SME finance

We need to change direction - our housing credit bubble is leaving business behind

Interesting article by Christopher Joye in the AFR today - see below - calling out our policy makers for spurring on our consumer credit bubble. Businesses are left behind.

It really matters that credit should be available for business purposes to finance growth. But our system allows banks to leverage house loans 40 times compared to 'only' 10 times for an SME loan.

So small-medium sized businesses that employ must of us don't get a look in...unless they own some real estate of course.

BANK LENDING TO SMES IS IN LONG TERM DECLINE GLOBALLY AND IN AUSTRALIA – OUR BANKS HAVE TURNED INTO BUILDING SOCIETIES AND THIS IS HOLDING BACK OUR ECONOMY

Our banks only want to lend against houses. Since 2013, only 11% of new business lending in Australia has gone to small businesses with little growth:

  • Most of the $900bn of loans outstanding to businesses goes to the big end of town
  • $269bn lent to SMEs is swamped by over $1,500bn in residential mortgage lending
  • Banks see SMEs as a critical source of cheap deposits – SME deposits far outweigh SME loans
  • But SMEs employ the bulk of our workforce

Due to global regulatory capital rules (Basel III), mortgages are more than 3 times more profitable than SME loans:

  • Real estate carries a risk weighting of 25% but SME loans require 100% (75% if backed by real estate)
  • Banks have effectively withdrawn from their original purpose: facilitate commerce

Meanwhile SME growth and employment is constrained by lack of cashflow facilities:

  • Banks will only lend to SMEs with real estate security which is a problem in a service based economy
  • The ATO/taxpayer is forced to act as lender of last resort (ATO is owed $12.5bn in tax by SMEs and growing rapidly)
  • Tight cashflow holds back growth:

The RBA is blowing the mother of all bubbles

Can history be repeated? A mistake was cutting rates after the Fed's initial rate hikes "led to a sharp downturn in the housing market in 1966". RICHARD DREW

Can history be repeated? A mistake was cutting rates after the Fed's initial rate hikes "led to a sharp downturn in the housing market in 1966". RICHARD DREW

by Christopher Joye

With US employment growth again surprising forecasters and the jobless rate declining to a boom-time 4.7 per cent, below "full-employment", the question is whether central banks, and the Federal Reserve in particular, are "behind the curve".

In research this week Goldman Sachs assessed this using a framework previously advocated by Fed chair Janet Yellen. Goldman found "the Fed's current policy stance is about 1 percentage point easier than prescribed by a Taylor rule that uses a depressed neutral rate" and about 3 percentage points easier when adopting a more normal neutral cash rate of about 4 per cent. The latter assumption "implies that the current policy stance represents the largest dovish policy deviation since the 1970s", which coincided with an inflation break-out.

"The implication that current policy is somewhat 'too easy' is consistent with the fact the [US] financial conditions index remains easier than average and is still delivering a positive growth impulse at a time when the Fed is trying to impose deceleration," Goldmans said.

The investment bank warns "history counsels caution about falling behind" with the experience of the mid 1960s suggesting that inflation increases much more quickly at very low unemployment rates. Back then, years of benign inflation gave way to a sudden spike as the Fed wilted under political pressure not to aggressively tighten rates. A mistake was cutting rates after the Fed's initial rate hikes "led to a sharp downturn in the housing market in 1966".

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen: The third rate hike since the 2007-2009 recession was well telegraphed. Andrew Harnik

Could history repeat itself? Much hinges on policymakers' humility. Central bankers are not fond of acknowledging errors, often rationalising ex post facto via the meme that "this time is different", which can be exacerbated by the desire to propagate an image of infallibility. Remember the once-lionised monetary maven Alan Greenspan?

These risks have certainly spooked interest rate investors, although the adjustment process has a way to run. After the second biggest fall in fixed-rate (as opposed to floating-rate) bond prices in modern history in the December quarter, the spectre of a Fed hike in March - duly delivered this week - has lifted long-term rates further. 

Will RBA ever lift again?

In Australia the 10-year government bond yield is nearing 3 per cent, significantly higher than the sub-2 per cent level traders—gripped by "cheap money forever" fever—priced in September 2016. Current 10-year yields are, however, still miles below the 5.5 per cent average since the Reserve Bank of Australia started targeting inflation in 1993.

Some of the best interest rate traders I know, almost all of whom have never experienced a proper inflation cycle, genuinely believe the RBA "will never hike again".

The problem with a supercilious central bank is the ensuing risk insouciance increases the probability of mistakes. A classic example was a speech given by the RBA's new head of financial stability this week.

According to this revisionist narrative the global financial crisis (GFC) "hasn't fundamentally changed the way we think about financial system stability". The RBA is evidently so sensitive to allegations it has failed to heed the lessons of the GFC—by blowing the mother of all bubbles with excessively cheap money—that it felt compelled to repeat the mantra the crisis had not altered its approach on five separate occasions in the speech. There are demonstrable flaws in this fiction.

First, the RBA never came close to anticipating the GFC. Its financial stability guru, Luci Ellis, published a paper in 2006 arguing"the most important lesson to draw from recent international experience is that a run-up in housing prices and debt need not be dangerous for the macroeconomy, was probably inevitable, and might even be desirable".

Ellis maintained that "the experience of Australia and the UK seems to suggest booms in housing price growth can subside without themselves bringing about a macroeconomic downturn". Two years later the 33 per cent drop in US house prices would trigger the deepest global recession since the great depression.

Second, the GFC necessitated a raft of policy responses that had never been seriously contemplated before, which have transformed the way we think about dealing with shocks and the unanticipated consequences. Contrary to the recommendations of the 1997 financial system inquiry, the Commonwealth guaranteed bank deposits and bank bonds for the first time. The RBA agreed to buy securitised mortgage-backed portfolios via its liquidity facilities, which it had never done, and Treasury independently acquired $16 billion of these loans in the first case of local "quantitative easing".

Banks borrowed more money on longer terms from the RBA than anyone previously envisioned, which led the RBA to create a new bail-out program called the committed liquidity facility. In emergencies banks can now tap over $200 billion of cash instantly at a cost of just 1.9 per cent that makes trading while insolvent an impossibility.

A central tenet of pre-GFC regulation--attributable to the 1997 Wallis Inquiry—was that taxpayers should never guarantee any private firm for fear of inducing "moral hazard". This is the "heads bankers win, tails taxpayers lose" dysfunction that emerges when governments insure downside risk. The RBA has since conceded that the crisis bail-outs unleashed unprecedented moral hazards, such as too-big-to-fail institutions, that require new mitigants.

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority used to allow the major banks to leverage their equity 65 times when lending against housing because these assets were presumed to be nearly risk-free. Since the 2014 financial system inquiry APRA has been persuaded to deleverage the major banks' home loan books to merely (!) 40 times.

In 2013 the RBA was publicly dismissive of foreign regulators' efforts to contain credit growth via so-called macroprudential interventions to cool hot housing markets. One and a half years later APRA belatedly sought to cauterise the housing boom the RBA's 2012 and 2013 rate cuts precipitated with light-touch macroprudential jaw-boning.

Of course in 2017 the RBA has a different version of events. Apparently it has always seen "macroprudential policy as part and parcel of the financial stability framework". It turns out that "in 2014 the Australian regulators [presciently!] took the [rear-]view that risks were building in the residential housing market that warranted attention".

Actually, none of APRA's December 2014 announcements had any impact until well into 2015 (two years after the boom started) and they proved to be woefully inadequate. This column revealed, for example, that many banks had completely ignored APRA's minimum serviceability tests on home loans.

Good risk management requires intellectual honesty, which is missing in action among those overseeing the "wonder down under".


Read more: http://www.afr.com/personal-finance/the-rba-is-blowing-the-mother-of-all-bubbles-20170316-gv043y?&utm_source=social&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=nc&eid=socialn:twi-14omn0055-optim-nnn:nonpaid-27/06/2014-social_traffic-all-organicpost-nnn-afr-o&campaign_code=nocode&promote_channel=social_twitter#ixzz4bXWSWyAu 
 

Don't Bank on it! Tips on financing business growth

Established businesses that are expanding rapidly face challenges from all sides. They may be winning large contracts with slow-paying major customers, recruiting at a fast pace, experiencing increased competition and market pressures, they may need to invest in production, marketing and development almost simultaneously and the management team may also be looking at new ventures and territories.

If this sounds like you, then you will be familiar with the sensation of having to keep all the plates spinning, while also professionalising your business – perhaps taking on greater financial or managerial clout. You might be recruiting at director-level, while also cementing existing relationships with everyone from new recruits to your oldest customers.

As a thriving, established business, you have already established your credentials but to maintain growth, the business requires more working capital investment.

Most growing mid-sized businesses with revenue of $10-30 million could really do with another $1 million to fund growth. But where do you find it?

Raising equity from business angels does not make sense for most established businesses. Few owners are happy to give up control of their business. Similarly, few businesses fit the criteria of business angels who look for unique companies with strong growth potential and solid prospects for a sale of the business in the medium term.

At the other end of the spectrum is your bank. Unfortunately, banks require real estate security so it will be impossible to obtain meaningful working capital finance from a bank without pledging a substantial amount of real estate. Business owners waste a lot of valuable time looking for an overdraft from their bank.

Filling the void, peer-to-peer business loans can provide an alternative source of finance. These sources of funding are thriving but are typically only able to provide up to $150k on an unsecured basis. The costs are quite high and the need to repay monthly over a 6 month term makes even less sense for growing businesses.

However, there is another key option: your existing sales ledger can also provide a valuable source of cashflow with larger facility sizes ($1m+) than available from unsecured lenders.

Historically, the only option was factoring which involves onerous contracts and the consent of your customers. An ancient model, literally as it was invented around 4,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, it doesn't work for most businesses.

Now there is a much better way - confidential invoice trading. Online invoice trading platforms connect businesses with a pool of investors who will advance funds against existing valid invoices. Instead of waiting out long payment periods, businesses trade their invoices and receive a percentage of their value – around 80% - with a minimal waiting time. All without involving your customers.

Online or alternative invoice finance improves on the traditional approach to invoice finance and factoring considerably.

It is possible to trade a single invoice, rather than surrendering a complete sales ledger to a provider. The technology platform keeps costs low, and decisions on creditworthiness are rapid. Generally, platforms approve businesses within a day, provided they can produce bank statements and accounts. Once invoices are validated funds can be made available straightaway. Costs come in at around one to three per cent, but over time this kind of finance becomes more cost-effective, with discounts for subsequent invoices.

Invoice finance is a useful means of improving cash flow and unlocking access to working capital. It is also particularly helpful for businesses considering export markets where payment cycles can be unpredictable particularly in the short term.

Check out the alternatives to banks. Speak to a finance broker or your accountant or enquire directly with providers that seem to fit your needs.

Interest rates: lower for longer. Time to look at P2P investing.

Interesting perspective in the Financial Times on the effects of Brexit. The hunt for yield is likely to intensify. Building a diversified portfolio of Peer-to-Peer loans is a sensible option to consider.


Watch the interest rate outlook shift following Brexit vote

Gillian Tett

Future historians may conclude this is one of the most important ripple effects of the poll

When the results of the UK’s EU referendum emerged last Friday morning, the share price of MetLife, the stolid American insurance group, tumbled. In the course of two days its stock fell 14 per cent, making it one of the worst performers on the American indices.

At first glance, that seems bizarre. MetLife does not sell policies in the UK and its exposure to Europe is small. So it should be shielded from the more obvious potential effects of the vote that are looming over UK companies, eurozone banks and Wall Street giants, such as a European recession or a loss of business and influence for the City of London.

But MetLife has a vulnerability that highlights one impact of Brexit that will have further-reaching consequences. Market actors have turned their attention to the wider outlook for interest rates. Most notably, in recent days, investors have sharply downgraded their expectations for inflation and interest rates, not just in the UK but across the west.

That has nasty implications for asset managers of all stripes, including insurance companies, which need to earn decent returns to pay policyholders. It is also painful for banks, since low rates typically hurt their earnings.

When future historians look back at the Brexit shock, they may conclude that this shifting rate outlook is one of the most important ripple effects of the Leave vote — even if the implications of a Brexit for bond prices look less thrilling than, say, the political soap opera around Boris Johnson, the leading Leave campaigner who has pulled out of the race to be UK prime minister.

To understand this, take a look at the numbers. A couple of years ago negative-yielding bonds — which, in nominal terms, pay less at maturity than investors initially paid — were rare. But this week, Fitch Ratings agency calculated that there is now $11.7tn worth of sovereign debt in the global market that carries negative nominal interest rates.

That is extraordinary. Furthermore, this pile has swelled by $1.3tn in the past month alone, and includes $2.6tn of long-term bonds (those with more than seven years of maturity). Meanwhile, the pile of bonds with a yield that investors used to consider normal — above 2 per cent — is barely worth $2tn.

Most of this negative debt sits in Japan and the eurozone. But rate expectations in the UK and US are sliding, too. The US Treasuries market, for example, now expects a mere 125 basis points of rate rises in the next decade, with barely any hikes in the next two years. Indeed, one of America’s largest hedge funds is now warning its clients that “markets in aggregate are discounting . . . effectively no monetary tightening for a decade across the developed world”.

Can this gloomy market prognosis be believed? Maybe not. After all, the global economy is still growing overall, with lacklustre expansion in the US. A dash to havens may also have influenced some of the recent bond price swings. If the political climate stabilises and the Remain camp’s prediction of economic disaster in Europe turns out to be overblown, the downbeat outlook of the markets could be reversed.

But, there again, it is also possible to draw an even gloomier conclusion: that Brexit has crystallised and intensified more fundamental investor fears that the west is slipping ever-deeper into economic stagnation. After all, that $11.7tn negative-yield bond pile did not just emerge after the referendum but has in fact been swelling for many months.

Either way, the one thing that is clear is that unless that pile suddenly and unexpectedly shrinks, investors and policymakers need to prepare for yet more ripple effects in the months ahead. For one thing, asset managers and insurance companies will see their earnings slide unless they start buying more risky debt — which will bring dangers of its own.

Second, the central banks’ policy dilemma will intensify since they will face pressure to engage in further loosening monetary experiments — even though it is unclear that these unprecedented measures are actually boosting growth.

And there is another nasty twist. Negative, or low, rates may exacerbate income inequality, too, since these typically raise the value of assets that wealthy people own, such as property and stocks. If so, that might create even more political populism, sparking more political uncertainty and economic gloom.

The real ripple effects of Brexit, in other words, may have barely been seen yet. All eyes are on the political polls and trade flows, and on those bond prices.

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/63e265c0-3ebd-11e6-9f2c-36b487ebd80a.html#ixzz4D7AZiu00

Have a plan to bridge short term cashflow dips

Every business should have a contingency plan to deal with an unexpected dip in cash flow. While simply having a business overdraft available provides some degree of short-term protection, it’s best to have an array of lifelines at your disposal. Also, we find that the overdraft gets used for everyday purposes rather than for unexpected problems.

Peer-to-peer financing is another clever route to addressing temporary dips in cash flow. Conventional peer-to-peer financing involves online companies lending to businesses from funds gathered through a pool of investors. These loans are usually quicker and more straightforward than conventional borrowing and there is no minimum amount, so they are perfect for topping up cash flow. Beware: some offer much better value than others: don't be taken in by headline rates, do some calculations or check with your accountant.

Another smart take on peer-to-peer financing is an online improvement on invoice ‘factoring’, whereby a business in need of cash sells its ledger to a bank or another conventional lender. The online providers in this area of peer-to-peer financing, which include InvoiceX, will buy (for 1.5-3% per month) individual invoices – allowing companies to easily draw specific, limited amounts – but avoid the hidden fees, long contracts and slow decision processes of traditional factoring providers. For working capital spikes, this is often a better ongoing solution than a short term loan which can cause more cashflow problems a few months later. Importantly, watch out for whether your customer needs to be notified.

Rapid growth in finance options for small-medium sized businesses

Interesting article in The Australian today covering a survey by eBroker which gives insights on the rapid growth in non-bank business lenders.

The question of regulation of business lenders is generally not well understood, we find. As neither an AFSL or credit licence is not required to lend to businesses, you cannot obtain one even if like us you would like one. The same applies to established non-bank lenders like Scottish Pacific. So there’s a bit more to it than APRA. 

In 2008, COAG agreed to a two phase reform process for the regulation of credit and that in Phase Two the Commonwealth would consider the need to change the definition of regulated credit, and to address practices and forms of contracts that were not subject to the Credit Act. After lengthy consultation, on 21 December 2012, the Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation, Bill Shorten, released for public consultation draft legislation to address perceived gaps in existing credit regulation and enforcement. In typical “Yes Minister” style, after many detailed contributions, the consultation was kicked into the long grass because another inquiry, the Financial Systems Inquiry, had started!

With an increasing focus on the problems for SMEs in accessing finance, hopefully this issue will rear its head again as we certainly need some standards to be applied. For example, effective interest rates (APR) which very few seem to understand.

Loans flood in for fintechs

THE AUSTRALIAN

JUNE 22, 2016

 

Michael Bennet

Extract:

Non-bank business lenders are receiving more than $1.1 billion of loan applications every month as awareness of new fintech operators and other alternative providers accelerates, according to a new survey.

Providing insight into the level of demand for loans outside traditional banks, the survey by online business lending aggregator eBroker found non-banks were attracting at least 11,676 loan applications a month, worth $1.13bn.

Non-banks are alternative lenders that don’t take deposits, sidestepping the need for a full banking licence and oversight by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority.

The survey, conducted with marketing company WebBuzz, took place in early May and included the chief executives of 29 non-bank business lenders, including providers of unsecured cash flow loans, equipment finance, invoice discounting and trade finance.

Know your business credit score and be careful shopping for credit

As explained in a recent article on our blog, new credit reporting laws came into force on 12 March 2014, with major changes in what information can be included on a credit report and how that information can be handled. As a result, credit providers can access much more comprehensive information about you and your business.

There are 3 major suppliers of credit scores in Australia: Veda, Experian and Dunn & Bradstreet. Veda is the most commonly used provider and is now owned by Equifax (US). Veda holds data on more than 16.4 million credit-active individuals, 3.6 million on companies and businesses and 3.4 million on Sole Traders throughout Australia.

Your Veda Business Credit Score is a number ranging from -200 to 1200 that summarises how financially risky your business is. The score tells people how likely you are to pay your debts. The higher your Business Credit Score, the lower the risk of your business. The highest score, 1200 means that there is a 0.1% chance that you won’t pay all of your bills in full and on time over the next 12 months. The lowest score -200 means that there is a 94.1% chance that you won’t pay all of your bills in full and on time over the next 12 months.

When you apply for a Business Loan, lenders will use your Business Credit Score as one of their checks to determine whether to lend to your business. This is one of the quickest and most common checks a lender makes, so it is important for you to understand your score and improve it if necessary.

Veda uses complex algorithms and hundreds of data points to build up your Business Credit Score. These include whether you have paid your bills on time, how often you have applied for loans and in what space of time, the types and amounts of loans you have applied for, who the directors of your business are, and how long you have been in business, to name a few. The most important factor in your score is whether you have paid your bills in full and on time.

Anytime you apply for a loan, the lender will look at your credit report to see whether you have repaid your debts in the past. The more you shop for credit, the more this adversely affects your credit score. This is not generally understood by most business owners.

Therefore, it is wise to be careful about who you approach for finance. It is usually a good idea to speak to a well informed broker.

"We are a young country that has to use its capital smarter" - Don Argus

Some wise words from one of our most experienced business people. Lending to small-medium sized businesses is shrinking at a time where we need them to grow.

There needs to be a real focus on what is constraining growth and the answer is not found talking to economists, we think. Any discussion with the management of a growing business turns to working capital very quickly. No growth finance, no growth.

What keeps former NAB boss and BHP chairman Don Argus up at night?

One of the most experienced executives in the country, Don Argus has concerns about lending standards. Nic Walker

by Stewart Oldfield

What scares the "hell out of" Don Argus, a former chief executive of National Australia Bank and former chairman of BHP Billiton?

Iron ore prices? Interest rate rigging scandals? No. It is interest-only home loans.

"It scares the hell out of me – the size of the debt people are taking on without principal repayments," he says.

The famously forthright executive says banks giving million-dollar home loans to young people had lost perspective. "It used to be very difficult to get a home loan in the old regulated banking environment," he says. "Now it's like a commodity."

According to data compiled by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, interest-only mortgage loan approvals peaked at a record 46 per cent of total mortgage loan approvals in the June quarter of last year. 

Since then, their proportion of total mortgage approvals has reduced to 37 per cent, still much higher than the level of five years earlier.

NEGATIVE GEARING

The Reserve Bank said last month that further falls were possible in the proportion of interest-only loans being written as some banks continued to phase in the tighter lending standards being demanded by regulators.

"Some further falls in the share of high-LVR [loan-to-value ratio] lending and interest-only lending in the period ahead could be expected," the RBA says.

Interest-only loans have been particularly popular among those buying homes for investment purposes. Such loans can allow high-income earners to maximise the benefits of negative gearing.

Argus' views on interest-only loans are taken seriously in banking circles because he built his career around being rigorous on lending standards in the late 1980s and early '90s, avoiding the disastrous commercial loan exposures that hobbled his peers.

He was appointed head of NAB's credit bureau in 1986 and took over the top job from Nobby Clarke in October 1990,  remaining in the role until 1999.

He became chairman of what was then called BHP Limited from 1999 until 2010, when he oversaw a tremendous period of expansion as the company reaped the rewards of the resources boom.

INDEBTED CONSUMERS

The level of indebtedness among Australian consumers and the government is a drag on economic growth, according to Argus. This is already being seen as stimulatory monetary policies around the world fail to inspire consumer spending.

 He says Australian consumers are among the most indebted in the developed world and the governments that have been  embracing interest-only loans will leave a terrible legacy for future generations.

Argus says a correction in house prices is inevitable, starting with the apartment market. But he is not predicting a severe credit cycle as last seen in the early '90s when corporate losses and inflated asset values brought several Australian banks to their knees.

"It may not be as severe because bankers these days do understand that free cash flow is important when assessing the risk profile of corporates," he says. 

"But it remains to be seen how their risk-assessment processes stand up when interest rates begin to rise again for small business and consumer customers."

 Argus says a target of a 15 per cent return on equity for banks could prove difficult to sustain. "In today's diminishing return world, one should not forget that our large bank balance sheets rely on funding from offshore markets and this can become expensive at maturity if overseas banks falter in the wake of slower economic growth."

SPOOKED

That said, he believes it is prudent for banks around the world to rely more on tier 1 capital rather than debt instruments such as hybrids, which could be questionable in terms of tax deductibility and subordinated to other forms of funding. 

"You can never have enough equity capital," he says.

Australian banks have been strengthening their capital positions in recent years in anticipation of APRA's measures to address the financial system inquiry's recommendation for their capital ratios to be "unquestionably strong" by international standards. The big banks raised $5 billion of common equity over the past six months. This increased their common equity tier 1 capital to about 10 per cent of risk-weighted assets as of December 2015, 1.25 percentage points higher than a year ago.

The capital positions of some are also being supported by asset sales.

Argus says Australian banks have an important advantage over overseas ones, particularly in the US, given their relatively high level of non-interest-bearing and fixed‑term deposits. He attributes this to Australian consumers still seeing banks as safe havens compared with some of the collapses that have occurred offshore.

He has previously warned that a royal commission into banking conduct in Australia could spook foreign lenders at a time when domestic banks depended enormously on offshore lending.

GEOGRAPHICAL ADVANTAGE

He highlights the strengths of several Australian-listed companies. Macquarie Bank's fee-based business model, he says, is "probably as good an investment banking model that you will see".

BlueScope Steel has successfully reinvented its business model, while Amcor has demonstrated a record of consistent wealth creation. He also applauds Transurban's initiative in taking new infrastructure proposals to the Victorian government.

Argus says Australia's geographical position on the doorstep of Asia ensures the nation has a magnificent future as long as we take full advantage of its strengths, for instance in primary industry, education and health. 

"We are a young country that has to use its capital smarter," he says.

However, he is critical of the performance of governments since 2007. "We have managed to record a series of budget deficits, which leaves us with public debt, which will get the attention of the rating agencies, and the investments undertaken have hardly been productive.

"Going forward, if one thinks that one can ramp up GDP growth by spending billions on non-productive initiatives and promising unfunded activity, which only add to our fragile financial position, then we are in for some rough times ahead."


Read more: http://www.afr.com/personal-finance/shares/what-keeps-former-nab-boss-and-bhp-chairman-don-argus-up-at-night-20160420-goayvr#ixzz49Aqrvks9 
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What could the Government do to fix our Broken Business Banks? And why does it really matter?

Insightful analysis by Alan Kohler in The Australian this weekend on what is holding business back and the negative effects on our economy. Sadly, our politicians seem to be disconnected from the reality of how to manage our economy.

How banks are running the economy

"A small business tax break is worthwhile perhaps, and likewise an RBA rate cut, and in each case it’s really all the government and the central bank can do."

Our view:

The Government could get involved investing modest sums on alternative finance platforms, like the UK Government did 3 years ago with powerful positive effects (and good returns on investment).

That would help overcome people's natural caution and skepticism. People tend to think that banks have some super-natural powers in deciding who is creditworthy. Overseas' experience makes it clear that they are simply expensive, bureaucratic building societies that have lost their way.

My father was a bank manager and retired when the computer took away his discretion. Bank managers in his days had real discretion and could support businesses with their growth plans. We need to re-invent banking by going back to why they came into existence in the first place. It had nothing to do with household mortgages which simply inflated the price of unproductive assets.

 

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Here's a more detailed extract from Alan's article:

APRA, in line with global bank regulators, has also told them to increase their capital ratios, and since the system of risk-weighting means that only a quarter of the value of a real estate mortgage is counted against capital versus 100 per cent of a loan secured only against a business, that means all lending these days is more or less confined to mortgages.

It means the banks are basically not lending to those who don’t own a house or are already fully committed on their mortgages, and those who are building houses for investors.

So they are going elsewhere and paying 10-15 per cent more in interest than the banks would charge, except they’re not.

It means the divide between the haves and have-nots (a house, that is) has never been this great, and it’s also why this week’s rate cut by the Reserve Bank will make no difference and why the government’s efforts in the budget to help small businesses and middle income earners will only scratch the surface.

Banks actually run the economy by both creating money and circulating it, not the RBA or the government, and these days banks are only serving those who have equity in real estate.

According to economist Saul Eslake, home ownership rates among households headed by people aged 25 to 55 have dropped by an average of 9 per cent since 1991.

Most dramatically, the rate of home ownership among 25-34 year olds has fallen from 61 per cent in 1981 to 47 per cent in the latest census.

That is a huge social change: in one generation the number of families starting out and having children who also own their own home has dropped from almost two-thirds to less than half, and in the past 10 years the decline is accelerating.

It means the number of young people able to get a bank loan to start or expand a business, or to get a car loan or personal loan for anything less than 15 per cent interest, has also fallen significantly.

And a lot of that change is caused by the real estate market distortion inherent in negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount, which rewards highly geared property investors at the expense of owner-occupiers, who are in turn paying higher taxes than they otherwise would be in order to fund the subsidy to property investors.

So the combination of high house prices caused, in part, by negative gearing and the capital gains discount, with the transformation of banks into little more than building societies that lend almost exclusively against real estate, is the reason growth is weak.

A small business tax break is worthwhile perhaps, and likewise an RBA rate cut, and in each case it’s really all the government and the central bank can do.

But what’s really crimping entrepreneurship and growth is the post-GFC change to banking.

It means business people looking to expand have to come to Shylocks like your correspondent.

Most don’t bother.

Government waste: bureaucrats teaching us how to grow businesses

Budget 2016: $90m of our money will be spent on workshops for the government to teach entrepreneurs! And tell them how to get a tiny handout. Unbelievable waste!

$10m of that money on our platform would go around 10 times in the next 12 months and help seasoned business people do a $100m more business right now.

 

 

A Budget for Jobs & Growth is welcome but where do you find the finance to grow?

The Budget this week re-emphasised the critical importance of our Small-Medium Businesses (SMBs) in generating growth. We strongly believe that the main missing ingredient is a market which enables SMBs to access finance to grow on a reliable and timely basis.

The market for alternative finance in Australia is on track to grow to over $95 billion over the next 5 years and is changing at a rapid pace. Our confidential, flexible working capital product is unique in Australia and we are seeing very strong demand from growing businesses.

This is timely as bank lending to SMBs has decreased for the first time since the GFC (source: RBA): 

  • In Q4 2015, business credit for facilities less than $2 million decreased from $260.7bn to $260.6bn in a quarter which usually demands increased business finance
     
  • In 2015, only 13% of business loans were made to SMBs, compared to around 50% in the 1990s
     
  • Property loans since the GFC have grown by $538.7bn (+54%) while business lending for all sizes of business has increased by just $72.5bn (+9%)

One symptom of the scale of this problem is that the ATO is currently owed over $32bn in overdue tax, mostly from small businesses. The ATO has had no choice but to agree instalment payment plans with over 800,000 businesses in Australia in 2014-15 and this year is no different. In the first six months of 2015-16, more than 420,000 payment plans have been granted.

Without the finance to grow, fiddling with tax rates and allowances makes only a small difference when it comes to getting our economy on a solid long term growth trend.

Our Growth Capital Problem

According to the Australian Private Equity & Venture Capital Association - AVCAL - Australia has around 30,000 businesses which fall within the private equity ‘investment range’ (i.e. businesses that have growth potential and which are likely to require significant capital injections to realise that potential) (see Figure 2).

Many of those businesses will, at some point in the medium-term, seek investors for a variety of reasons such as succession planning, expansion capital, and turnaround financing.

PE funds are currently invested in fewer than 350 businesses in Australia: meaning that they presently have the funding capacity to financially back less than 2% of the total ‘investable pool’ of up to 30,000 businesses.

Combined with the regulatory capital constraints imposed on SME bank lending, accessing finance for growing businesses in Australia has rarely been tougher.

What's a small business credit score?

What's a small business credit score?

Like your personal credit, your business has its own scores too—and those scores paint a different picture of your business’s ability to repay a debt. Both types of scores, personal and business, can be taken into account by lenders to qualify you for financing, loans, and business credit cards. Because your business credit scores have such an effect on your financial health, it’s important to understand what they mean.

Time to ask where's the money to back our exporters - invoice trading solves the cashflow mismatch

 

Another week, another story about transitioning from the mining boom. Australian service businesses have a great deal to offer overseas companies. We see it every day. But without the finance to grow, how can you do it? Has anyone asked that question in Canberra?

Our broken Basel 2-3-4 system of regulatory capital makes our banks focus on residential mortgages, not lending to businesses. Time to change that. Now!

"Sheep, iron mine and Sydney Opera House," writes Yongyu Ma, a student, on the online forum Quora in response to the question "What do Chinese people think of Australia?"

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull this week headed a 1000-strong delegation of business people to China in an attempt to convince them we have more to offer.

Events and banquets were held across 12 Chinese cities, with Austrade officials acting as cupids, of sorts, setting up speed dating sessions for Australian businesses to tout the full diversity of our economic wares to Chinese buyers.

Australia can be as nimble, agile, innovative and excited as we like, but just because we’re good at providing services, doesn’t mean we’ll necessarily sell lots of them.



 

Quick tips to boost your business’ credit rating and some ideas on how invoice trading solves the cashflow mismatch

A business with a poor credit rating can find it difficult to access loans and other financial services. That’s why we have analysed some credit agency models and found a few simple ways to boost your score, and avoid unnecessary exclusion.

Be careful about shopping around for credit

Business owners are generally not aware that shopping around for credit can have quite a negative effect on your credit score. Try to get good advice before applying for credit. Read this article for more information.

Improve the way you file with ASIC and prepare accounts

  1. File your annual return on time – being prompt won’t necessarily boost your rating, but being late can cause problems.

  2. Prepare your accounts on time, Use accountancy software like Xero or MYOB to keep everything in check, and work with your accountant to prepare everything you need in good time. Keeping everything on-line makes this much easier.

  3. Use a reputable accountant. This doesn’t mean you need to go to one of the ‘big 4′ professional services firms like. A well-practiced local accountant who is an ACA or CPA is just as good. Annual accounts from a trustworthy source will give your business real legitimacy and boost your credit rating.

Avoid complicated corporate structures

Keeping your business’ structure simple (e.g. a proprietary limited company) makes it easier for lenders to understand and assess – instantly improving your credit rating. Too many subsidiaries or an unclear ownership structure are warning signs to potential lenders. More transparency and a clear corporate framework will give you a better credit score.

Stability at the top

If directors and board members are seen to be chopping and changing, it’s an instant sign for those looking in that trouble is brewing within a business. Try to avoid this instability as best as you can, as it undermines the rest of your business. Pick your partners for the long run and stay transparent on who controls the company. A strong leadership instills confidence, and will improve your credit rating.

Keep your net assets positive, separate business from lifestyle expenses

Make sure your total assets always outstrips your total liabilities. Some lenders will outright refuse to lend to any business that has negative net assets. This might affect those owners who use their controlled companies to pay for their lifestyle expenses. Sole traders or entrepreneurs often don’t separate their personal expenses from their company expenses. Whilst this pattern is quite typical for SMEs, such businesses will show very low or even negative net assets, with the slightest of operating margins. It’s up to you how you run your business, but beware that this behaviour will have an adverse impact on your credit score and your ability to access credit.

Keep on top of your cash flow

It’s vital to maintain a healthy balance between your current assets, payables and outstanding liabilities. Poor management of working capital can leave your business heavily exposed to its incoming payments. Don’t be afraid to negotiate credit terms with your suppliers and your customers. You can also use invoice finance to improve your cash position – the most quick and flexible option is InvoiceX of course.

It’s also important to check who you’re dealing with – do they pay on time, or do they pay late? Ask other business owners who have dealt with your prospective customer about their record. Credit check your customers, and ask to be paid promptly. Don’t accept unfair or unusually long payment terms, be prepared to walk away if these are forced upon you – it’s no good to see your business fail because of tight cash flow when you have a full order book.

Court Judgements

Court judgements are registered against your business when your creditor has gone to court to force you to pay them and the judge has ruled in their favour. They are a fast-track to a poor credit rating – either pay them off or fight them vigorously, don’t let them fester. The more judgements you have the lower your credit score. Less than one percent of businesses in Australia have outstanding court judgements, so those that do are in a tiny minority that will suffer. Deal with them as quickly as you can.

Security interests and charges? These actually DON’T affect your credit rating.

Your credit score is impacted by the amount of debt you carry as a business, but not by what kind of security you have provided to your creditors. For example, granting a General Security Deed (contract by which you pledge all of your business assets to your creditor) doesn’t in itself impact your credit score, it just makes it necessary for any new creditor to agree with your existing creditor on how your assets will be divided up if your business should fail. If a lender wants to provide you with credit, but has to get consent from your existing creditor, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Banks in Australia are expected to ensure that the consent is provided in reasonable time and even if consent is refused, they can’t change the terms of your current lending agreement. So asking for consent won’t damage your credit rating, or your ability to get credit in the future.

Most of the time when a business is refused credit (or quoted an expensive price) it’s not the result of specific information that looks bad, it’s actually the result of a lack of information. By sharing more information about your business online, you’ll most likely find yourself a much more attractive prospective borrower.

Small business credit - what happened to the Phase 2 credit protection reforms agreed at COAG in 2008?

In 2008, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed to a two phase reform process for the regulation of credit and that in Phase Two the Commonwealth would consider the need to change the definition of regulated credit, and to address practices and forms of contracts that were not subject to the Credit Act.

After lengthy consultation, on 21 December 2012, the Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation, Bill Shorten, released for public consultation draft legislation to address perceived gaps in existing credit regulation and enforcement. 

"A review of the provision of credit to small business has shown that, while the majority of small business lenders and brokers provide a valuable service, some practices exist that result in high financial losses to small business borrowers. The draft legislation seeks to strengthen protections for small business borrowers, particular where the loan in secured against the family home, including by extending the Australian Securities and Investments Commission’s supervision and enforcement ability.

While difficult to quantify the costs and benefits, some lenders will incur additional one-off implementation costs. Most lenders will not incur these costs as they already comply (or can readily comply) with the proposed changes.  Borrowers, particularly those which have exhausted mainstream alternatives, may find it more difficult and costly to obtain credit but will have access to redress if misconduct occurs.

The Regulation Impact Statement was prepared by the Treasury and assessed as adequate by the Office of Best Practice Regulation."


Treasury Update, October 2014 (K&L Gates)

Due to the government moratorium on legislation awaiting the findings of the Financial System Inquiry, Treasury is not currently pursuing Phase 2 of the credit reforms concerning small business and investment lending.


Regulation Impact Statement: Small business credit, January 2013 

This Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) considers whether credit provided to small business should be regulated, as part of the National Credit Reforms. 

Executive Summary 

The provision of credit to small businesses can assist them to meet their start up, expansion or ongoing business cost requirements. A review of the sector suggests that the majority of small business lenders and brokers operate in a way that provides a valuable service to their borrowers. However, some practices exist in the industry that can result in high levels of financial losses to individual small business borrowers.

These practices primarily occur in relation to ‘distressed’ small business borrowers, that is, borrowers who are in a position where they are seeking funds urgently to keep their business afloat (rather than, for example, wanting credit to expand their business). The most common scenario is where the business has defaulted in the repayments under an existing loan, and that lender has either commenced enforcement action or is threatening to do so.

The current legislative framework does not adequately address these practices. The possibility of enforcement activity by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) that would comprehensively address is subject to limitations including a combination of regulatory and enforcement gaps and the prohibitive cost and inefficiency of enforcement action. There are also substantial barriers to recovering compensable losses, both in actions taken by ASIC and by consumers in their own right.

It is recognised that small businesses cannot be absolved of all responsibility for their financial and business decisions, and a balance should be reached between protecting the most vulnerable and allowing the market to price risk. To achieve this balance, it is proposed to introduce targeted regulation which will minimise as far as possible the impact on lenders who are not engaging in these practices.

Targeted regulation would be introduced through a negative licensing scheme, improved disclosure requirements, universal access to external dispute resolution (EDR) and the introduction of a remedy for asset-stripping conduct. This approach is influenced by the extent to which lenders and brokers are largely already members of an EDR scheme and also hold an Australian credit licence (limiting the impact on these persons).

Were this not the case a different approach would need to be considered. These reforms will improve ASIC’s supervision and enforcement ability and give ASIC the ability to exclude entities from the market in the event of severe misconduct. They will also assist consumers by giving them access to more affordable dispute resolution, and result in improved understanding of the loan contract in some cases. 

The reforms are not expected to comprehensively address this type of misconduct in the small business lending market, but are expected to have a deterrent effect on some lenders. Borrowers will have improved access to compensation if misconduct occurs, and ASIC will have improved ability to identify and exclude lenders where, for example, they demonstrate a continued reluctance to comply with the law. 

It is difficult to quantify the cost to industry and the benefits to borrowers (and there is difficulty in observing and quantifying any flow on consequences), and it is not possible to state definitively whether or not this reform would have a net benefit in monetary terms. Costs to all small business lenders will include one off implementation costs to change disclosure procedures and modify other practices to address regulatory risk. Most lenders would not need to make substantial changes as they are already complying with, or are in a position to readily comply with the reforms. Nevertheless, the reforms propose addressing this conduct in a way that may have impacts on all borrowers, primarily through the risk of higher costs or some lenders exiting the market. 

Overall, it is considered the reforms balance the need to protect borrowers while minimising as far as possible the costs to industry, and have the potential to reduce significant losses to individual businesses. 
 

Our approach to the lack of regulation in SME finance

InvoiceX has been built by experienced founders who are passionate about providing a better deal for ambitious businesses and investors.

As is the case overseas, invoice finance in Australia falls under asset based financing, which is not currently an activity regulated by ASIC (Class Order [CO 04/239]). We would welcome regulation but you cannot choose to be regulated, as our regulatory advisers have pointed out.

More broadly, business finance is Australia is hardly regulated with very high level ASIC protections. A January 2013 government review confirmed this and recommended the following course:

"Targeted regulation would be introduced through a negative licensing scheme, improved disclosure requirements, universal access to external dispute resolution (EDR) and the introduction of a remedy for asset-stripping conduct."

InvoiceX does not invest any capital into invoices itself or on behalf of any third parties. Unusually, our founders' investment vehicles invest in every trade alongside our other investors on the same terms. InvoiceX does not take client deposits or give any investment advice. InvoiceX only accepts Sophisticated Investors on its platform.

InvoiceX is the first and only SME finance provider of any type in Australia to reveal its loan book in full. We will continue to do this as we develop. We aim to provide the best terms in Australia for invoice finance.

Finance has been offered to SMEs on unfair terms for too long. Banks over-collateralise loans based on real estate, reduce or remove overdraft limits with little or no notice. Some non-bank lenders lock SMEs into onerous contracts, especially in invoice finance but also quite a number of emerging online lenders that promise quick decisions at very high, unstated interest rates with penal early repayment terms.

This needs to change. We do not lock our customers into contracts. Businesses can quickly raise finance on just one invoice with no set-up fees on fair and transparent terms and are under no obligation to continue using InvoiceX afterwards. And it is a confidential service which does not involve the SME's customer.

Voluntarily at the outset, we set up a not-for-profit Special Purpose Vehicle to handle all transactions between Buyers (investors) and Sellers (SMEs) on our platform. The day-to-day management of this SPV in terms of settling trades and real-time accounting and reconciliations is outsourced to BDO, a Top 5 international accounting firm. Furthermore, we require regular internal auditing of the SPV as an additional layer of protection. All of this means that if InvoiceX ran into any difficulties, there is a robust system in place to handle the winding down of the platform or effect a transfer of ownership.

We voluntarily pay to be a member of the Credit and Investments Ombudsman, a free, independent and impartial external dispute resolution (EDR) service for our customers. It is approved by ASIC with over 20,000 financial services members in Australia.

We voluntarily maintain professional indemnity insurance although we do not provide financial advice.

We are supporters of significant efforts being made to create the Australian equivalent of the UK Peer-to-Peer Finance Association. This body would require members to operate by a strict set of rules in order to promote high standards of conduct and consumer protection.

We are members of Fintech Australia, a national not-for-profit organisation with a vision to make Australia the number one market for FinTech in Asia. Its key objectives are to support the Australian FinTech community, build awareness and trust in FinTech startups and to advocate for better policy on behalf of our members.

Finally, our two founders have worked in regulated industries throughout their 25-30 year careers, holding significant influence functions. We firmly believe in transparency, fairness and high standards of conduct.

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KPMG: invoice trading is the fastest growing alternative finance model in Asia-Pacific, ex-China

KPMG: invoice trading is the fastest growing alternative finance model in Asia-Pacific, ex-China

This report is based on a survey of over 500 alternative finance platforms in 17 Asia Pacific countries and regions, capturing an estimated 70 percent of the visible market. As the first comprehensive study of the Asia-Pacific online alternative finance market, this research contributes to the growing body of data supporting the region’s potential.

16 March 2016