"DEBT-shy" small and medium-sized enterprises are reluctant to borrow funds for growth because of a lack of trust in banks and a resistance to yield control of the business to outsiders, a Scottish study has found.
The study, by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (Icas) and focusing on high-growth SMEs, identifies gaps in the UK funding framework for such companies but also highlights challenges in encouraging firms to sign up for debt and equity funding.
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The research for the "Funding issues confronting high growth SMEs in the UK" study was conducted by Ross Brown, of the University of St Andrews, and Neil Lee, of the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Icas said its study had found high-growth SMEs were "highly reluctant borrowers", even to fund growth, because of their lack of trust of banks and resistance to any dilution of their own autonomy.
Another key finding of the study is that high-growth SMEs tend to want access to bank finance, rather than equity funding. And they are more likely to use a "mixed cocktail" of finance, combining internal resources and debt, the research shows.
Mr Brown highlighted the degree to which high-growth SMEs depended on bank, as opposed to equity, funding.
He said: "This research dispels some deeply held misconceptions in relation to high-growth SMEs. These firms are predominantly funded by bank debt, not equity sources of funding. While many use bank lending to fund capital expansion, some draw heavily on their internal resources to fund their growth."
Icas's study shows, although high-growth SMEs are nine per cent more likely to apply for finance than other small and medium-sized firms, they are no more or less likely to be successful.
The accountancy body highlights the recommendations of the researchers, who flag a need to consider how reluctant borrowers might be transformed into willing recipients of debt and equity finance.
The researchers also conclude government policy initiatives should be more targeted towards SMEs with growth potential and focus more on the supply of long-term finance and debt, rather than equity funding. They also cite a need to address "systematic issues" within UK banking, such as lack of competition, which might impede access to finance for SMEs.
The ICAS survey was published as figures from the British Bankers' Association yesterday showed lending to non-financial companies rose by a net £990 million in May. This was the first rise in lending to such businesses, on a net basis taking into account repayments, since September last year.
However, the rise in May was much smaller than net drops in lending to non-financial companies of £2.1 billion in March and £2.2 billion in April.
Howard Archer, chief UK economist at consultancy IHS Global Insight, said: "While any increase in bank lending to business is a welcome development, it needs to be borne in mind that this follows particularly sharp falls in lending in April and March.
"It is also notable that bank lending was lifted appreciably in May by lending to the energy sector to fund infrastructure."
He added: "It remains to be seen if May's increase in lending to businesses is the start of an improving trend. With the UK sustaining a decent level of economic activity and prospects currently looking bright, business demand for credit seems likely to pick up over the coming months."
The Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland expressed concern on Monday over the revelation in a Bank of England survey that UK banks expect the overall approval rate for loan applications from small businesses to fall in the third quarter.