Last November, the Bank of England raised interest rates by 0.25% – the first increase for ten years. The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, warned that we could see two more increases over the next three years – but then in February of this year, the Bank’s policy committee warned that rates may actually need to rise “earlier” and by a “somewhat greater extent” than previously envisaged. Below Steve Noble, COO at Ultimate Finance, provides excellent insight into protecting against rate changes from hereon.
This will concern many SME owners. Research has shown that a quarter of SME entrepreneurs have funded the growth of their business through their own personal finances. The higher payments required when rates rise across mortgages, credit cards and other loans could put a squeeze on them at a time when conditions are already challenging. This is particularly true if high street banks tighten their lending to specific sectors, as happened during the last recession.
If this happens, good businesses could find themselves pressurised on both sides – putting jobs and entire organisations at risk.
My advice to small business owners and entrepreneurs worried about the prospect of almost certain rate rises is to assess the situation in a series of steps:
Work out what impact a rise of 0.25% or 0.5% would have on your repayment costs
Get your calculator out! Pool together all the finance products you have on variable rates and see how much a rate rise could add to your repayments. Many finance websites have handy calculators that will do this for you. The impact of a 0.25% increase may be small on one individual product, but if you have several it could add up.
Is this something that you can absorb, or will it put a strain on already stretched cash flow?
Think about what the likely increases mean for your business. If you are funding the company through your own finances, will rate rises create difficulties? If finances will be too tight following rate rises and banks reign in on lending, there’s no option but to look at the alternatives and rather than expecting the high street to come up with the answers.
Review your business costs and income
Are there are any unnecessary expenses you can cut out? Little business ‘luxuries’ you’ve been allowing that might need to go? On the income side, have you been undercharging for certain services or are you running ‘special offers’ that might need to end?
Fight back against late payments
Research by the FSB shows that late payment costs the UK economy £2.5bn every year and results in more than 50,000 business deaths. If rates rise as expected, black holes in your cash flow caused by late payments will have increasingly dire consequences. Have serious conversations with your partners and suppliers to lessen the problem, rather than accepting it as a usual part of running a business.
Explore the finance options
There are many forms of finance outside of traditional bank loans. For example, invoice finance that enables you to borrow funds against the value of invoices you have issued but not yet been paid for. Purchase finance that pays your suppliers for goods you buy from them. Asset finance for the purchase of business equipment. Or simply short-term loans to help you meet your needs.
Although banks will offer services of this type, the customer experience will be vastly different. Where high street banks will reject a business that doesn’t meet its pre-set criteria, other providers will offer a more flexible, tailored approach. A solution can be produced with payments terms that suit the business in question, rather than a set agreement which simply won’t work for many in need of financial support. As rate rises seem to be looming, now is the time to begin doing your homework.
SMEs are the growth engine of the UK economy and now more than ever its vital they are supported at every turn. Although rising interest rates will prove difficult for many, for those who plan for the future now, the road will become much less rocky.