Small business access to CBILS expected to grow following EU change to state aid rules

The British Business Bank (BBB) has amended the terms of the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) following recent EU changes in State Aid Law for businesses that will mean more small businesses can access government-backed loans.

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The European Commission (EC) has relaxed its state aid rules so that small and micro businesses – meaning fewer than 50 employees and turnover less than £9m – will be exempt from elements of the ‘undertaking in difficulty’ test, and are now eligible for CBILS.

In a statement, the BBB said that smaller businesses with fewer than 50 employees and less than £9m in annual turnover and/or annual balance sheet, will not be considered "undertakings in difficulty" unless they are (a) subject to collective insolvency procedure under national law, or (b) in receipt of rescue aid (which has not been repaid) or restructuring aid (and are still subject to a restructuring plan).

Smaller businesses with more than 50 employees or more than £9m in annual turnover and/or annual balance sheet will still be subject to the ‘undertaking in difficulty’ test as defined by the European Union.

Applicants will need to determine their turnover and number of employees in line with Commission Recommendation 2003/361/EC of 6 May 2003 concerning the definition of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises.

This change will apply from 30 July 2020, and means lenders may now be able to offer CBILS to businesses that had previously been denied access to CBILS.

The Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS) is unaffected by this change.

In July, UK business groups urged economic secretary John Glen to extend CBILS to loss-making SMEs that were unsuccessful in gaining CBILS funding.

Companies that have pre-tax losses or debts, either because they are fast-growing or have private equity backing, are classified as “undertakings in difficulty” by the EU.

However, this latest announcement from the EC opens government support to start-up companies.

CBILS were launched on 23 March to offer loans to firms with a turnover of up to £45m with 80 per cent of the loans guaranteed by the government.

The government’s CBILS has so far paid out £8.2bn to 43,000 businesses (from 84,607 applications), which represents a 50 per cent approval rate.

Stephen Pegge, managing director of commercial finance at UK Finance, said: "This change will make a real difference for those smaller, viable businesses who had previously struggled to secure loans under the schemes because they were deemed to be ‘undertakings in difficulty’.

"Lenders will now be able to help more viable business secure the finance they need and will continue to engage with their commercial customers and assess any new lending applications against the revised rules."

Close Brothers

Fitch said the fallout from the pandemic “has heightened risks to the group given its above-average exposure to SME lending through asset and invoice finance, to retail customers potentially affected by employment disruptions in motor finance, and to property lending that will suffer delays in completion and sales.”

It said the ratings of Close Brothers Group and Close Brothers Limited “reflect a strong record of performance through economic cycles, which has historically compensated their appetite for higher-risk lending” but added that in the current crisis, “we expect pressure on earnings through rising credit impairments and lower volumes.”

Investec Bank

Fitch said its action on Investec Bank plc (IBP) reflects the fallout from the pandemic crisis “represents a near-term risk to its ratings”.

It said: “The risks stem from the bank’s above-average exposure (as a proportion of gross loans) to sectors we consider as particularly vulnerable to disruption, such as small-ticket asset finance, aviation finance, corporate and acquisition finance.”

Metro Bank

The rating action taken by Fitch reflects heightened challenges to Metro Bank’s business model, earnings and ability to deliver its strategy, which the pandemic has added to. 

It said: “The coronavirus disruptions make execution on Metro Bank’s strategy more difficult in the near-term because of weaker prospects for growth, lower interest rates, and slower demand for loans. 

“The bank has been undergoing significant organisational changes, and its earnings were expected to be depressed by restructuring charges and a slowdown in lending. 

“The pandemic also poses an operational challenge for Metro Bank given its small size, staff capacity and management turnover.

“Metro Bank’s earnings are very weak (£53m operating loss in 2019, excluding the impairment of tangible and intangible assets). 

“Fitch expects that a return to profitability will be made more difficult by the coronavirus disruptions. Lower lending volumes, interest rates and transaction fees, and larger credit losses (from small amounts) will weigh on the 2020 loss.”

Paragon Bank

Fitch said Paragon had “a good record in maintaining sound asset quality and profitability, but we expect its businesses, particularly its SME and development finance business, but also buy-to-let (BTL) mortgage lending, to be at risk from asset non-performance and reduced profitability in the downturn. 

“We also believe that funding growth at Paragon Bank will be harder to achieve, given possible pressures on saving rates if unemployment increases, and that the bank will find it harder to execute its strategy.”

The Co-op Bank

Fitch said the downgrades of the Co-operative Bank “reflect our view that the economic disruption in the UK poses a material risk to the bank’s capitalisation and earnings, as well as to the stability of the business model and to management’s ability to execute on its strategy to grow revenue and return to profitability, relative to when we last reviewed the ratings.”

“The bank enters the economic downturn from a position of relative weakness given its structurally loss-making profile. The bank is vulnerable to greater-than-expected losses and continues to face challenges in its ability to execute its future strategic initiatives. 

“We also see a heightened risk of asset-quality deterioration, although this is partly mitigated by the secured nature of its loan book.

Virgin Money

Fitch the fallout from the pandemic “results in heightened risks to Virgin Money UK’s ratings since the bank enters the economic downturn from a position of relative weakness given its weak profitability compared with peers’ as the business continues to undergo restructuring following its 2018 merger.” 

“We have reflected the highly likely impact of the economic and financial market fallout from the pandemic in a weaker assessment of earnings relative to when we last reviewed the bank’s ratings. 

“We also see an increased likelihood of future asset-quality deterioration, particularly in SME lending and credit cards, as well as weaker capital generation,” the agency reported

Banks’ asset finance business operations  

  • Investec Bank has a subsidiary, Investec Asset Finance plc
  • CYBG-owned Virgin Money plc runs an asset finance division 
  • Close Brothers Group plc operates an asset finance division 
  • Metro Bank plc operates two subsidiaries: SME Asset Finance Limited and SME Invoice Finance Limited 
  • The Co-Operative Bank plc runs its leasing through various subsidiaries (Second, Third and Fourth Roodhill Leasing Limited)
  • Paragon Bank plc runs an asset finance division 


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