Access to finance can be the biggest barrier to starting a business.
Industry regulator the Competition and Markets Authority is looking to improve competition and access to banking and this week released early recommendations before a full report is unveiled in August.
It identified issues with SMEs sticking with their current account provider when searching for overdrafts and loans and a lack of transparency when it comes to costs.
So how could access to finance be reformed?
Banks and building societies will have to display information on their customer service and how long it takes to open an account.
The data will have to include a customers’ willingness to recommend the provider’s current account services to friends, family or colleagues as well as opinions on the service in branch, online and relationship management.
The information would need to be displayed on the provider website as well as on price comparison tools.
Soft searches to protect your credit rating
Searching for credit can be time consuming and confusing.
Too many searches can also hit your credit score. The CMA has proposed introducing soft searches and loan eligibility calculators that would not affect an SME’s credit rating but would give an indication of the finance they could get.
All lenders that provide unsecured loans and overdrafts to SMEs will need to display on their websites rates showing the cost of finance up to the value of £25,000.
These rates must show the representative annual percentage rate for unsecured loans and an equivalent annual rate for overdrafts to enable SMEs to make comparisons on the total cost of credit.
The rates that these lenders publish must be made available to at least 51% of SME customers applying for these products.
In addition, lenders must make available these charges, terms and conditions, and how APR/EARs vary with loan size and length, as open data to third parties, such as comparison sites and finance platforms.
The CMA found that the account opening process was a barrier to switching for some SMEs.
Instead it would like to require all business account providers to agree and adopt a standard form and common evidence requirements for applicants.
If everyone requires the same information this should also make the switching service easier.
The CMA is set to launch a competition with innovation charity Nesta to identify possible solutions to the problem of limited access by SMEs by creating a comparison website.
The report also recommends accountants’ help SMEs shop around for finance.