ABF sector is growing fast
Asset Based Finance (ABF) has seen record levels of lending in recent years, with more firms than ever choosing to use this funding option. This trend is a sign of how ABF is increasingly taken seriously as a viable source of finance, which is becoming more widely accepted among businesses. Driving this growth in ABF are the larger, more established banks, but they have been increasingly focusing on large corporates. This provides an opportunity for challenger banks to expand their operations into the mid-market, and although the varying quality of credit among SMEs means it’s an exercise they should do with care, the potential returns are well worth it.
Funding record set last year
Last year set a lending record for the ABF, which largely comprises invoice financing and asset-based lending (ABL), with funding reaching £22.2 billion, an increase of around 5% compared to 2016, itself a previous record. The total number of businesses accessing ABF was 40,333 in 2017, while the number of clients with a turnover of more than £10 million increased to over 5,000, up 7% on last year. In total ABF finance now supports companies with total turnover of around £300bn.
Big banks freeing up the mid-market
Catalysts for the growth of the sector are the big lenders, major banking groups and other established financial institutions. However, a feature of their expansion is that they are moving up the credit scale, with a shift of focus to those companies with a more secure, conservative financial profiles. Many of the big banks are no longer willing, or perhaps even able, given the capital requirements, to lend to small and mid-cap size firms. But the move of these mainstream lenders up the credit quality spectrum has not reduced the needs of SMEs, many of which have limited financing options for common growth challenges, such as the need for investment into new products or moves into new markets.
Clear opportunity for challenger banks….
Some challenger banks are already active in the ABL sector. For instance, asset finance accounts for over 20% of Aldermore’s lending portfolio, with a further around 4% accounted for by invoice financing. Secure Trust is another challenger that has been building its business in the ABL sector. However, the retreat from providing ABL to SMEs, gives challenger banks an opportunity to target the corporate mid-market and further accelerate their expansion in ABF.
…But they should proceed with care
Although the prospects are promising for challenger banks to boost ABF to SMEs, they should proceed with care. Credit quality is more variable in the mid-market and companies’ revenues, cash flow and costs can be a little more unpredictable as they are more sensitive to changes in market direction or client losses. So challenger banks should be sure that their due diligence and research on businesses looking for ABF is rigorous, including closely examining the credit quality of the accounts receivables, sales concentration and the aging of the accounts receivables.
Private equity-backed businesses offer further potential
Another area challenger banks and other alternative lenders should consider targeting are private equity backed companies. The flexibility that asset-based lending provides to a private equity borrower, such as scalability, works well for acquisitions. Additionally, what ABF can offer which is compelling for those needing finance as well as financial sponsors, such as private equity, is the flexible but limited covenant structure, greater debt capacity, and often a lower price. In the private equity arena, innovative transaction structures involving ABF have the potential to provide sponsors with an alternative to more typical and complex approaches, such as those involving Revolving Credit Facilities.
SMEs seeking to refinance from new lenders
Typically, businesses already using ABF as part of their funding strategy would typically refinance using the same lender. However, in the last few years there has been a trend for borrowers to turn away from their incumbent lenders and explore alternative options, including challenger banks, which can often offer more sophisticated and attractive financing terms. Challenger banks should capitalise on this trend by SMEs to consider a greater variety of re-financing options to further expand their ABF operations.
Technology can play a key role
For both challenger banks and other boutique financial institutions seeking to enter the market, as well as SMEs looking to access ABF, the influx of new technologies is a definite plus. These new technology options mean ABF is increasingly accessible for even the smallest SMEs as increased speed of service allows companies to receive the funds they need quickly due to sophisticated data capture and analysis techniques. For institutions such as challenger banks solutions such as the HPD LendScape® platform help to automate and streamline ABF processes, making it easier for banks to lend and enabling businesses to manage their loans and provide their collateral data for analysis via a single platform, making the process easier to manage for resource-pressed SMEs.
ABF market in the UK is evolving
ABF is maturing fast in the UK, both in terms of invoice financing and asset based lending and this is likely to continue. An increasing range of companies are seeking to access the funding, while an ever expanding range of lenders is targeting the sector. Challenger banks could play a key role in this trend, with their more innovative, flexible tech-driven approach. With 33% of UK GDP coming from SMEs, if challengers were to significantly expand their ABF finance that would give a considerable funding boost for businesses and a growth uplift for the economy.