The success of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs and mid-sized businesses) is vital to the functioning of the British economy. It remains crucial for these businesses to have access to the finance they need to invest, grow and provide jobs across the country. Private credit managers offer an increasingly important source of funding for UK businesses, and are currently providing an estimated £100bn of funding to 2000 UK firms.i Additionally, recent data suggests that private credit managers have provided £18.4bn of finance in 2018 and 2019 to small businesses in particular.
Looking ahead, access to finance is likely to be a critical factor for SMEs and mid-sized businesses as they adapt and modernise in response to COVID-19 as well as newer trends in customer demand and behaviour. It is estimated that UK companies currently face a finance gap of at least £22bniii – with the true gap potentially much higher. It is therefore essential to cultivate more sources of capital to support businesses across the UK.
As well as increasing the availability of capital, it is necessary to diversify the type of capital which is available. This will support SMEs and mid-sized businesses whose financing needs fall outside the risk appetite of existing capital providers, despite being viable businesses. It will also provide businesses with greater choice and support competitive finance markets.
Private credit managers pride themselves on offering loans that work with the specific needs and circumstances of the borrower. This allows these businesses to invest in their future, create jobs and compete in a global marketplace. Lenders often specialise in certain business sectors and are therefore able to offer tailored solutions based on a bilateral relationship created with borrowers. In addition, private credit lenders are well placed to support underperforming businesses in the sustainable return to viability and growth. Rehabilitation, rescue and recovery of an organisation facing decline protects economic value and preserves jobs. This is especially important as businesses continue to adjust to the changing economic circumstances as a result of Covid-19. Despite the growth of the private credit industry in the UK during the past decade, many UK business owners remain unfamiliar with this group of lenders and the lending solutions they can offer.
This introductory guide offers an overview of who private credit lenders are, how they lend and work in partnership with businesses to help them succeed. It outlines whether private credit might be the right fit for a business, how these lenders conduct due diligence, what to expect in a loan agreement and what to expect once a loan has been extended. In addition, it includes a glossary of key terms as well as case studies that provide real life examples.
The value of this type of long-term finance is well recognised by both UK businesses and policymakers. The Bank of England, HM Treasury and the Financial Conduct Authority have convened an industry working group to facilitate investment in ‘productive finance’, defined as investment that expands productive capacity, furthers sustainable growth or makes an important contribution to the real economy.
The Alternative Credit Council (ACC) is pleased to participate in this working group and support this objective. It is our hope that this guide will complement that work by raising awareness among UK businesses and demonstrating that private credit is an established and viable financing option for them to invest in their business.
The Alternative Credit Council thanks the British Business Bank, the Confederation of British Industry, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Institute for Turnaround for their support in completing this guide and hope it will assist borrowers in considering private credit as a viable option to support the growth of their businesses.
Global Head of the Alternative Credit Council, AIMA
‘Private credit’ is the umbrella term used to describe loans to businesses originated by lenders other than banks. It typically involves lending to companies on a bilaterally negotiated basis, with financing sizes ranging between 10 million and 500 million. Private credit lenders engage with borrowers via direct relationships which helps support their understanding of the borrower’s business. This allows lenders to offer flexible and tailored finance solutions to match the unique needs of each borrower.
What businesses do they lend to?
Private credit firms generally lend to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and mid-market businesses across all sectors of the economy. Businesses use this type of finance for a variety of purposes such as acquisition and expansion plans, improving working capital and refinancing existing debt.
What types of private credit loans are available?
Private credit managers will work with businesses to find the right type of finance for their needs. This means they may lend across a range of maturities and repayment profiles, take into account different types of security, collateral or levels of seniority compared to existing debts. In addition, lenders often specialise in providing finance that is aligned with the needs and circumstances of specific sectors.
How do private credit lenders make investment decisions?
Private credit firms will engage in considerable due diligence and typically invest in only a small percentage of the businesses they assess. This ensures that both the lender and borrower are the right fit for each other. Factors a firm would typically analyse may include a business’s sector and key markets, financials, corporate governance, collateral, management culture and, increasingly Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors.
Why is ESG important to private credit lenders?
Private credit managers need to provide their investors with Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) information about the businesses they are lending to. This means that they will ask businesses questions about things such as their energy use, adherence to labour standards and corporate governance. This supports their understanding of how a business is being managed alongside more traditional financial metrics.
Are private credit managers secure counterparties?
Private credit firms are regulated as asset managers and the funds they manage are subject to ongoing regulatory supervision and oversight. Businesses benefit from the same safeguards and borrower protection rules when working with private credit lenders as they would do with any other finance provider.
What does a loan agreement look like?
A loan agreement should stipulate the purpose of the finance sought, the term of the loan, and the conditions of repayment such as interest rates. Loan agreements will also include undertakings or covenants, outlining the terms borrowers agree to comply with and upon which the provision of the loan is conditioned. An example term sheet can be found on page 28 of this guide.
What happens if a business experiences distress?
The direct relationship between a borrower and private credit manager means that any periods of stress or challenging circumstances are likely to be identified early. This provides more time for both parties to proactively engage and address any issues. The individuals working with a business to mitigate the stress will often be the same people that were involved in the initial lending process. This means they will have a developed understanding of the business and its market to inform how they work to get back on track.
How to get in touch with a private credit lender?
If you would like to learn more about financing your business, we encourage you to contact the following private credit lenders and debt advisory practices who are active in the UK.
Each lender will have their own areas of specialisation. For example they may focus on specific sectors, businesses of particular sizes or at certain stages of their development. Undertaking some initial research on these lenders before contacting them will help you identify the lender who is most likely to be suited to your business. This is also an area where debt advisors can assist in helping you understand the potential options that are available to you.