The federal government’s planned Business Growth Fund has been launched with a major boost from the big four banks, each committing $100 million to boost long-term funding for SMEs.
The Business Growth Fund (BGF) was officially launched by Treasury at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Thursday night (27 November).
In addition to the $100 million contributions from ANZ, CBA, NAB and Westpac, HSBC has promised to contribute a further $20 million to the fund. The government will also match the big four’s contributions.
Consultation on the proposed fund was announced by the government in early November, at which point only the government’s own $100 million commitment had been unveiled.
There are hopes the fund will grow to $1 billion in size as it matures.
Fund to ‘encourage business growth, promote economic expansion’
Speaking on Wednesday, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg commented: “This is a really important initiative by the Morrison Government. $520 million is the initial amount, that's being contributed both from the Federal Government as well as from other banks.
“It’s going to be patient and passive capital that can be used to support small and medium sized businesses across the country,” Mr Frydenberg said.
“[I]f you’re a business, a family run business for example, that has a turnover between $2 million and $100 million and you want to expand, and you want to grow, and you want to buy new machinery, and you don't want to go and extend your debt levels, you actually want capital injection, you'd rather have equity than debt; [then] this offers the opportunity to do that.”
Banks line up to support ‘a new way’ for SME financing
NAB chief customer officer, business and private banking, Anthony Healy, noted that the bank had been leading the engagement and development of the growth fund in partnership with the government, and said NAB was pleased to support “a new way” for Australian small and medium businesses to access long-term equity capital.
“The Business Growth Fund will support economic growth and employment by giving small and medium businesses greater access to long-term equity capital that will help them grow, invest in new technology and create more jobs,” Mr Healy said.
“As part of NAB’s support for the Business Growth Fund, NAB has led and chaired the industry working group which has seen this opportunity progress.”
The NAB executive added that the success of similar growth funds in the UK and Canada provided the bank with “great confidence”, and he thanked the UK Business Growth Fund for its support and insights over the past 12 months.
The Commonwealth Bank’s CEO, Matt Comyn, said his bank had also “expressed our interest in the government’s plans from the outset”.
“As Australia’s biggest bank, we are very aware of the challenges many small businesses face when trying to grow. We’re also very aware of the role we can play in helping address these challenges,” he said.
“The success of similar funds in Canada and the United Kingdom makes it clear that this model of support can provide a powerful boost for small businesses with the potential to deliver big impacts and help them grow and prosper into the future. We look forward to playing our full part in the fund’s work.”
ANZ CEO Shayne Elliott commented: “ANZ is a strong supporter of small business in Australia. This fund will add to the options Australian businesses have to obtain the capital they need to grow and prosper for the good of the country.”
Likewise, Westpac acting chief executive, business division, Alastair Welsh, said the bank was “proud to be part of this initiative driven by the Prime Minister and Federal Treasurer, aimed at stimulating economic growth and encouraging SMEs”.
He added: “Westpac has over 700,000 small business customers and we have deep relationships with them. We recognise that many find it difficult to attract equity investment that can help them grow without taking on additional debt or giving up control of their business.
Significant boost for SMEs, wider economy: ASBFEO
“The Australian Business Growth Fund was a recommendation in our Affordable Capital for SME Growth report, which identified the need to address a critical funding gap for long-term capital to enable high growth potential SMEs to flourish,” said Kate Carnell, the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO).
“Importantly, the fund will be managed by private sector expertise and will invest between 10 per cent and 40 per cent in the chosen businesses, allowing the business owner to maintain their controlling interest, while giving them the funds they need to invest in growth.”
According to Ms Carnell, similar funding models have “proven successful” in Canada and the UK, boosting the availability of affordable funds being directed to growing businesses.
“We also support the government’s ongoing discussions with other financial institutions that are considering investing in the fund,” she said.
“This initiative comes at a time when many respected economists, including those at the RBA, are publicly recognising one of the biggest barriers to growth for SMEs is access to affordable capital and this has been a critical factor holding the economy back.
“The Australian Business Growth Fund will significantly encourage business growth and promote economic expansion.”
Who is eligible to access the Business Growth Fund?
Established Australian businesses will be eligible for long-term equity capital investments of between $5 million and $15 million, where they have generated annual revenue between $2 million and $100 million and can demonstrate three years of revenue growth and profitability.
The BGF’s investment stake will be between 10 and 40 per cent, allowing small business owners to maintain control, while also allowing the BGF to offer the kind of financial support to drive business growth.
The BGF also proposes to offer non-financial support, for example through the provision of strategic advice, mentoring, talent management and network referrals for small and medium businesses to access.
A board and an independent management team will run the BGF commercially and be independent of both the Government and the participating banks.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.