have a proven track record of helping SMEs reach their ambitions.
Craig Durnell is Managing Director of Export Finance at Bibby Financial Services.