Write off as a myth the idea that a huge slice of the nation’s small and medium enterprises is gagging for cash to grow their businesses yet being denied by reluctant bankers.

What’s more the vast majority – eight out of 10 – SMEs are satisfied with their banks.

And this is as true of construction firms as it is of firms in general.

That certainly is one reading of the findings from the second survey of a major independent quarterly study SME Finance Monitor undertaken by research company BDRC Continental.

What is particularly helpful (well I find it very exciting) is that all the data from this research has been made freely available.

The study provides pretty detailed insight into how SMEs fund themselves and into the borrowing habits.

It suggests that a third of SMEs don’t really get involved in borrowing externally at all, almost half hadn’t used external finance in five years and 74% hadn’t felt the need to seek a loan or overdraft in the 12 months to Q3 of this year.

For those who apply for a new or renewed overdraft about 16% fail (2% of all SMEs) and of those who apply for a loan 31% fail (about 1% of all SMEs). 

As you drill down into this group in many if not most cases there are understandable reasons as to why they might not have been successful, such as a short trading history or being scored by Dun & Bradstreet or Experian as high risk.

So the survey provides some defence for banks against the frequently made charges of being systematically unhelpful. But it does not exonerate them – not that passing judgement is the purpose of the study or the report.

There are firms keen for money but being denied it. But the picture doesn’t appear to be quite as bleak as it is sometimes painted.

However, one of the more revealing findings of the study was that a group of about 12% of firms would have sought finance but were discouraged for various reasons. Among those reasons were the thought that they would be rejected anyway and that the process was a hassle.

This suggests that a many firms see the process of seeking money as daunting. Clearly this is one aspect of their performance that banks might want to look at long and hard.  

The survey also picks up on one factor that appears to be looming ever larger in this debate – the impact of the weakening economy. The findings point to fear over the economy increasingly dissuading firms to borrow.

Certainly, the survey does suggest that construction firms are getting more worried about the economy.

One question that BDRC kindly answered for me was that when asked about problems facing their business just 4% of construction SMEs put late payment. This was significantly less than I would have thought.

But, before writing off late payment as a problem, you need to be careful about how you read this. So much is in the wording of the question. The worsening economic climate may be seen by some as the reason for late payment getting worse.

Either way this looks like a good study to keep an eye on for those who are interested in the issues of financing of small and medium sized firms.


PS: apologies if this sounds a bit like an advert for this report, but I am encouraged by survey data that is made freely available and feel it should be highlighted