Feature: Increasing SMEs Access to Formal Financing

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Dec 2011
Accra, Ghana, December, 01 2011 - The role of SMEs in driving the economic development process of their home countries is not in doubt. Removing the obstacles to access for SMEs to finance requires that commercial banks, microcredit institutions, community groups and business development services SMEs, expanding the financial sector and strengthening links between firms will permanently increase SMEs' access to finance.

The role of SMEs in driving the economic development process of their home countries is not in doubt. However, for SMEs to pay their meaningful roles, they must have access to finance under the right conditions. For example, improving business environments, boosting the capacity of SMEs, expanding the financial sector and strengthening links between firms will permanently increase SMEs' access to finance, a critical missing link in their quest to make a meaningful contribution to the development process.

Improving Business Environment

Providing sufficient and proper information, a key to deciding whether a bank will make a loan; the chance of the bank making the loan would be enhanced by adopting clear and consistent accounting standards, setting up independent, competent and reputable accounting firms and creating more credit bureaus to supply data on solvency of firms.

Also, a legal system that can help settle contract disputes, commercial law reform, as well as, clarifying land titles, and making bankruptcy procedures effective are vital for the growth of the business sector.

In addition, a country’s tax laws can either coax small businesses into the formal sector of the economy or keep them away. Governments should also make sure that they pay SMEs promptly, since public contracts are vital to the financial security of these firms.

Assisting SMEs Meet The Minimum Requirements For Formal financing

Apart from the need to boost SME capacities, some financial instruments can help provide missing information or reduce the risk stemming from some SMEs' lack of transparency. Franchising, which is very popular in Southern and East Africa with the encouragement of South Africa, allows use of a brand name or know-how that reduces the risk of failure.

Warehouse-receipt financing (in South Africa, Kenya and Zambia) guarantees loans with agricultural stocks.

Other financial instruments, such as leasing and factoring, can reduce risk effectively for credit institutions but are still little used in many African countries.

Credit associations that reduce risk by sharing it are on the increase. They help financial institutions to choose who to lend, by guaranteeing the technical viability of projects, and sometimes providing guarantees. But growth of these bodies is limited by the lack of organisation among SMEs in SSA and by their focus on certain sectors and geographical areas. Governments and donor sources have thus supported the creation of guarantee funds to ensure repayment in case of default.

Making The System more Accessible to SMEs

Most African financial systems are fragmented, making it very difficult for SMEs to access funding, lack of funding for SMEs has partly been made up for by microcredit institutions, whose growth is due to the flexible loans they offer small businesses. For example, in Angola, Novobanco provides loans free of bank charges, without a minimum deposit and with informal guarantees (property assets and a guarantor), as well as permanent contact with loan managers.

Though adapted to local needs, however, microcredit institutions remain fragile and modest-sized. As well as lacking trained staff, microcredit institutions face limited expansion because of their limited funds. Their mainly short-term finance means they cannot easily turn the savings they collect into medium or long-term loans.

They are also up against the cost of refinancing through the formal banking sector and have no access to refinanc-ing either by the central bank or by venture capital. Microcredit institutions could be put on a firmer financial footing by developing and adapting long-term savings products that exist elsewhere, such as life insurance and home-saving plans, and encouraging the setting up of specialised refinance banks such as Mali's "solidarity bank" (Banque malienne de solidarity), or working more closely with the formal banking sector (Benin's SME support organization PAPME and the local Bank of Africa).

Some countries (such as Kenya) have dealt with the lack of funding by supporting growth of smaller commercial banks or (in Ghana) of rural banks, so as to bring traditional banks and SMEs closer geographically and businesswise

South Africa passed two laws in early 2005 to expand the banking system to include savings and loan institutions (second-tier banks] and cooperative banks (third-tier banks) while easing banking regulations so the newcomers could still be flexible in providing loans. In many countries, commercial banks are also setting up their own microcredit services.

Removing the obstacles to access for SMEs to finance requires that commercial banks, microcredit institutions, community groups and business development services SMEs, expanding the financial sector and strengthening links between firms will permanently increase SMEs' access to finance.

Expanding The Suplly Of Finance Through The Non-Financial Private Sector

Financial institutions are not the only source of money for SMEs. Apart from remittances by nationals working abroad, which are a key boost to private-sector growth, the interdependence between SMEs, large firms and sectoral "clusters' is a major potential source of finance, as shown in Asia and Latin America. Big firms can do a lot to help SMEs get finance more easily by transferring resources (money and factors of production) and guaranteeing SME solvency with financial institutions.

Links with major companies can also help SMEs get export credits, which are especially important in countries with weak institutions, since commercial partners are better informed than other creditors (especially financial institutions) about the ability of their customers to repay debts. Export credits have been proved useful in Zambia's agrofood industry. Subcontracting is still uncommon in Africa, but has grown rapidly in South Africa since 1998, though there is increasing skepticism about it because it may confine SMEs to low-skill informal activities.

Clusters of SMEs, which are very active in Asia, enable member firms to seek finance together, provide collective guarantees or even set up their own financial body. The threat of expulsion from the cluster ensures that promises are kept, which allows the network to overcome shortcomings in the legal system.

Frequent interaction with financial authorities, as well as the role that repu-tation plays in the cluster, can greatly increase confidence between firms and financial institutions and thus make it easier to get loans and lower rates of interest.

Working together also means firms can get supplier credits and can borrow from each other when necessary, which reduces general costs. Such clusters, however, are very little developed in Africa and are concentrated in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

In conclusion, SMEs play important roles as growth drivers within their economies, provided the economic environment is conducive and are not limited by finance (critical link). Having access to finance means governments must find creative ways (reforming of commercial laws, creating credit bureaus, land documentation reforms, etc) of encouraging the private sector provide funding to SMEs.

Source : Joy Online
 

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