Coupled with this there has been a noted upturn in the line coming from SMEs. Could this mean that things are getting back to normal?
From the SME perspective, the turnaround is marked by a renewed attitude to debt. A few years ago businesses were focusing on reducing debt as much as possible and trying to plough ahead without input from the banks - perhaps a natural reaction to the banking and economic crisis. Today though, there is a return to an acceptance that gearing is good for business, part and parcel of the recovery and growth process.
However, it takes more than a shift in perception or a more balanced take on debt to get back to business. One only has to look at the current SME lending situation to see that 'business as usual' is some way off. Rebuilding lost relationships will be a crucial part of regaining the stability which is important to both the banks and to SMEs.
A survey published in July of the SME sector in Australia showed that confidence in the banking sector had hit a new low, even compared with the height of the crisis, the reason being that the banks had not invested sufficiently in relationships with smaller businesses. Perhaps not close to home, but equally perhaps not too far from the truth.
The 'relationship' in relationship banking is going to be key to our recovery. That the big lenders had previously embraced relationship banking princples meant that the pre-crisis relationships between banks, SMEs and intermediaries were vital to getting things done. Trust was built and businesses and banks worked together as partners.
Then came the financial crisis and virtually nothing and no-one was left untouched. The banks had to react and the result was that jobs we lost, some branches closed and teams were broken up as operations were rationalised. Inevitably, many relationships with SMEs and advisers were lost.
The relationship banking approach was personal and proactive, and for us all to recover this has to be re-established. Many of the familiar faces may have gone, but the new relationship managers are now working hard to get up to speed with an increasingly optimistic market.
It will take work on all sides to regain the position. Defensive habits that have been formed over the last few years need to be broken. SMEs need to be open to building new partnerships, banks need to invest in these relationships and the people that build them, and intermediaries need to do the legwork on both sides to open the channels of negotiation again.
The net result will be positive for all. Deeper relationships with customers bring banks better opportunities and hence better revenue. For the SME, a good relationship with its lender encourages innovation and growth.
So, however tentative, good news on the recession front perhaps means that we can all take a few more steps towards getting back to business - but they're steps that we will all have to take together.
Gareth Magee is a partner at Scott-Moncrieff, leading accountants and business advisors.