Value of SME loans grows at slower pace

Asme president Chan Chong Beng says firms must spend time to build credibility with banks and help bank executives understand their business.  Young firms should build their credit history early by keeping separate accounts for business and personal
Asme president Chan Chong Beng says firms must spend time to build credibility with banks and help bank executives understand their business. Young firms should build their credit history early by keeping separate accounts for business and personal transactions, says OCBC's Mr Ong.PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO
Asme president Chan Chong Beng says firms must spend time to build credibility with banks and help bank executives understand their business.  Young firms should build their credit history early by keeping separate accounts for business and personal
Asme president Chan Chong Beng says firms must spend time to build credibility with banks and help bank executives understand their business. Young firms should build their credit history early by keeping separate accounts for business and personal transactions, says OCBC's Mr Ong.PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO
Asme president Chan Chong Beng says firms must spend time to build credibility with banks and help bank executives understand their business.  Young firms should build their credit history early by keeping separate accounts for business and personal
Asme president Chan Chong Beng says firms must spend time to build credibility with banks and help bank executives understand their business. Young firms should build their credit history early by keeping separate accounts for business and personal transactions, says OCBC's Mr Ong.PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO

Firms say it's hard to get loans; banks say they must prove creditworthiness

The complaints smaller firms have long made about the difficulty of securing credit seem to be reflected in the more modest borrowing figures recorded last year.

The value of loans made to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the 12 months to June 30 increased by 9 per cent - down from a 13 per cent rise the previous year and an 18 per cent jump in 2011.

The figures come from an annual survey of major lenders conducted by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS).

This year's numbers were released by Mr Lawrence Wong, Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth and a board member of MAS, in a written reply to parliamentary questions on Monday.

SMEs - particularly those in the early stages of growth - say a lack of available credit can hinder their expansion plans.

Mr Meyyappan Annamalai, the chief executive of a professional services company, said the requirements for obtaining a loan from commercial banks are often "troublesome and complex".

Two years ago, his firm approached at least three banks for a $200,000 loan so it could hire more staff.

Despite being part of a Spring Singapore scheme which backs small businesses in their efforts to obtain commercial bank credit, the company's efforts were unsuccessful.

"We had to make do with what we had then, and couldn't expand as much as we wanted to," said Mr Meyyappan, adding that the banks "did not provide a satisfactory explanation for rejecting" the loan applications. The company, which was founded in 2002, recorded sales of about US$4 million (S$5 million) last year and now relies on investors for funding.

Small businesses also find it difficult to initiate relationships with banks, said the founder of a product design company who declined to be named.

It has had an account with a local bank for a few years.

"We always have to call the general hotline... It's easier for an SME to connect with one person, and we have asked them many times to assign us a bank executive, but they have not," he said.

Mr Chan Chong Beng, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, said firms also have a role to play in enhancing their access to credit.

"SMEs have to spend time to build credibility with banks and spend time helping their bank executives understand the nature of their business," he said.

"This dialogue is very important in order to build trust... If the bank asks for more data and more information, companies should be open to providing it."

Local banks say that while they are open to lending to SMEs - including companies that are less established - borrowers need to be able to prove that they are creditworthy.

Mr Lim Chu Chong, head of SME banking at DBS Bank, said entrepreneurs "should not try to hide their risk factors from the bank".

The lack of audited and updated financial statements can pose a challenge to the bank in assessing an SME's creditworthiness, he added.

Mr Victor Lee, head of business banking at UOB, said the bank reviews the business owner's personal credit history with the bank as "monies may commonly flow between a company and an individual in a small business".

Young businesses should start building their credit history early by segregating business receipts and expenses in a dedicated account instead of combining business and personal transactions, said Mr Eric Ong, head of emerging business at OCBC Bank.

"This allows them to build a track record of operating cash flow that banks look at when evaluating financing requests," he said.

In his written reply to Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong about the accessibility of bank loans for SMEs, Mr Wong said the MAS "does not call for banks to require that SMEs meet a project track record or any specific requirement in order to get a loan".

"All the MAS expects is that banks and finance companies make prudent lending decisions, based on their own credit assessments and risk tolerance."

chiaym@sph.com.sg