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Cash flow still a major problem for SMEs

Cash flow still a major problem for SMEs article image

Only 8.5 percent SMEs who recently took part in a major survey reported they were satisfied with their cashflow. 

The Scottish Pacific SME Growth Index released last week found 70 percent, whether growth, consolidating or declining SMEs, said better cashflow would have improved 2016 revenues by more than 5 percent.

And seven out of ten “growth” SMEs indicated improved cashflow would have produced at least 10 percent revenue growth, with almost a quarter saying they could have achieved 25-50 percent revenue growth. 

“Regardless of whether an SME had a growth or negative growth forecast, this clearly indicates the significant impact improved cashflow would have on revenue growth,” said Scottish Pacific CEO Peter Langham.


“The smaller the business, the greater the impact of improved cashflow, with strong indications that improving cashflow early in the life of a business has a major long-term impact on revenue growth.”

Ninety-six percent of $1-5m revenue businesses agreed that better cashflow would have increased their 2016 revenue (with an average improvement of 23 percent); 85.5 percent of $15-20m businesses agreed, with an average revenue increase of 11 percent.

Mr Langham said the stark reality for CFOs and corporate treasurers in the SME sector was that nine out of ten firms say they could have better cashflow management.

“The unhappiness around cashflow is higher for growth businesses, as opposed to those with steady or declining revenue. It is cited as a major growth barrier by 56 percent of growth SMEs, but only by 20 percent of SMEs in a consolidation or declining growth cycle,” he said. 

Confidence on the rise, but fragile

Mr Langham said that in this round of the Scottish Pacific SME Growth Index, Australia’s SME owners seem to have bounced back from the pessimism they voiced in the previous round, September 2016.

“SME business confidence is on the rise, but fragile,” said Mr Langham.

“Trend analysis shows just over 49 percent of SMEs are expecting revenue increases in the first half of 2017, a drop from 63 percent in our first round in late 2014. Since 2014, average positive revenue forecasts for growth SMEs have remained at around 4 percent, yet the average revenue drop predicted by negative growth SMEs has blown out from 5 percent to 8 percent.”

The survey also revealed a record percentage of businesses plan to use non-bank financing (22 percent, doubling from 11 percent in Round One, September 2014). This contrasts with declining bank borrowing intention (29 percent, significantly down from 38 percent in Round One).

Barriers to business growth

As well as the growing intention to fund business by using non-banks, just under 95 percent of SMEs indicated they planned to use their own funds to support their business, and once again respondents cited access to and conditions of credit in their top three barriers to business growth.

“It seems the day is approaching when non-banks will match or pass the banks as the first port of call for small to medium business funding,” Mr Langham said.

“With interest rates at record lows, SME access to credit should not be a problem. And yet SME owners and leaders indicate that their full credit appetite is not being fulfilled.

Mr Langham said it is important for SMEs and their advisers to be across the full range of finance options available to them. 

SMEs listed their top three barriers to growth as high or multiple taxes (71 percent), credit conditions (65 percent) and credit availability (61 percent). Key growth drivers are core customers (41 percent), strong staff (38 percent) – and more concerning, good luck (31 percent) and ‘just following our nose’ (37 percent).

“We’ve seen an increase in the number of SMEs citing credit conditions as a growth barrier, from just over 50 percent in 2014 to now above 60 percent,” Mr Langham said.

About the Scottish Pacific SME Growth Index 
Since September 2014 Scottish Pacific, Australia’s largest specialist working capital finance provider, has engaged specialist research firm East & Partners to conduct six monthly polls of more than 1200 small to medium enterprise leaders across all states and key industries, to test SME sentiment and concerns.

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