Access to Capital

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Since the Great Recession of the late 2000’s, small business owners have encountered difficulties in getting access to capital. This difficulty has a pervasive effect on small business owners’ ability to not only start, but grow. Small business owners have, when surveyed, indicated that sparse access to capital is the primary threat to their operation. Slimming credit availability, rising student debt, and changing landscape in the loaning market have significantly contributed to an industry-wide decline in access to capital for small business.

Slimming Credit Availability

In the wake of the recession, the loaning environment to small business has changed. This is a result of a few major factors, both on the loaning side (banks) and the receiving one. Starting with the businesses, small businesses were hit disproportionately hard in the recession.

  • Harvard Business School [1] showed that small business accounted for 60% for job losses and experienced an 11% decrease in total employment. *This second figure lies almost twice as high as the total loss for large firms, 7%.
  • Businesses with fewer than 50 employees realized 14% losses of employment.
  • New York Fed [2] corroborates these finding, and conducted a survey. They found that most small business owners indicated that the lack in sales and commercial activity primarily sparked the decline in employment.

Since the Recession

Since the recession, the NY Fed [3] observed that small businesses have been notably slower to recover than their large counterparts.

  • Especially since 2009, larger businesses have posted higher growth rates in sales, inventories, and fixed assets.
  • Small businesses have seen their fixed asset growth go negative for the first time since 2006.
  • Comparatively slower sales, smaller-growing inventories, and declining investment have been observed for small businesses

The State of Small Banks

Despite the significant credit rating deduction incurred by the recession, small businesses have been able to find loans from alternative sources. Traditionally, smaller banks have catered to small businesses unable to qualify for loans from institutional investors, or bigger banks.

  • In 2010, small and community banks accounted for 48.1% of all small business bank loans, Mercatus Center at George Mason University [4].

Consequently, small businesses have a vested interest in the well-being of their community banks. Unfortunately for small business, these community banks are disappearing at alarming rates.

  • Small banks have, since 1993, seen their total numbers fall by almost 50%. In 1993, over 11,000 banks were around. Nowadays, that number is closer to 6,000.
  • A Mercatus Center report[5] shows that small banks' share of the domestic deposit market fell by 50% (from 40 to 20%) in the last 15 years.
  • Meanwhile, the largest 5 banks have "picked up the slack" and acquired a current portion of 39.6%, contrary to their 19% holding in 2001.
  • Beyond that, small banks' total assets have been halved since 2000, and don't show signs of improving.
  • Smaller banks with consistently profitable operations have been acquired

In a nutshell, it is a difficult time for small banks. Trends indicate that consolidation is a bank's most feasible route to maintain solvency in today's credit market.

Overall Credit Loaning to Small Business

As a result of small banks' overall decline in activity, overall credit loaning to small businesses has taken a hit.

  • In 2006, the Wall Street Journal [6] indicated that the share of small business financing occupied by banks was 60%. Projections from the Wall Street Journal have the current level pinned at about 40%, but the SBA [7] claims that the figure is closer to 51%.

Regardless of the actual number, it is clear that banks' share of small business finance has fallen at an alarming rate. Why? Well, there is limited quantitative research on this particular field. Instead, researchers have been proposing anecdotal theories to explain the stagnation in bank loaning. In a couple of sentences, large banks do not have a proper and comprehensive system of vetting the qualitative assets (non-balance sheet, credit rating) held by small businesses. Consequently, there is no reliable way to ensure that a small business could be a prudent debtor.

Considering that banks can easily make loans to proven, solvent large businesses, there is little justification for making smaller investments in riskier assets. In other words, it is difficult to justify taking an additional risk for a smaller reward. Intuitively speaking, this makes sense.

  • The comparative unattractiveness of loaning to small banks is exemplified in a series of surveys conducted by the Harvard Business School [8] , Small Business Finance Institute [9] [10] , and the Kauffman Foundation [11].

Small business owners have consistently indicated that they were frustrated with the lack of available credit, and cutthroat competition among their peers to acquire loans; over half of surveyed owners felt that they didn't receive enough funding. Meanwhile, most banks continue to indicate satisfaction with the level of credit being extended to small business. A clear void has formed between banks and their small business debtors, and no evident solution currently exists.

Beyond Bank Loans

While alternative methods of financing (crowdfunding, online platforms for fundraising, and online term loans) have arisen in the wake of this "credit crunch", they still represent a drop in the bucket. Moreover, these alternative methods are widely unregulated, and are likely to undergo significant changes before they can be deemed as "mainstream" sources of capital generation. In the meantime, small businesses are looking beyond the banking system for a solution.

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