Nick Smith appointed group managing director of Reward Finance Group

As part of the succession programme at Reward Finance Group, Nick Smith has been promoted to group MD.

He takes over the role, at the alternative finance provider, from founding directors, David Jones and Tom Flannery, both of whom will continue as directors and remain fully committed to the business for at least the next two years.

Having joined the company in June 2016, as group sales and marketing director, Nick acquired a significant minority stake in the alternative finance provider in March the following year.

Towards the end of 2018 he added to his responsibilities by becoming managing director, North West, with the task of growing Reward’s presence across the Pennines through its new Manchester office.

Explaining the changes at Reward, Nick Smith, said, “From a standing start, nine years ago, David and Tom have built an exceptional business within the alternative finance sector.

“In addition to our Yorkshire heartland, where the business was first established, we now have a strong presence in the North West, through our Manchester office.

“Like all good businesses, we put a succession plan in place a few years ago, which has now come to fruition. I am delighted to say that both Dave and Tom, who are extremely well connected and respected within the industry, will be working closely with me, as well as completing deals, for at least the next two years.”

Commenting on the appointment of Nick Smith as group MD, Dave Jones, said, “Nick was hand-picked by me as someone who could drive Reward forward into this decade. His commitment, and the start of the succession planning, was sealed when he bought into the business seven months later.

“Two years ago, Nick took over our fledgling North West office and has since built a fantastic sales and operational team which is making a massive contribution to the success of Reward.

“Although these are trying times for all of us, I believe with Nick, and the high calibre team he has assembled, the business could not be in safer hands.”

Mid-tier market support addressed as funding gap closed

Chancellor Rishi Sunak MP’s 3 April announcement that financial support for the vital mid-tier sector is now available for businesses with up to £500m turnover should be welcomed. This is according to Duff & Phelps, the global advisor that protects, restores and maximises value for clients.

David Fleming, Managing Director, Restructuring Advisory, stated: “When assessing the government’s recent announcements, there were initially two levels of support. For small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with a turnover of up to £45 million, there was the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan (CBIL) guarantee scheme. Then the Coronavirus Corporate Financing Facility (CFF) for triple A credit rated large enterprises, there was a promise to buy unlimited short-term IOUs.

“However, there was a huge gap between those businesses with a turnover of up to £45 million and the listed multi-billion-pound, credit worthy corporate giants. The critical mid-tier UK corporate sector looked like it would fall between two stools.

“This new initiative will see the introduction of the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS), ensuring a government guarantee of 80% to enable loans of up to £25 million for firms with a turnover of between £45 million and £500 million, thus addressing what we believed was a huge funding hole for the vital mid-tier market in the UK.”

The government also announced a ban on banks demanding personal guarantees on loans under £250,000 and a major expansion of the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) to speed up access to loans for ‘viable’ small businesses.

Fleming added: “Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we are continuing to assist companies with strategies in avoid insolvency. This could be help with Time To Pay arrangements with HMRC, the Coronavirus Business Payments Support Service or help and guidance on the furloughing of staff and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

“The challenge now for government is the speed at which many of these schemes are implemented, and how they reach UK businesses facing imminent cash flow difficulties.”

Duff & Phelps has a team of experts that understand the challenges being faced, so we would urge accountancy firms and businesses experiencing challenging trading conditions in the face of COVID-19 to reach out to us.

Second Business Monitor Survey confirms severe impact of coronavirus on businesses

Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce’s second Business Monitor survey has confirmed the extent of the impact of coronavirus on local businesses.

The survey was conducted between Friday 27th March and Thursday 2nd April and captured the views of over 100 businesses.

More than two thirds of survey respondents reported not being confident at all about business prospects over the next three months. Only 14% of respondents had some confidence in being able to maintain sales and turnover in the coming weeks.

Nearly half of the respondents reported a reduction in their workforce in the last few weeks and 53% also expected a further reduction in their workforce in the next few days.

Subrahmaniam Krishnan-Harihara, Head of Research at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, said: “The results of this week’s Business Monitor reveal a further decline in business confidence levels. With demand at historic lows and no clarity on when improvements in the public health situation could lead to a relaxation of the lockdown, there has been a dramatic decline in optimism amongst business leaders.

“Awareness of the various business support measures announced by the government is quite high but not as many businesses are applying for government support. Various concerns have been expressed about the administration of support measures and the speed with which businesses can access them. The most popular scheme is the Job Retention Scheme, which 43% of respondents are hoping to benefit from.”

The findings of the Business Monitor have been confirmed by the British Chambers of Commerce’s first Coronavirus Business Impact Tracker and the IHS Markit Purchase Managers Index.

Greater Manchester Chamber will be conducting the Business Monitor survey every week to provide up to the minute data on the ongoing impact of the coronavirus on local businesses.

Accredited CBILS lender, AskIf, appoint two new team members to aid delivery of CV-19 loans

AskIf – an inclusive finance company that facilitates business loans for startups and SMEs who may have been denied funding by other lenders – appoints former CEO of Start Up Loans to their senior management team.

Also recruiting former Director of Corporate Portfolio Management at Santander as new Head of Credit Risk.

Both will play a critical role as the firm delivers the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS).

Joanna Hill, former CEO of Start Up Loans, has been appointed as Commercial Director at AskIf – one of the 40 CBILS Accredited Lenders. Hill was instrumental in building the Start Up Loans Company, which supported 50,000 Startups during her time there. She will bring her wealth of experience in enabling funding for developing businesses, ensuring UK SMEs can access funding made available through the scheme.

AskIf has also appointed a new Head of Credit Risk, Arnon Aviram, from Santander. Avrim is an experienced financial services and banking professional, specialising in SME lending and Corporate and Commercial Banking.

The CBIL scheme, which is providing financial support to smaller businesses (SMEs) across the UK that are losing revenue as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, is being distributed by banks and lenders like AskIf.

As a lender that exists to address the gap in funding to small businesses, AskIf are leading the charge in inclusive lending through the scheme – drawing upon both Joanna and Avrim’s experience, and assisting businesses who may struggle to obtain loans from larger banks. Their aim is to make the path to the CBILS loan as accessible as possible.

The scheme is a part of a wider package of government support for UK businesses and employees. CBILS gives the lender a government-backed guarantee for the loan repayments to encourage more lending.

Hill said: “’I’m delighted to be working with the team at this crucial time. The company has already achieved so much, but I know we can do more, and help more people and businesses in the future. The opportunity to be involved in supporting UK SMEs facing difficulties as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic really appealed to me and the AskIf approach and values made this opportunity irresistible. AskIf seeks to really understand the story and the people behind each business and the whole team is motivated to make a difference.”

Sam Bamert, Founder and CEO of AskIf, commented: “I’m delighted to welcome Joanna and Arnon to the AskIf team. At this difficult time I felt it was important to build a strong team who understood the challenges UK SMEs are facing. Arnon’s credit risk expertise, coupled with Joanna’s huge experience and ability to get things done, perfectly complements the rest of the AskIf team, and means we are ready, willing and able to disburse funds under CBILS. We hope the support we provide will improve the sustainability of all the businesses we fund during and post the period of Coronavirus disruption.”

Nucleus Commercial Finance appoints new business development manager to strengthen presence in the Midlands

Nucleus Commercial Finance today announces the expansion of its Business Development team in the Midlands with the addition of Stuart Smith as Business Development Manager. Stuart brings with him 14 years of industry experience and will play a key role in Nucleus’ growth in the region.

Stuart joins Nucleus from his most recent role at HSBC, where he was a Senior Commercial Manager, covering the Midlands. In this role, he supported client cash flows via a number of different product suites to ensure client growth for SMEs both nationally and internationally. He also brings with him experience in handling complex deal structures and supporting introducers with various types of lends.

Stuart will be based in Greater Birmingham and will be responsible for expanding Nucleus’ cash flow finance proposition in the Midlands, with a focus on building existing relationships and also forging new partnerships with introducers across the region.

Stuart Smith, Business Development Manager, Nucleus Commercial Finance said: “This is an exciting time to be joining a company that is placing real focus on offering alternative financing solutions in the Midlands. Nucleus not only has a strong reputation in the industry in delivering solution led finance, but it has the ability to efficiently turnaround deals. This role will enable me to work with introducers to deliver bespoke solutions to clients and give me the chance to do what I enjoy doing most, providing introducers and clients cash flow support fast.”

Chirag Shah, CEO, Nucleus Commercial Finance added: “Now is a challenging moment for businesses across the country and SMEs need financial help throughout these unprecedented times. Stuart’s appointment strengthens our presence in the Midlands and ensures we continue to provide important support for businesses in this region.”

‘It’s Interest that’s Stopping Interest in the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme,’ says ParcelHero

The small business champion ParcelHero has welcomed the latest revisions to the Government’s much-criticised Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), but it says until interest rates are capped on these loans, SME owners will resist taking them on.

Says ParcelHero’s Head of Consumer Research, David Jinks MILT: ‘ParcelHero called earlier this week for significant revisions to the CBILS scheme after it was revealed that, out of more than 130,000 enquiries from SMEs struggling with the impact of coronavirus, just 983 had been approved.

‘We said lenders should abide by the spirit of the new CBILS legislation, not the letter. Now the Government’s intentions leave no wriggle room. SMEs no longer need to have been turned down for a commercial loan before being considered for a CBILS loan, as the temptation was for banks to push desperate firms into their own commercial loans with high interest rates and strict security guarantees first. The Government-backed CBILS is interest-free for 12 months and has no set-up fees, so it’s small wonder lenders pushed many previously viable SMEs towards less attractive commercial loans. Clearly a leopard doesn’t change its spots overnight, even in the teeth of a crisis.

‘However, the Treasury has still not slapped restrictions on the interest rates that banks can charge for CBILS loans beyond the initial 12-month interest holiday. One national bank quoted customers interest rates as high as 12% for a CBILS loan; though typical CBILS rates seem to be between 2% and 6%. Considering the borrower always remains 100% liable for the debt and banks’ backs are being covered to the tune of 80% by the Government, 6% interest is still hardly attractive in the current conditions. We can see many more SMEs going to the wall rather than strike deals which could leave them struggling for years into the future.

‘It’s good news that the latest revamp halts this push to standard commercial loans. But even so, let’s not forget the Bank of England Base Rate is just 0.1% and we taxpayers are in line to cover 80% of any losses CBILS lenders do suffer. It’s no wonder typical CBILS interest rates of 6% or more are a bitter pill for many SMEs to have to swallow, especially as, for loans over £250,000, their business property and assets are likely to be on the line.

‘There is some good news for Britain’s beleaguered SMEs, however. The majority of UK and international destinations are still well-served by couriers, to ensure SME’s goods continue to get to customers safely. ParcelHero’s live UK courier services guide constantly updates which courier services are currently available to a particular destination. SMEs may no longer be able to access their exact usual delivery service but there is still a wide choice to compare at: https://www.parcelhero.com/en-gb/uk-courier-services’

Old Mill on CBILS changes: Gov is reacting to media pressure rather than making well-thought through decisions

Following the changes announced today to the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), Mark Neath, Director in the Commercial Team at experts Old Mill says that while it is a positive step that the government has made it easier for firms to access financial support during the lockdown, they seem to be reacting to newspaper headlines rather than making proper thought out policy decisions and he wouldn’t be surprised if it changes again soon.

He said: “It’s certainly a positive step that larger businesses can now access funding, that was an obvious gap in the support on offer, but the government appears to be making announcements in a hurry and then trying to fill in the detail later which is understandable given the circumstances.

“Unsurprisingly, this leads to imperfect schemes being released, but it’s alarming that changes seem to be reactive to newspaper headlines, rather than well thought through policy decisions. I wouldn’t be surprised to see further announcements on this in the coming weeks.

“For all the criticism which they receive, banks by-and-large take a responsible approach to lending. The point which always seems to be omitted by commentators demanding easier access to borrowing is that loans need to be paid back.

“I would urge any business looking to a CBILS loan to carefully consider whether it’s the right thing for their business; take all steps possible to minimise the borrowing requirement; and model their cash flows in recovery period on a range of scenarios to assess the affordability of repayments.”

Air Group launch Coronavirus updates and Business Continuity Resources Hub

Air Group, the collective of companies covering a range of retirement and later life services, has today launched a new Hub for advisers providing Coronavirus updates and business continuity resources.

It contains the very latest information, resources and materials in order to help later life advisers stay up-to-date and to help them continue operating a successful business through this period.

The Hub is broken down into a number of relevant sections covering: news and product updates; provider information; support tools including a guide to remote working, and a list of frequently asked questions and answers.

There is also a video available of the two Stuart Wilson’s – with the Air Group CEO being interviewed by his counterpart, the B2B Marketing Director of more2life, covering the current market situation, its challenges and how to overcome them.

Air Group is urging later life advisers to check back daily as it has committed to updating the Hub with the very latest news, materials and resources.

Air Group) includes: Air Mortgage Club – the distributor for equity release and later life advisers; Air Sourcing – the free, one-stop platform for advisers servicing their clients’ entire later life requirements; Air Later Life Academy – the commercial and training organisation for later life advisers; and Air Rewards – the Group’s reward scheme for awards.

Stuart Wilson, CEO at Air Group, commented: “We fully understand that these are difficult business conditions for later life advisers and we wanted to provide them with relevant and up-to-date information which will help them continue to provide a valued service to clients at this time. Air Group has therefore been monitoring developments and working with our provider partners, Academy Ambassadors, trade bodies, and intermediary firms themselves, to find workable solutions in order to do this.

“We’ve created this Hub for all advisers to utilise, which will be constantly updated and should allow all stakeholders to find relevant information and support in one place. It’s our belief that advice is still very much required and our focus is on helping advisers to deliver this for clients, while of course continuing to meet the ongoing Government guidelines.”

Comment on FCA temporary financial relief proposals

Aneesh Varma, Founder and CEO at Aire, comments: “We welcome the FCA’s proposed measures to support users facing financial difficulties due to coronavirus, however, we feel that a period of three-months is unlikely to be a long enough timeframe. Lenders will need to show forbearance for many months to come.

“Millions of consumers will experience a great deal of pain over the coming months, and this crisis will test the limits of lenders’ ability to understand what is happening in their loan portfolios, and their ability to support customers experiencing difficulties.

“Employers have already let people go in large numbers in sectors such as hospitality, travel, leisure, retail, arts and entertainment. Many of those already affected are young people working for minimum wage. We can expect many of the UK’s 5.8 million self-employed, freelancers and full-time gig workers to be hit soon after.

“Lenders can expect to see default rates increase dramatically throughout 2020 and possibly well into next year too. Aire estimates that the number of people in the UK missing one or more credit payments could increase from around 700,000 last year to over 2 million this year.

“Lenders are, understandably, stretched and struggling to build accurate, up-to-date pictures of their customers. As the crisis develops, and customer facing teams continue to be disrupted by school closures and enforced isolation, lenders will be challenged to provide the scale of support required by those customers who desperately need it.”

F4B and Grosvenor Funding combine to achieve four-day bridging loan to secure BTL completion

Specialist distributor First 4 Bridging (F4B) and Grosvenor Funding have combined to secure a four-day completion on a bridging loan facility which allowed a borrower to finalise a first charge buy-to-let investment property purchase which was under threat due to Covid-19 implications.

First 4 Bridging were first approached by the borrower after his initial deal was terminated because the existing lender was unexpectedly forced to withdraw the original loan facility due to funding and transactional restrictions.

Contracts had already been exchanged on the buy-to-let purchase in Oxford – with a property value of £875,000 and loan amount of £450,000 – before F4B was contacted to step in and swiftly seek an alternative lending solution. The specialist distributor worked closely with Grosvenor Funding to successfully find a fast and appropriate solution to a demanding situation where the client was left fearing the worst.

Myles Williams, CEO, First 4 Bridging, commented: “We are currently operating in unprecedented times as lenders are understandably having to constantly review product ranges, criteria and operational functionality. However, clients still require access to all types of lending solutions and it’s great to see proactive and flexible lenders such as Grosvenor Funding stepping up to the plate and saving these types of deals which could easily have resulted in huge cost implications for the borrower in question, through no fault of their own.

“Such cases also underline the value attached to the strength of relationships between specialist distributors and lenders and how, even in uncertain times, we can still pull together to get deals done in a timely manner to satisfy a range of client requirements.”

Jonathan Caplan, CEO at Grosvenor Funding, added: “More than ever, this shows how important an experienced and knowledgeable specialist distributor is to brokers. The team at F4B knew how to perfectly package the case, thereby ensuring there were no costly delays for the client. This enabled us to step in at a late stage and, due to our flexible approach, support this transaction through to completion.”