Four months of CBILS – what we’ve learned so far

Posted on the 30th July 2020 by Faye McDonough in SME blog, Business, Finance

Four months of CBILS

It seems a lifetime ago, but it is actually only a few months since the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) was announced by the Chancellor as part of a series of government measures to support the UK’s small and medium-sized businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The scheme aims to support those SMEs that were trading successfully before March 2020 but which may have experienced lost or deferred revenues and other disruptions to cash flow as a result of the crisis.

The lenders BOOST&Co, GapCap and KXMedia Capital joined forces to form the Growth Lending Group, with the primary aim of supporting UK SMEs where traditional banks could not. We knew that the circumstances meant that we had an even more important role to play, and we swiftly got to work – at all hours, it seemed – starting with becoming accredited by the British Business Bank to provide CBILS.

Since the scheme was launched on 23 March, the government, British Business Bank and finance industry have worked together to enhance processes and to widen the initiative’s eligibility criteria, aiming to stimulate much-needed economic activity and growth by reaching more SMEs.

Here’s my story of the past four months, from the viewpoint of an entrepreneurial business and an independent lender.

Early challenges for CBILS

In the first few weeks after CBILS launched, some of Britain’s biggest banks received heavy criticism for being slow to lend to UK companies. The statistics (and headlines) were damning: just 1.4% of firms had been successful in their applications and only 1% of the £330bn available had been deployed.

A redesign of key elements of the scheme, in early April, resulted in a broader initiative with wider eligibility criteria and greater clarity around when personal guarantees could and could not be taken.

Here at BOOST&Co, we started to think about how we could improve the customer experience at such a difficult time. Collectively, we set about designing an online application process that would enable us to receive applications in volume while still devoting individual attention and analysis to each business, enabling us to make independent and informed decisions.

Gaining momentum – but can SMEs access the capital they need?

In May, HM Treasury started to publish weekly statistics on the performance of each of its four business-support schemes, including CBILS. These show that the value of facilities approved more than doubled in two months, from £6bn to £12.65bn. There was also a significant increase in the number of facilities approved, from almost 36,000 to 57,000.

Disappointingly, however, the approval percentages have decreased over time and are now around 50% – Ensors Chartered Accountants has created a useful summary here.

This could suggest that it is taking longer to process applications, or perhaps a larger number of unsuccessful applications. Either way, it points to an increase in the already acknowledged SME funding gap, which was estimated to have reached £60bn before the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Growth Lending was accredited to provide CBILS and started to receive applications. We have observed three key themes so far:

  1. In some cases, businesses have been provided with a small CBILS facility. These were typically intended to cover short-term cash flow needs rather than future investment, leading to smaller size approvals (e.g. £250,000 rather than £2.5m).
  2. Some businesses affected by Covid-19 wanted to take advantage of a strategic opportunity to acquire a competitor or complementary business; traditional lenders did not have the appetite to fund these, despite the evolution of the guidelines regarding how CBILS monies may be used.
  3. Anecdotal evidence suggests that, due to the volume of applications that the banks have received, they have been unable to support proposals with a greater degree of complexity.

Good news for high-growth SMEs

On 16 July, the British Business Bank changed its guidance on the “undertaking in difficulty” test. This required UK SMEs to have lost less than half of their subscribed share capital as of the end of 2019. Although it aimed to ensure that businesses receiving loans could repay their obligations, it was unduly punitive of high-growth SMEs.

As a lender with considerable expertise in funding fast-growing SMEs, we welcomed this news. The change does not give companies automatic access to CBILS – they will still need to prove that they are credit-worthy and that they have been adversely affected by Covid-19 – but it enables us to consider loss-making businesses that expect to achieve profitability in the next 12 months.

What does the future hold?

It’s clear that the finance industry, the government and the British Business Bank have collaborated effectively to provide a flexible and broad scheme designed to support the SMEs that represent 99.9% of the UK business population.

With approval and volume percentages decreasing, however, and with CBILS due to close at the end of September, it will be interesting to see how the next couple of months pan out. Will SMEs get the support they deserve and need? Will more be done to bridge the widening SME funding gap?

What is certain, however, is that Growth Lending will continue to help as many promising companies to thrive as possible, by providing the funding that they need to grow.

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