Sterling calls for businesses to embrace 'creative' options

Nottingham-based Sterling Capital Reserve has called for companies to embrace more creative funding options. It comes as it was revealed Project Merlin banks missed targets for lending to small businesses by more than £1bn.

The commercial finance broker, which created mezzanine finance provider Strata Finance and brought Shawbrook Bank and online loans marketplace to the region, claimed it now has more than £3m to lend to businesses in the Midlands.

However, potential borrowers are put off by a perception that it is "impossible" to access money from traditional providers, the company told Insider.

The calls came after the Bank of England reported that the five banks signed up to the Project Merlin deal lent a total of £74.9bn to small and medium sized businesses in 2011. This was £1.1bn down on the government-set target of £76bn.

But the banks exceeded a gross lending target of £190bn by £24.9bn. Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, RBS and Santander all took part in the government-supported scheme.

David Griffiths, managing director of Sterling Capital Reserve, said: "There is a perception out there that no banks are lending. Clearly from the figures released many - at least the Merlin group of banks - are lending, but there is perhaps room for improvement with regards lending to small business.

"I note with interest that a spokesperson for the Merlin banks said that 'business demand for credit remains weak' and I would challenge that based on the feedback and interest that we are receiving.

"As brokers we are now seeing much greater demand for our more creative approach to lending, particular through where we match lenders frustrated with low rates of return with borrowers that are frustrated with the provision from banks."

Matthew Fell, CBI director for competitive markets, said: "It's encouraging news that banks have met their overall Project Merlin lending targets, helping to foster business growth and job creation.

"However, lending conditions remain tight for smaller businesses, as demonstrated by the slight shortfall in the SME Merlin lending figures.

"This shortfall strengthens the need for banks to continue to work closely with their customers, especially smaller and medium-sized companies, to help address business needs and to give them more confidence to approach their bank."

He added: "There is no doubt that regulatory changes and higher wholesale funding costs have in part constrained banks' ability to lend, so we need to look at a wider range of funding models that will help better match supply and demand. That is why it's so important that the government implements the proposed credit easing scheme as soon as possible."

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said there needs to be more competition in the high street banking sector.

Polling more than 11,000 FSB members, a survey found only 35 per cent used an overdraft in 2011, 11 per cent secured a bank loan and seven per cent an unsecured bank loan.

FSB national chairman John Walker said: "Our research in the past two years shows that about a third of businesses are refused credit and this could be reflected in the fact that newer businesses are using more of their own money to fund their business rather than turn to the banks for help.

"What we need to see is better promotion of the alternatives available and for the government to put in place their bold credit easing plans, which will help small businesses access finance on better terms."

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