By Claire West
A not-for-profit small business support group is urging firms to take part in a new survey to highlight their experiences of dealing with the banks.
The Forum of Private Business is hosting the questionnaire on behalf of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) in an effort to find out how business owners are being treated by the major lenders.
The move comes after new figures from the British Bankers’ Association, which show bank lending to businesses fell again last month, placed fresh scrutiny on the relationships between banks and smaller companies.
The Forum hopes as many small firms as possible will take part in the online survey in order to provide the OFT with clear evidence of bank-related problems and difficulties facing business owners.
The Forum’s research manager, Thomas Parry, said: “Clearly, the issue of the way banks treat small firms has received an enormous amount of attention recently and sparked a lot of debate.
“On the one hand, groups like the Forum have been arguing that viable smaller firms are being unjustifiably denied credit, or offered it at an extortionate cost, by risk-averse banks which often don’t understand their needs.
“On the other hand, the banks and their industry groups have claimed that lending is down simply because demand is down and they are doing everything they can to increase the flow of finance to business. There is also a wider debate about competition between banks, with some critics arguing that smaller firms, particularly in Scotland, face a limited amount of choice in the marketplace.
“We hope this survey will provide the OFT with clear, empirical evidence and reinforce the valid concerns many small business owners have over their relationships with their banks, and the banking industry in general.”
The survey can be accessed via the shortened URL www.bit.ly/cPVVcf and should only take a few minutes to complete.
It is open to all small and medium enterprises (SMEs), is completely confidential and asks businesses’ views on a range of banking issues, including switching between banks and what financial services they use.
The survey is being carried out as part of the OFT’s ongoing review of barriers to entry, expansion and exit in retail banking.