Forum of Private Business urges SMEs to challenge banks

The head of a national business support organisation has questioned banking industry pledges to boost lending to SMEs.

Phil Orford, chief executive of the Forum of Private Business, asked how the banks intend to increase the flow of credit to smaller businesses if, as they claim, demand for lending is down and four out of five funding applications are already being accepted.

Speaking in response to lending pledges made by the major banks via ‘Project Merlin’, Orford said: ‘The question we need to ask is how.

‘The banks say demand is down. They say applications are running at an 80 per cent acceptance rate. If this is the case, how do they intend to increase lending to small firms by 15 per cent?

‘I believe the answer is that they must review risk criteria and be less punitive on viability assessments — and make a particular effort to cut down on sector-based discrimination.

‘The banks must be more proactive in securing up-to-date financial information from their clients and they need to communicate more clearly to applicants what the key assessment criteria are, so applications are more compliant with the lenders’ needs.’

He added: ‘The message now to all small businesses is that the banks have committed to lend more. Test them on their commitment and get your applications in.’