The year has caused immeasurable changes to the Australian business landscape. 2020 has taught the business world a lesson in survival of the fittest tactics and how best to leverage seemingly adverse conditions to one’s gain.
The Australian Government has brought in an abundance of bailout packages, amended fiscal policies, and encouraged loan holidays and waivers to rescue the ailing industries in the country. Unsurprisingly, business disruptions are signalling a strong decline in revenue and profitability for many SMEs.
In March 2020, National Australia Bank's index of business confidence fell to a low of -66. Remarkably, throughout the year it improved - with October 2020 recording its highest level since May 2019. Further news of successful trials of vaccines point to higher confidence yet. But is this across the economy?
Australian SMEs have had to contend with a contracting economy, and additional shocks from COVID-19 have also put pressure on their operations.
The business community has shown an uplift in demand for finance and funding, however access to finance continues to be a challenge. Banks have tightened their lending practices in recent years and are more cautious about lending to businesses that have been significantly affected by the pandemic.
It’s imperative for businesses to keep in mind that when it comes to lending, financial planning and future strategy is key.
Few business owners would have encountered the degrees of uncertainty they’ve recently experienced, or been asked to conjure up a crystal ball in a matter of days to make the most important decisions their companies have ever faced.
Companies need a new approach to finance- one that informs rapid realignment of plans and actions and ensures organisational resilience.
Whether it’s accessing government support schemes or traditional bank lending, when looking into funding for small business, education around the different options available is a must before making any decisions. Does it align with the business’s financial strategy?
I encourage businesses to be confident in their turnaround plans - when SMEs are clear on their strategy, it eliminates the opportunity for rushed and ill-informed decisions when it comes to accessing finance.
Brokers continue to face the challenge of educating their clients to the range of financial options out there, aside from bank-led finance. Fintechs and non-bank lenders offer a plethora of different options for businesses, and there is no more stock-standard as it relates to the lending landscape.
Without fail, each year there is an uplift in funding accessed by SMEs over the Christmas period (the peak trading period of the year for many), and this year vigilance is more important than ever.
Short-term cashflow solutions are often more expensive and can come with many traps, and a combination of credit options often turns into financial quicksand. The best advice I can give to SMEs is to be cautious when approaching funding around this time of year, don’t take money just because it’s offered. As brokers and importantly trusted advisers, your counsel and guidance is imperative right now.
The first five months of the current financial year has seen businesses across the country adapt their business models to ensure survival amid the new circumstances, with SMEs currently hustling into Christmas to make up for time lost earlier in the year.
With no overseas holidays, incredibly low interest rates and more employees available to do more work, businesses will get going earlier than usual.
I predict that January 2021 will be a heralding month for SMEs nationwide, with a quicker get-go into the year than ever before. Big spending budgets are appearing regularly, giving SMEs the opportunity to get ahead of the curve with an acute financial strategy.
In a year that has seen the negative effects of a global pandemic, it has also shown the potential for a profound paradigm shift in the way businesses are defined and highlighted exactly how crucial finance is for small businesses.
Linden Toll is the founder and chief executive officer of invoice finance facility Apricity Finance, which was established in 2013.
Linden has more than 25 years working across the finance industry in Australia and Asia. His extensive career covers time working in distribution, capital raising, product development and investment reviews, responsible manager and board level roles.
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