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?

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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.

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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/) 

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Tax Slabs & Understanding the Dynamics of Transactions under GST

Effective July 01, India would be joining a host of 160 other countries that have implemented GST/VAT in some form. This is a big step towards streamlined taxation norms. From new indirect tax slabs to drastically different taxation procedures, the Goods and Services Tax or the GST, will compel companies and taxpayers to realign their operating models.

Tax slabs in India under GST 

The new indirect taxation regime is based on a four-slab tax structure, and goods and services feature in these depending on their nature – whether it is a luxury item, a necessity or a leisure item. A total of 1211 items have been categorised under these four tax slabs, with a bulk of them (including services) being placed in the 18% bracket.

Previous tax rate (Approximate range) GST Rate Goods Services
No tax No tax Items of daily and mass consumption such as milk, butter, fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meat, flours, bread, salt, prasad, bindi, sindoor, stamps and judicial papers, colouring books, newspapers, bangles etc. Hotels and lodges with a tariff below Rs 1000.
~ 5% (5% VAT and no excise) 5% Apparel below Rs 1000 and footwear below Rs 500, and essentials like kerosene and coal, medicines and insulin, stents. Edible oil, tea, coffee, frozen vegetables, skimmed milk powder, cashewnuts, incense sticks. Small restaurants, transport services like railways and air which have petroleum as the main input. Job works in textiles, gems, and jewellery.
~ 9% to 15% 12% Apparel over Rs 1000, Ayurvedic medicines, exercise books, preserves like pickles, sauces, ketchups, and fruit and vegetable preserves, umbrellas and packaged foods like butter, ghee, cheese, dry fruits. Basic cell phones. Non-AC hotels, pesticides and fertilisers, business class air tickets and work contracts.
~ 15% and 21% 28% Luxury goods and sin goods: SUVs, aerated drinks, white goods, paints,  ATM/ vending machines, vehicles, personal aircrafts; Sin goods such as bidis, chewing gum, paan masala. Certain select consumables will attract an additional cess. Movie tickets above Rs 100, five star hotels, race clubs, betting and other luxury services.

– Gold and rough diamonds have been allocated separate tax percentages of 3% and 0.25% respectively.

– Certain goods such as alcohol (for human consumption), consumption and sale of electricity, stamp duty and customs duty, and five petroleum products, namely, crude oil, natural gas, aviation fuel, diesel, and petrol have been excluded from GST for the initial years.

1. The GST council has revised the tax rates on 27 goods and 12 services with effect from 6 October 2017. Click here to read the revised list.

2. The GST council has revised the tax rates on 177 goods and services with effect from 15 November 2017.

3. The 25th GST Council met on 18 January 2018, where a third round of revisions was announced on 29 goods and 53 services, with effect from 25 January 2018.

How the transactions will change

Businesses will be impacted at both ends, i.e., at the inbound transactions such as imports (international business) and procurements (domestic), and at the outbound transactions, i.e., the sales. Here are some important transformations:

Place of Supply: Currently, many businesses operate on a state-wise warehousing model as transfers between inter-state warehouses are considered as stock transfers and are not liable to pay CST. Under GST, inter-state stock transfers between warehouses will also be subject to IGST at the “Place of Supply”. For example, a supplier of steel from Jharkhand to Orissa and Kerala, will need to pay IGST on the transfer of goods in Orissa and Kerala respectively. If there is a transfer of steel from the warehouse in Kerala to the warehouse in Orissa, IGST would still be applicable, but CST wouldn’t be payable on such a transaction. This change has been proposed to discourage suppliers from having multiple warehouses and adopt a single warehousing system.

Consideration of “Time of Supply Rules”: This factor determines when goods / services are to be supplied, and therefore, when the tax is to be paid (point of taxation). Under the GST, the Time of Supply for goods and services is the earlier of the following dates: (a) the date of issuing of invoice (or the last day by which invoice should have been issued) OR (b) the date of receipt of payment; whichever is earlier. For example, if the date of invoicing is May 20 and payment is received on July 1, the time of supply will be May 20. Which means that the  government wants to collect the tax at the earliest possible point in time, and businesses must plan their working capital keeping in mind these advanced payment timelines.

Provisions of Input Tax Credit: Input tax refers to the taxes that a manufacturer or service provider pays while buying the raw material or inputs. Under the GST, a business can reduce the tax it has paid on inputs from the taxes collected on outputs. In effect, businesses will be taxed only on the “value addition”. For example, if a manufacturer is paying Rs 300 on final product and has paid Rs 200 on inputs, he can claim input credit on Rs 200 and has a tax liability of only Rs 100. This facility will bring down the overall tax expenses of companies.

Lower exemption thresholds for Small Scale Industries: Currently, small scale industries can avail central excise threshold exemption of Rs. 1.5 crore. With the GST, this limit will be reduced to Rs. 20 lakh. As a result, a company that used to avail tax exemption of 1.5 crore can now avail only 20 lakh, leading to higher tax payments.   Benefits from higher registration threshold: Businesses with turnover of over 20 lakh (10 lakh for the North East) must mandatorily register for GST. Currently, the criteria for VAT is that businesses with turnover of over Rs 5 lakh (Rs 10 lakh for North East) must register for VAT. As a result a business that was in the Rs 5 lakh – Rs 20 lakh bracket is now exempt from indirect taxation.

These are some of the business-transactional implications of the GST. Organisations will have to design and implement extensive change management exercises to align GST with their desired business outcomes. Get more information about GST on our GST blog.

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Oct 24, 2018

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Implications of GST for Services

The new Goods and Services Tax (GST) is a unified tax structure that was implemented by the Government of India on 1 July 2017. The new regime has ushered a significant change in taxation levels and rules associated with it. On an average, we see the tax slab increasing from 15% to 18% for most of the services. While this may translate to higher cost of services to the end consumer, GST also presents a whole lot of opportunities, pushing ease of business.

Services Sector in India: An Overview

India is a strong services-led economy with the sector generating a significant chunk of employment opportunities and contributing to the GDP. It contributed around 66.1% of India’s Gross Value Added (GVA) growth in 2015-16, is the biggest magnet for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), and an important net foreign exchange earner. Some of the core areas of service are IT and ITES, banking and financial services, outsourcing, research and development, transportation, telecommunications, real estate and professional services.

Some of the positive impacts of GST on service providers are:

Clear distinction between goods and services: The old regime does not clearly distinguish between goods and services, leading to many instances of double taxation. For example, software is often treated as a good and as a service. The new regime clearly distinguishes goods from services, and also defines principal supply, composite supply, and mixed supply separately. For example, when an individual books a Rajdhani train ticket which includes meals, it involves a composite supply wherein the ticket and the meals cannot be sold separately. Since the transportation of the passenger is the principal supply, the rate of tax will only be charged on the ticket. Alternatively, for items that can be sold separately, but are sold together, like a hamper of snacks and aerated drinks, the rate of tax applicable on the higher product will be levied on the composite supply. There are also separate definitions for supply of software, works contracts, and leasing transactions to bring in more clarity and transparency on their taxation rules.

Streamlining of taxation for intra-state service providers: Due to the state level taxes being subsumed, it will become easier for service providers that operate within the state to know their tax obligations better. Such companies can move away from multiple tax calculations. For example, a CD with software incurs Excise, Service Tax, and VAT under the old regime; this is simplified to one unified rate under GST, making tax calculations and administration easier for intra-state service providers.

Input credit facility: VAT payment under the old regime was not eligible for setting off against output liabilities. The input credit facility is now made available to service providers as well, wherein tax paid on any inputs can be claimed and adjusted against tax paid on output. This will result in direct cost savings for service providers and may even offset the expected rise in end pricing. For example, an AC fitter who paid tax on the raw material for AC fittings (pipe, tape, solder etc.) will be able to claim that tax, and end up spending less on the cost of fitting the AC. This cost advantage can spill over to the customer as well.

Regularised return filing: The old service tax system required two half-yearly returns for services businesses. Under GST, this has been replaced by a number of returns provisions, depending on the type of taxpayer and the type of business:

Return Type of tax payer Timeline of filing return
GSTR 1 For outward supplies of sale (for registered taxable person) By 10th of the next month
GSTR 2 For inward supplies received by a taxpayer (for registered taxable person) By 15th of the next month
GSTR 3 Monthly return for registered taxable person (except for Compounding Taxpayer) By 20th of the next month
GSTR 4 Quarterly return for Compounding Taxpayer/Composition Supplier By 18th of the next month
GSTR 5 Periodic return by Non-Resident Foreign Taxpayer By 20th of the next month
GSTR 6 Return for Input Service Distributor (ISD) By 13th of the month succeeding the quarter
GSTR 7 Return for Tax Deducted at Source (TDS) By 10th of the next month
GSTR 8 Annual Return for e-commerce operator By 10th of the next month

While a shorter timeline for filing returns might seem overwhelming, regularisation in return filing will result in better streamlining of taxes. Since all these returns are required to be submitted online through a common portal provided by GSTN, the process is simplified and will help the government weed out regular defaulters. This in turn will result in a major boost in the contribution of the Service sector to the GDP.

Service providers, however, are concerned about the following aspects:

  • State-wise registration will be required: In the old regime, a service provider could operate with a single place of registration, since services were taxed only by the Central government. For example, if an IT services provider was present across states, they could carry out tax and delivery transactions from the main location. However, now a service provider that is offering services across states must register each place of business separately in each state. This is because the new GST regime entails taxation of services at “location of service recipient”, which will differ for different states. This means service providers will need to register afresh in new states and then carry out tax transactions separately in each state. For example, an IT company like TCS that has a widespread presence across states will need to decentralise service delivery.
  • Decentralised reporting will add to costs: Under GST, the “location of service recipient” is the key criterion for how a service will be taxed. Tax considerations will be related to the place the service is being delivered, and even a pan-India service provider with several “locations of service” will need to maintain state-wise records of input credit, audits, service consumption, etc. For example, earlier a service provider like TCS would enter into a single contract with the client, based on its main location, and then would discharge service tax based on the single-service tax registration model. GST will decentralise service delivery models, ensuring various TCS units adopt their own tax reporting and tax management. While this need for decentralised tax tracking and processing is an immediate cost to service providers, it presents a very real opportunity to streamline reporting and compliance measures for the future.

GST offers clear benefits to the services sector, and while some of these measures entail additional cost and effort in the short term, businesses can look forward to simpler operations with the new taxation laws.

All in all, services industries must gear up for better ways to manage business. Now is the time for them to equip themselves with the right people, processes and technologies, and emerge as service providers of the future.

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Oct 24, 2018

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5 Big Reasons to Opt for a Merchant Cash Advance Loan

While dining at a restaurant, customers either settle the bill through cash or by using a credit or debit card. Similarly, online shopping also offers the advantage of choice of paying by cash or card. In both cases, apart from offering quality service and/or products, the customer experience is further enhanced when a merchant offers the convenience of choice. Keeping customer satisfaction in mind, the use of card payment devices has become a norm for modern-day businesses. After all, a business’ success largely depends on how happy its customers are. A well-run business attracts more customers and eventually ensures long-term gains. These include better profit margins, wider customer base, higher brand value, etc.

One of the key factors that makes all this possible for a business, regardless of its size, is working capital. A travel agency runs very differently from, let’s say, a flourishing B2B business. However, the need for access to quick finance is something they have in common. Given that swiping of credit or debit cards is fast becoming commonplace, businesses are waking up to the fact that they can utilize point-of-sale card machines to their advantage. In other words, they can use the cash flowing into their merchant account from card swipes to avail of merchant credit advance.

Merchant cash advance companies ensure a quicker and easy access to money. Turning to a conventional lender for working capital needs is not always possible for a small business, nor in most cases is it simple. This swings the spotlight on merchant cash advance loans. A tailor-made financial product, Capital Float’s merchant cash advance option has benefited several Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

Our association with several point-of-sale card machine vendors like Mswipe, ICICI Merchant Services, Pine Labs, Bijlipay and MRL Posnet enables a wide range of merchants to obtain customized working capital solutions from us in the form of a merchant cash advance loan.

Approaching merchant cash advance companies like Capital Float makes sound sense for SMEs in search of quick access to funds. Here are 5 important reasons why SMEs should opt for merchant cash advance loans over other types.

1- Broader loan range: Capital Float’s merchant cash advance loan offers SMEs the flexibility of choosing the exact amount of capital they need. Addressing credit requirements ranging from as low as Rs. 1 lakh to as high as Rs. 3 crores, this is a customized financing option based on the monthly card settlement of a business. A merchant credit advance loan is an ideal solution for those who have consistent card inflows as well as short-term investment requirements.

2- Flexible loan tenure:  Apart from offering the advantage of cashless transactions, point-of-sale machines can help speed up access to working capital. Capital Float’s merchant cash advance loan, based on card swipes comes with the benefit of flexible loan tenure. SMEs can opt for a 6-month or 12-month repayment term, making it easier to pay back the loan at their convenience.

Besides, payment to the merchant cash advance company varies directly with the merchant’s sales volumes. This means SMEs have the option of paying less during a low season. Additionally, with this innovative alternative, they need not pay monthly EMIs which are the norm in traditional small business loans; they can pay weekly or fortnightly installments too.

3-Get up to 200% of your monthly card settlement: Merchant credit advance loans work like a charm for retail businesses as well as restaurateurs. Given the high extent of card swipes in today’s digitized and connected world, one can receive financing up to 200% of monthly sales from card payment machines. Higher card swipes can mean a higher loan amount.

4- Apply anytime, anywhere: Typically, loan applications are a laborious process requiring several trips to the bank. But alternative financing options like merchant credit advance are anything but that. In fact, merchant cash advance companies offer a quick and hassle-free online application process, with forms that can be filled and uploaded anytime, from anywhere. The entire process of filling out an application form and submitting the required documents takes just 10 minutes. It is time to bid adieu to lengthy procedures and paperwork required for a conventional loan.

What’s more, at Capital Float we understand the value of quick access to credit. Meeting an unexpected business expense or leveraging a lucrative business opportunity can be a challenge for well-managed businesses. Utilizing innovative technology for speeding up loan approvals, Capital Float disburses merchant cash advance loans within 72 hours.

5. Simple pre-requisites: Merchant credit advance is something SMEs can easily apply and avail of. The prerequisites are simple and include the following qualifiers:

  • Operational history of one year
  • Minimum turnover of Rs 20,00,000
  • Card acceptance vintage of six months
  • Minimum monthly card volume of Rs 1,00,000
  • Minimum of six settlements per month

Personalized and transparent

Capital Float fully comprehends the fact that loan products need to be customized according to the needs of a business. Therefore, going for a financing option like merchant cash advance loan makes sound sense. SMEs receive exactly what they are looking for in terms of working capital; and the merchant credit advance is convenient in terms of repayment.

Capital Float believes in conducting business in a transparent manner; we do not levy any kind of hidden charge whatsoever. There is no pre-closure penalty either — another advantage in the merchant cash advance loan. The borrower is only obligated to pay a processing fee of up to 2% of the loan.

Capital Float aims to remove financial barriers that stand between SMEs and growth by providing easy access to capital.  Our merchant cash advance loans are a simple and secure means to bridge the credit gap that small businesses routinely face.

Oct 24, 2018