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        New site to encourage better business banking

        New site to encourage better business banking

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          A new Government-backed comparison website will enable small businesses to weigh up the pros and cons of rival banks more easily.

          The Business Banking Insight (BBI) site reveals ratings for 74 lenders from 5,000 SMES (small and medium enterprises) in a survey undertaken by ICM.

          ICM Research associate director David Perry called the site a “powerful tool” when it comes to small businesses selecting a bank.

          What will the site offer?

          The independent free site has been described as a “wake-up” call to banks and will be refreshed with latest survey information twice a year.

          It is basically a comparison website for business banking.

          The site, which was launched last Wednesday (May 28), offers users the chance to view results either by current accounts for businesses or by a business service or product.

          It has three separate categories relevant to all small businesses: sole traders, firms with one-to-nine workers, and companies with 10-to-249 staff.

          The site, which uses a five-star rating system, claims its intention is to help firms arrive at better decisions.

          Andrea Leadson, the City minister, said the BBI is a “wake-up” call to banks. She said the site will prompt banks to tailor better products to small firms’ needs and to better their services.

          Ms Leadson said there is currently not enough competition in the sector.

          Firms with one-to-nine staff and sole traders scored bank current accounts a typical satisfaction rating of 60%, according to the ICM poll.

          Why is better business banking required?

          The UK may be emerging from an economic downturn. But many smaller firms are reporting challenges in securing funding to help them grow their business, it is alleged.

          The British Chambers of Commerce claims that many firms are finding it difficult to extract loans from banks.

          But the Forum of Private Business (FPB) counters that it is more a question of firms being more eager to pay loans back rather than accumulate debt by starting new ones.

          FPB chief executive Phil Orford stressed that there is money available to borrow.

          What do the figures say?

          Lending to SMEs under a major Government lending initiative dropped this year, according to new Bank of England statistics.

          The Funding for Lending (FLS) scheme aimed to encourage banks to offer cheap loans, primarily to SMEs. But net lending dropped by £2.7 billion during the first three months of this year.

          This figure takes account of loans paid back. SMEs saw lending plunge by £723 million.

          So what does the UK’s leading banking industry association say? The British Bankers’ Association (BBA) has revealed its own statistics.

          It says that small firms paid back £5.2 billion in current loans during the first quarter of 2014. This was a similar figure to the amount repaid 12 months earlier.

          The BBA stats also revealed that money held by companies is still increasing.

          Small businesses held £138.1 billion – a 9% hike on the corresponding period in 2013 – in cash on March 31.

          New borrowing stood at 10% more than in 2013 at £6.8 billion.

          The BBA claims that under a tenth of small businesses saw finance access as a leading obstacle to success and expansion.

          Time will tell how helpful the new site is in overcoming these issues.


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