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Opinion > Project BankNorth

Can banks do more for SMEs?

Nancy Butler, founder and commercial director at Project BankNorth | 17:30 Tuesday 5th February 2019

Without mentioning the ‘B’ word, these are uncertain times.

Against a backdrop of political and economic instability, the finance sector has a key role to play in helping small businesses navigate through a challenging macroeconomic climate. 
SMEs need confidence and consistent financial support from banks so that they can continue to flourish — a fact starkly highlighted in research by Aldermore in July 2018, which found that 23% of UK SMEs lost at least one new business opportunity in the preceding 12 months through a lack of available funding. Indeed, more broadly, British Business Bank research highlighted that SMEs lacked confidence that they would get a loan if they applied, with 70% of SMEs accepting slower growth instead of borrowing.
It is against this backdrop that the Project BankNorth team is building a bank designed specifically to support the needs of SME borrowers in the UK, with the aim of improving access to finance for this critical segment of the UK economy. 
With more than five million SMEs in the UK, the team believes that the lending market for the UK’s entrepreneurs can be substantially better served. It can take months to access finance from some established institutions and the unrelenting shift to online or telephony channels by many banks leaves numerous entrepreneurs out in the cold, craving a better relationship with their funding provider. 
Here at Project BankNorth, we’re building a bank which will invest in people at the front line at a time when banks are paring back their relationship coverage. We will place our people in core regional locations across the UK and, enabled by the latest technology, we will free our teams up to focus on delivering for UK SMEs. The team is also working with a number of brokers who are helping to design a seamless proposition which will place the customer at the heart of the transaction, anchored by speed, local underwriting, flexibility of terms and early confidence of delivery. 
By their nature, SMEs have different borrowing needs, but they all need confidence and flexibility from their funding partners to operate effectively. Banks should be evolving and partnering with businesses to support them and to facilitate their growth, but instead some larger institutions are placing artificial barriers along the lending journey, making life, and access to finance, more difficult. Not all business can be transacted online or on the telephone. 
Theresa May has previously claimed that SMEs were the backbone of the UK economy. Banks, and other finance providers, can and should do more than ever to break down barriers for small businesses and help SMEs in the UK to continue to grow and thrive.  
With technology continuously improving, and a renewed focus on customer service, the time has come for businesses to demand much more from their banks via best-in-class technology, flexibility and service standards.  
The growing team at Project BankNorth are passionate about what they do and believe there is a space in the market for a financial provider with a singular focus on supporting an underserved SME market. 

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