Miguel da Silva, managing director of Retail Capital Group’s Funding division. Photo: Supplied

CAPE TOWN – Small to medium enterprises (SMEs) are critical to the growth of our country’s economy. 

It’s estimated that SMEs contribute over a third (34 percent) to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and make up roughly 90 percent of South African formal businesses. But considering it is growing at a mere 1 percent, there is a clear need for investment into this vital sector. 

But for this to change, the way small businesses apply and access these funds needs to become more efficient.

Even though government committed R1.5 billion into a Small Business Fund last year, the reality is that this needs to be shared among more than 2 million SMEs. More is needed to make a real difference to the economy. As a corollary, the reliance on private lenders has increased significantly.

In a move designed to provide its small business customers with the means to access additional funding in a challenging economic climate, international cloud-based accounting platform Xero has partnered with  three of South Africa’s leading digital lenders – Bridgement, Retail Capital and LulaLend.

Access to funding, especially when it comes to supporting increased stock levels, new locations and new channels to customers, is a business imperative for SMEs. The agreement between Xero and the three digital lenders aims to address this.

The agreement allows customers to contact these lenders from within its platform. In turn, the lenders will be able to access financials from applicants immediately, speeding up the approval process and removing the need for cumbersome paperwork.

“We want to help South Africa’s small businesses thrive by removing the friction involved in accessing funds,” says Colin Timmis, General Country Manager, Xero SA. “A lack of capital is one of the biggest challenges impeding small business growth in this country so by integrating the latest business finance apps with Xero, SMEs will have better accounting data, which can help them access capital.”

Launched in September 2016, Bridgement identified a gap in the local market to provide short-term financing solutions for SMEs. The company empowers these small businesses to expand operations by taking on bigger projects by bridging gaps in cash flow through an invoice and finance creditor facility of up to R1 million.

“We reached a personal record when our quickest time to funding for a customer was 2.5 hours from application to receipt of funds,” says Daniel Goldberg, founder of Bridgement. “To put this into context, the average time among major banks in the country is approximately five weeks.”

From a partnership perspective, Bridgement is excited about the potential to make funding accessible to a broader base of SMEs.

“Many SMEs do not apply for funding because they either do not understand the process or are disheartened by getting turned down numerous times,” says Goldberg. “This partnership sees us delivering improved innovation to make things simpler in small business finance.” 

Since 2011, Retail Capital, has advanced almost R2 billion to SMEs and has helped over 6 000 SME businesses in the last year with funding for expansion. This in turn leads to business growth and more employment. 

“Banks have made gaining access to funding a very tedious process where we offer SMEs with speedy, convenient access to funding,” says Miguel Da Silva, MD of Retail Capital Group’s Funding division. “We estimate that the additional funding provided by us over the past eight years has resulted in more than 12 500 jobs being created.” 

According to Da Silva, the Xero partnership is designed to offer a faster funding solution.

“Already, access to the Xero API has enabled Retail Capital to view customer information easily, resulting in real-time decision-making on the approval process. It alleviates much of the time pressure when it comes to determining the eligibility of a small business for funding.”

The third partner, Lulalend, was launched in 2013 to help grow small business in the country. Like Retail Capital and Bridgement, Lulalend is a digital business working with access to customer data instead of meeting them face-to-face.

“SMEs are significantly underfunded and banks are not proactive in helping them grow,” says Trevor Gosling, founder of Lulalend. “We wanted to launch a technology company that could provide SMEs with assistance at scale.”

It provides lending to a variety of clients ranging from those with R100 million turnover to sole traders.

Integrating with Xero enables Lulalend to gain immediate access to company records, resulting in a more efficient credit risk assessment. This greatly improves the speed of funding decisions, providing small businesses with the capital they need to grow.

BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE