SMEs plagued by cash flow worries

Robyn Hall

June 24, 2013

The study by the not-for-profit employer support organisation has also shown increasing fears from business around their finances in general, including concern banks would call in overdrafts or loans.

On cash flow, 38% of businesses admitted it was the primary cause of concern to their business at present, this compared to 33% last year when asked the same question in Forum research.

Concern around access to finance also increased, from 17% to 23% this year, and the actual cost of finance went up, from 6% to 8%. Lack of choice for finance at 19% was down marginally from 20%.

Phil Orford, chief executive at the Forum of Private Business, said: “Taken in a wider context these results are alarming because it suggest a marked deterioration in SME confidence in their finances.

“We suspect this is as a result of the banks’ ongoing failure to deliver affordable finance to small firms, and the fact businesses are increasingly worried about cash flow, and being paid late is surely linked.

“These are issues borne of credit being scarce and difficult to obtain – the recently announced OFT investigation in to the lack business lending by the banks underlines this.”

Interestingly separate Forum research on business support also showed more than half of firms polled believed the Forum’s Credit Control Guide which helps small firms get paid on time and manage their cash flow would be beneficial.

The Forum said this is proof that many small firms are crying out for help with managing their finances better.

Orford said: “Everybody knows cash flow and credit control are crucial areas for all businesses.

“It’s those firms who successfully manage these aspects of their business who are better placed to survive a one-off shock and indeed who are more likely to be in favour with the banks for a loan.

“Our Credit Control Guide is a great starting point for businesses who feel they are wanting in this area.”

The Forum research also polled respondents on attitudes to banks in several key areas, with ratings from 1 to 5: 1 being no issue to 5 being seriously damaging, with anything over 3 classed as harmful to their business.

Bank charges scored the highest with an average rating of 3.6 – up from 3.23 on identical Forum research undertaken in 2006.

Collateral requirements averaged 3.2, up from 2.88; reduction or calling in of loan/overdraft was up from 3.16 to 3.5.

Perhaps not surprisingly the availability of finance saw the biggest leap, going up from 2.43 to 3.3.

Orford said: “This research not only shows businesses fearful about their own financial state, but it shows ongoing dissatisfaction with the banks.

“It really isn’t good enough that the banks are now actually regarded as being harmful to SMEs in so many different ways, not just the lack of lending anymore.”

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