What are the real issues facing SMEs?

Failing that you could do worse than compare two separate studies published to little fanfare in the last few weeks by the Institute of Directors and the ICAEW.

The IoD’s survey Business Finance 2002 makes for fascinating reading.

It shows that, contrary to conventional wisdom, some 74% of the directors interviewed do not believe that access to finance is a problem for their business.

The same number believe they have a good relationship with their bank.

And at 86%, even more say, their business has never had a request for finance rejected by their bank.

There are some warning signs. 70% of interviewees hold a cash deposit at their bank with many increasing it as insurance against economic downturn.

But the overall picture is far more positive than would be expected of an economy apparently teetering on the brink of recession.

The survey also found that SMEs are more concerned with issues like staff shortages, a lack of orders and sales and government regulation.

To that list should be added fear of fraud, according to a separate ICAEW study released within days of the IoD report.

The Fraud Advisory Panel, an independent body supported by the ICAEW, would not have been surprised to see a large number of directors failing to tell the IoD of their fear of fraud. SMEs often miss telltale signs – especially when business is booming.

For instance the report points out that fraud only tends to get written about when it occurs in big business. In smaller ones it often goes unreported by the press and to the police.

It points to examples that show that while the sums may be different, the consequences on SMEs are every bit as acute as those on big businesses.

The report describes how an organised ring of criminals systematically altered small refund cheques. The fraud came to light when a bank spotted that a cheque from a travel company had been altered from £10 to £10,000.

Similar frauds take place every day – fraud has no respect of business size. It’s somewhat ironic that access to finance is. As the large-end corporate finance market dries up, SMEs are, it seems, sitting pretty.

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