Posted on Wednesday 17 October 2018 by Ulster Business


How does a growing company help its expansion plans really take off? John Mulgrew takes a look at the options available to SMEs here when it comes to funding

What does a burgeoning small business do when it’s time to scale up?

There a numerous options for companies right across the business spectrum – and the options across the traditional banking world are plentiful.

But there’s additional assistance that can be garnered from less traditional sources, with feedback and support also coming from outside the conventional sphere.

David Nelson, partner at KPMG private enterprise, a global professional services firm, says it “works with companies of all sizes and at every stage of their development -  from start-ups to established family businesses.”.

“Our people understand what it takes for companies to be successful at every stage of development – from idea to exit – and will help them make the right decisions at every step of the way,” he said.

“So the support we give to our clients ranges from business planning and raising capital through to help with expanding internationally, M&A, tax advice, R&D incentives, technical accounting matters and complying with regulatory requirements.”

According to First Trust Bank’s head of business banking, Seamus McGuckin, there are “various funding options available to assist SMEs as they grow”.

“… be that asset finance, invoice discounting, revolving working capital, loan financing or overdraft facilities.

“First and foremost, however the more important support we can offer our clients is our expertise and commitment to understanding their needs and then delivering a service to match. It’s through getting to know our clients and their business that we can best share our knowledge and advice around the type of financial support they need.

“At First Trust Bank, having listened to what our customers wanted, we invested in six new business centres across Northern Ireland to support fast, local decision making. We also established a Small Business Centre to meet the needs of our smaller customers. Now firmly embedded in their respective communities, these centres – coupled with our expert sectoral advisors – are on hand to help business owners identify opportunity and risks and how best to mitigate or capitalise upon them.”

Richard Donnan, head of Northern Ireland at Ulster Bank, says it “is strongly committed to supporting businesses of all sizes, from micro firms right through to large corporates”.

“Our latest results show a 29% in small business drawdowns, and we continue to work hard through initiatives such as our Boost initiative and our Entrepreneur Accelerator to build mutually beneficial relationships with firms across Northern Ireland.

“A key focus for the bank is the development of digital services that make it simpler, easier and safer for customers to bank with us.

“Our digitally active customer base grew by 21% year-on-year and we are continuing to respond to that change, for example, by introducing our Business Growth Enablers and through the development of our digital platforms such as our mobile app.”

But it’s not all bank financing. The Growth Loan Fund offers assistance to Northern Ireland-based companies who demonstrate growth, and tend to work within the manufacturing, engineering or tradable services sectors.

“Loans will be typically unsecured and personal guarantees will not be sought. The loans provided are expected to be complementary to existing sources of finance, including banks, trade finance sources and equity investors.”

Some of the companies availing of the finance include Belfast-based BLK BOX Fitness, which secured £300,000 to grow its online platform and boost exports, along with Fermanagh gin-maker Boatyard Distillery.

Meanwhile, the BGF was set up in 2011 with £2.5bn and has since backed close to 200 companies.

Last year, BGF was the UK’s top institutional investor and ranked the seventh most active private investor in the world by number of investments.

Upstream is a Belfast-based alternative finance company specialising in SME funding, and has also now introduced a trade finance option for clients. The market-first solution unlocks the ability for businesses to finance their working capital needs end to end, from supplier to buyer.

Niall Harkin is director of customer journeys at Danske Bank. He says “personal engagement is still really important” when dealing with small and medium-sized firms looking at expansion.

“That’s why last year we introduced a team of 18 dedicated small business advisers back in to key branches across Northern Ireland, giving customers access to expertise in their local area to discuss business plans and explore funding options,” he said.

“Meanwhile, teams of experienced relationship managers supported by specialists in areas such as cash management, markets and trade finance, support our larger SME customers.

“At the same time, we’re investing heavily in our digital offering, and recently added the capability for SMEs to get lending decisions in a matter of minutes in various situations. ‘future financing’ makes the whole credit process much easier for our customers. For an overdraft, we’ve seen approvals in four minutes and access to money well within 24 hours.

“In the future, customers should be able to go online and request an overdraft increase on a smartphone at home.”

But aside from the financial support, businesses here can also turn to the support from hubs. That includes Ormeau Baths’s Barclays Eagle Labs – which is located at the south Belfast listed building – and the Ignite NI Propel Pre-Accelerator.

The options are out there and available for companies wishing to take that next step, whether traditional banking or alternative streams are the way to go.


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