The SME Lending Puzzle: Why Banks Fall Short

Let us consider the following hypothetical scenario:

ABC & Co., a small services firm, began operations in mid-2011. It reported a 40% jump in annual turnover from Rs. 5 Cr in FY 2012 to Rs. 7 Cr in FY 2013. As a startup, the company has not yet broken even and reported losses for consecutive years. The promoter is well educated, previously worked in organizations of repute for over a decade before deciding to float this venture. The short-term finance requirement of ABC & Co is about Rs. 40 lac for 90 days, but does not have any physical collateral to offer as security. At this stage, the promoter of ABC & Co. decides to approach banks and NBFCs in the market to fund this debt gap.

What would this promoter’s experience be in today’s scenario? Would he be successful in securing the necessary funds?

==========================================================================================

According to a recent statistic, 33% of companies operating in the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises sector have access to banks and financial institutions, while the rest remain excluded and are compelled to raise money through informal channels.

This debt gap is alarming especially in the backdrop of the fact that SME segment contributes nearly 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product and 45% of all industrial output.

Till date, banks and NBFCs have not been able to finance this debt gap effectively. What has prevented or restricted them from profitably penetrating this sector? Is it due to inherent credit risk in the segment, lack of collateral, government regulation and laws, or simply because there are greener pastures elsewhere to lend money?

Lets us understand the debt requirement of the SME segment (both early-stage as well as mature entities) before we try to further dissect this issue. In our example, ABC & Co. could require financing for primarily two reasons:

1) Capex, i.e. medium to long-term finance for business expansion, product diversification, renovation of business premises, or purchase of machinery.

2) Working Capital i.e. to cover short-term immediate cash flow needs arising from day-to-day business operations.

To cater to this demand, banks and financial institutions already have specific products (both fund and non-fund based) that can be broadly categorized into two categories for the sake of simplicity:

1) Simple lending products, which would typically cater to the first requirement of SMEs for Capex. These are medium to long-term financing products in the form of equipment and machinery loans, high yield unsecured business loans, Loan against Property etc.

2) Specialised lending products, which typically include factoring, trade finance, cash management services, project finance, bank guarantee, or letters of credit, which typically cater to the second requirement of working capital finance.

As is evident from the above, it is not the lack of “products” that explains the under-penetration of finance flowing to the SME sector. Rather, it is in the design, applicability and administration of these products to the SME sector that banks have fallen short.

In an effort to go deeper, we can identify four key reasons among others, for this shortfall:

1)  Sole Focus on Financials: The current approach to SME lending in most institutions is still heavily dependent on business financials- i.e. looking at historical data to predict future creditworthiness. Typically this involves a lot of paper work and many visits to the applicant.

This approach has not been very successful in the SME sector to-date due to the fact that the financials provided by the applicant are often opaque given the cash nature of business transactions and incentives to under report income to save on taxes. ABC & Co., on this parameter alone (aside from business vintage) would be filtered out as the current financial position reflecting business losses would not be very appealing to most financiers.

2)  Bureau Reporting: There are two kinds of credit bureau reports that can be generated by member banks and NBFCs – Individual and Corporate. While individual records are provided by most bureaus, only CIBIL currently provides reports for corporate entities in India. Valid records for SME entities are still not very evolved in the country. And while the bureaus can provide data on credit worthiness of the individuals involved in any given company, they cannot give relevant insights about an applicant who is a first time borrower.

Since ABC & Co. is newly established, there would not be any bureau record on the company. The application would then have to be judged on the strength of the individual records for the promoter as well as the business viability of ABC & Co.

3)  Selective Segmentation: The implication of the above two factors is that only the “upper layer” of the medium to large enterprise segment is able to pass through banks’ and NBFCs’ credit assessment parameters, leaving aside the major chunk of “small” entrepreneurs and entities whose need for adequate finance is more pronounced. These small entities could be major links in the supply chains of large players, and their inability to access finance could have the ripple effects across the value chain.

4)  Lack of Collateral Security: Lending in India traditionally has relied on taking adequate collateral as a “risk mitigant” to cover the credit risks associated with SME lending and the ambiguity around appraising this segment. The Loan to Value ratio (LTV) becomes the yardstick to segregate and approve or reject cases based on risk. This ratio is inversely proportional to the risk perception of the applicant.

Since ABC & Co. does not have any physical collateral such as property or machinery to offer and the promoter has pitched in whatever money he had in the form of initial capital into the business, his application would be rejected by most banks and NBFCs in the market today.

=========================================================================================

This problem of access to finance for SMEs in India is even more accentuated for early-stage companies or startups such as ABC & Co. In their case, past financial performance would be not a correct indicator of the future potential of the enterprise. After initial round of equity funding from family and friends or seed investors, working capital requirements or ad-hoc needs for short term finance would inevitably kick in and must be dealt with in a timely manner to keep the firm operational.

To conclude, traditional lending to the SME sector in India can best be described as a “One Size Fits All Approach.” The risk management techniques used by banks and other financial institutions today are invariably more suitable for medium and large corporate entities. The same set of rules when inadvertently applied to small and early-stage enterprises result in a faulty output, i.e. the systemic rejection of most SME loan applications like ABC & Co. Given the intense nature of competition in the lending industry today, the consequence is that too many banks and financial institutions end up chasing the same set of “good” customers, leaving aside a much larger untapped segment of SMEs in the process.

Watch this space for more articles on the subject as well as suggested ways to underwrite “small” and
“early-stage” entities in the SME sector.

(Image credit: http://blog.directcapital.com/misc/small-business-loan-video/) 

More Related Posts

Card image cap
How to cater and scale technology for a start-up in rapid growth

There are multiple stages in a start-up. At an early stage, most tech start-ups usually include two founding members – a business head and a tech head leading the validation efforts. Further down the line, we notice parallel and vertical streams of teams leading the initial growth of the company. It’s usually at this stage or after this stage, where the business has some solidarity to it and the focus on building tech for a large and scalable model begins. The following points made in this post have been laid out in view of a mature start-up.

Be Agile

Following an agile methodology for development is a no-brainer for any start-up. The environment is fast paced, catering to a dynamic business where release cycles are frequent. Often, the common pitfalls of this method also show a lack of emphasis on planning and documentation while customer expectations sometimes are not clear. To mitigate this, a hybrid of agile and waterfall approaches enables start-ups to move towards a mature business. To do so, the start-up must;

– Identify problems of the business

– Prioritize the need of the hour for the business

– Allow for high level architected solutions for each problem

– Build feature specs

– Execute in sprints (ideally 2 weeks) for maximum output to customers

Extensibility

Your business logic and data is your Intellectual Property. As a Fintech company, this becomes the most critical piece of software development. It is important to protect your data while also facilitating growth with the exact same data. How do you draw this balance?

Build your logic and algorithmic layer around your data and an external layer that does not directly interact with your data set. This permits external endpoints to be consumed by growth partners as well as reduces development efforts for building tech for internal teams.

Micro-services

Enterprise applications are often built using a monolithic approach or as a single unit. Although it’s a natural approach to development, it can be frustrating because of multiple dependencies on modular structure and deployment to the cloud also becomes a challenge.

In contrast, Micro-services architecture equips you to independently deploy services or pieces of software without large dependencies on other services. These services or pieces of software ultimately add up to become a single application while running its own suite of processes and mechanisms.

Additionally, in a Fintech setup, technology is built to cater multiple teams – both internal and external and having a micro-services architecture easily allows horizontal scaling.

Reusable code

In a start-up, it’s a good idea to prototype development. Prototyping facilitates quick delivery of a piece of software and a better understanding of future product development.

Post prototyping, it’s important to pick the right framework for a full-fledged and scaled application. This is where building code that can be re-used in multiple services becomes a factor of efficiency in development. Building custom libraries (back-end or front-end) and even choosing the right frameworks ensure ease of development across resources and knowledge transfer. A choice of using AngularJS as a front-end framework allows for creating directives specific to custom applications and promotes reusable components.

Build vs Buy

A classic point of debate and contention is always build versus buy. There are multiple points to consider while making such decisions in a growth stage start up to create a fine balance between the two.

Often, out of the box or integrated solutions provide quick solutions for increased productivity to a business need but come at several costs, such as pricing and rigidity of use. Sometimes these solutions are not compatible with existing software or custom solutions.

Custom-built solutions provide competitive advantages, builds intellectual property and fit a specific business need but also comes at several costs, such as time for development and uncertainty in product definition.

A hybrid approach can be an effective way of mitigating the disadvantages of build or buy approaches. At times, building on top of or integrating an existing product into your custom built solution adds greater value to the overall business product. An example of such a solution can be integrating a good workflow management tool into your custom CRM application.

Dev Pathi

Dev has been involved with startups for the past 5 years since he returned from US. He has launched several mobile apps that have been well accepted in the Indian startup scene.

In New York, he worked with Conde Nast helping them move their web infrastructure from an enterprise setup to an open source setup.
Dev manages the technology development initiatives at Capital Float.

Oct 24, 2018

Card image cap
Top 10 Time Management Tips for Small Business Owners

Time is money. No phrase proves this statement better than when you own a growing business.

As you strive to achieve your business aspirations, juggling responsibilities and managing activities end-to-end sums up a typical work day. You simply cannot afford to compromise on any of the processes at hand, because it might have a profound impact on the growth of your venture. The trick is to focus your productivity on the limited resources you have in a time-efficient manner till you can confidently handover the heavy lifting to experts. Successful businessmen will tell you the same, but in two words: time management.

Here are our favorite tried-and-tested time management tips for small business owners to save you time and make running your business easier.

1. Fix a Schedule and Stick to it

The best way to accomplish a productive day is to show up at work with a clearly defined set of goals and tasks, preferably hand-written. A disorganized schedule leads to ineptness and wasted hours, eventually leading to a loss of focus on business objectives. Account for every hour of the day, from the time needed for meetings and document review to travel and shopping. Create your schedule with three categories- one for the responsibilities that need to be completed that day, another for those activities that require your attention but can be put on hold and a third with minor tasks that you can work on if you have extra time. Know your downtime- you can use this for short breaks.

2. Focus on ONE Task at a Time

Multitasking might seem like a clever way to do many things within a short amount of time, but it divides your attention among the responsibilities at hand. Being a budding enterprise, this is not a risk that you want to take now. Instead, you can try the ‘Pomodoro technique’. This involves setting your timer for a specified time and focusing wholly on one task before the timer goes off. Repeat this after taking short breaks of 5 minutes between tasks. An efficient way to structure your time, this technique ensures that you devote time for a specific activity regularly.

3. Delegate Work

All small businesses are a one-man army early into their business operations. But your growth journey to becoming a larger enterprise begins when you start delegating responsibilities to expert personnel. Hire people who are dependable to manage tasks you don’t have time for or you are not suitably skilled for. This will give you more time to work on things that you are best at and need your personal attention. Keeping in mind that most growing enterprises might not be sufficiently funded to hire the right people, Capital Float offers Unsecured Business Loans to support the recruitment needs of these businesses.

4. Avoid Distractions

Any means of distraction is harmful for the growth of your business, as the work you do is very different compared to those of your employees. If you think your team members are wasting time on social media, set up a URL blocker on your system. You can forward calls, set up caps on answering emails or designate others to perform repeated tasks, if these are causing you to deviate from your daily schedule.

As you get busier, more people demand your time. Reducing distractions implies training the people around you to respect your time. Your employees tend to consume your time with constant problems or through attempts to garner your attention. Take steps to identify the major time-wasters and keep them at bay.

5. Prioritize difficult tasks

An effective time management hack is to start your work hours with the most challenging task at hand. Despite varying individual notions of productivity, mornings are accepted as the time of the day when you are at your optimum performance levels. This leaves the rest of the day to handle repercussions or developments, and you can work on other priorities with a relaxed frame of mind.

6. Watch out for ‘Shiny Objects’

Many a small business that has just entered the economic space face the ‘shiny object syndrome’ early into their growth phase. Shiny objects, or seemingly bright opportunities, keeping popping up from time to time and they tend to distract you from your business objectives. You can eliminate such time-wasters by asking for agendas before attending any business proposition and comparing new prospects with the value of opportunities at hand.

7. Organize your Work Space

There is no bigger demotivating factor than coming to a cluttered workspace every morning. Not only does it create an unorganized mental space, but according to recent surveys, makes you stay at office longer. Documents categorized into inbound and outbound piles, color-coded filing cabinets, scanning forms onto Outlook, and similar techniques will save you the trouble of rifling through scores of paperwork to find information.

8. Evaluate and Improvise Consistently

The worst thing to do to your business is to continue implementing processes that do not benefit your cause. Most small business owners might be busy with specific projects to spend time analyzing their business models. This is where a quarterly evaluation becomes the most significant of time management tips and strategies. A quarter, or three months, is relevantly sufficient amount of time required to determine the effectiveness of a strategy or a business relationship. Carrying out evaluations at the end of every quarter gives ambitious entrepreneurs better process insights and a chance to move in the right direction.

9. Measure Big Successes & Failures

One of the critical time management skills that a small business owner must possess is goal setting. Define scalable weekly business goals with an emphasis on a particular aspect of your business that you want to focus on, and evaluate the big wins and losses at the end of the week. What makes this strategy so productive is that here, failures are treated as important as successes, as early analysis saves the time that your team might have continued working on them.

10. Leverage Technology

Most small business owners spend more time running a business than growing it. Tasks like staff rotas, invoicing, payroll and tax consume more than 30 hours of productive time every month. With the infinite number of apps and services available online, technology can be used to fill the gap in your current business processes. Automating repetitive tasks such as these will help you save a lot of time to focus on activities that directly impact the growth of your business.

Oct 24, 2018

Card image cap
Convenient Supply Chain Financing Creates Resiliency In The System

Supply chain finance is an important but often underrated aspect of supply chain management. At its core, supply chain management is the management of the flow of material / services, data and money through a network of assets from the point of origin to the point of final consumption (and back). Natural disasters, geo-political crisis and financial crisis faced by the world over the past decade have forced companies to move away from only optimizing their supply chains to making them more resilient. For a supply chain to be truly resilient, all risks associated with the asset base managing the flow (i.e. the material & services, data and money) must be negotiated intelligently, keeping in mind that each one represents a point of failure or a point of opportunity.

Industries are habituated to ignore the significance of supply chain financing. While there has been a lot of collaboration between different constituents of supply chains, they usually center on inventory. However inventory and finance are intrinsically linked; increased players in the supply chain machinery is directly proportionate to the increased complexity in the financing of the process. This is especially true in a country like India, where the number of intermediaries, in many cases outnumbering the actual value addition points, poses a complex problem from the paradigm of supply chain finance and more importantly supply chain resiliency.

As with anything in a complex supply chain, the bulk of the power resides in a few constituents (maybe the retailer or the manufacturer depending upon the specifics of the value chain). These companies understandably look out for their own interests especially when it comes to supply chain finance. Though concepts like JIT (just in time) inventory and quick turnaround times from order-to-delivery have reduced inventory levels held drastically, most companies still hold onto the traditional 30-45-60 day of credit terms with their suppliers. This puts incredible financial stress on the supplier which in the worst case manifests in poor quality of supply. In the long run, this increases the total cost of ownership for the company, i.e. investment in more stringent QC processes, returns, disruption to the manufacturing process, supplier switching costs etc. Applying the same principles of collaborative thinking to supply chain finance will not only make the overall chain more resilient but also optimize the flows and pass on efficiencies in the long run to the end consumer.

In today’s business environment where “share holder value” is no longer a buzz word but the focus of every corporate board of directors, it might be wishful thinking to expect companies to share their margins or reduce days of credit to suppliers in the interest of collaboration. This is where a third party financial institution plays an important role. By providing liquidity to the supplier on the basis of the credit umbrella provided by the bigger company, the addition of the third party financial institution creates a win-win across all stakeholders involved. This is even more critical in the case of small and medium sized enterprises, which at this point are forced to spend only a fraction of their efforts on innovation and growth.

While some large corporates do have some form of supplier financing initiatives through tie ups with Banks and NBFCs, in most cases the coverage of the initiatives are limited (to some marquee suppliers) and in a larger amount of cases are a generic form of receivable financing based on existing credit policies of the financial institutions, which are out of sync with business realities. It is imperative for large corporates to have a supplier financing initiative for all their suppliers, especially the SMEs to manage their financial risks. In turn it is imperative for the financial institution to have a tailored product which reflects the operating realities of the industry and also the specificity of the supply chain. Collaboration of all three stakeholders, i.e. the large corporate, SME supplier and financial institution will be critical to ensuring a sustainable supply chain finance program.

We live in an interconnected world; therefore large corporates have the responsibility to ensure that their SME suppliers have access to finance, if they truly want to make their supply chains resilient.

Prashant Adhurty

Prashant has 11 years of experience in business strategy and operations, with specific expertise in the areas of project management, supply chain management and business process formulation , across the retail sector, United Nations system & international organizations, telecommunications & high technology, oil & gas and 3rd party logistics. He has successfully managed and delivered projects for clients based out of Europe, the USA, Africa and India.
At Capital Float, Prashant heads Business Development for Supply Chain Financing.

Oct 24, 2018