UK Export Finance unveils ambitious new target for SME support

(Global Trade Review, London, 1 May 2024) UK Export Finance (UKEF) has vowed to support 1,000 SMEs per year before the end of the decade, a big jump on current levels. The export credit agency (ECA) unveiled the target in its 2024-29 business plan this week. The plan also includes pledges to enable £12.5bn of export contracts and provide £10bn of “clean growth” financing by 2029. UKEF’s support for SMEs is closely scrutinised by UK lawmakers, because small businesses tend to find it harder to secure trade and export finance, compared to their larger peers. A handful of large companies, such as Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems, have previously scooped up the largest share of UKEF’s financial support by value. While the number of SMEs benefiting from UKEF’s backing is already high as a proportion of the agency’s overall customers, it still falls far short of the target of 1,000. Around 210 of the 251 customers UKEF supported in the 2023-24 financial year were SMEs. UKEF says it plans to boost its assistance to SMEs partly by on-boarding non-bank financial institutions that specialise in small business finance. A source at UKEF says such financial institutions would likely provide financing backed by a UKEF general export facility guarantee and need to have prior experience with trade finance. UK Export Finance (UKEF) typically charges premium rates of 6% to 7%, higher than other European ECAs according to an annual benchmarking report from the British Exporters Association.