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Access to finance

Round Tables Banks - SMEs

Businessmen working around a table

The Round Tables are an initiative of the EU Commission launched to ease small businesses' financial difficulties by facilitating their relations with banks.

Since 1993, there have been five Round Tables - the most recent one being completed in 2009. The spectrum of stakeholders participating has broadened with each new Round Table.

In line with the Round Tables, the Commission organized in May 2010 the SME Finance Forum, a high-level conference on how to address the current challenges in access to finance for SMEs. The event, chaired by by European Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani, brought together around 350 stakeholders from the SMEs and the banking sectors.

SME Finance Forum (2010)

As announced by European Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani at the SME Finance Forum conference held in Brussels on 6 May 2010, a permanent forum has been set up to monitor the market situation and to encourage new approaches to improve access to finance for SMEs.

The first SME Finance Forum is taking place in Brussels on the 28 September 2010. The meeting will be chaired by Vice-President Antonio Tajani.

More information:

SME Finance Forum webpage

Conclusions of the SME Finance Forum (6 May 2010)

Press release (6 May 2010; IP/10/522)

Ad-hoc round table on access to finance (2009)

Improving SMEs' access to finance during the crisis

During the unfolding financial and economic crisis a European Commission-hosted round table considered ways of enhancing small and medium-sized enterprises' access to finance in order to ensure that they can continue to do business, creating a renewed surge of jobs and growth.

As SMEs increasingly feel the crunch of the looming economic crisis, leading business and banking representatives together with the European Investment Bank Group pointed out the need for extreme vigilance and continuous monitoring of the situation. While evidence presented at the meeting showed that access to finance significantly differs among Member States and economic sectors, the situation for SMEs seemed less acute than expected. It was concluded that while respecting sound risk management principles, banks needed to fully play their role in ensuring the financing of economic activity and SMEs should not cut their spending on human resources and innovation.

More information:

Statement by Günter Verheugen, Vice-President of the European Commission

Midday express (20.01.2009)

Fifth Round Table (2006-07)

The focus was on transparency and dialogue, mezzanine finance and SME loan securitisation. Participants included SME organisations, bank associations, the accounting profession and mutual guarantee societies.

The objective was to improve understanding between the various parties and explore innovative forms of financing for small businesses. The recommendations for action by stakeholders (including EU governments and the Commission) can be found in the final reports.

  1. Transparency and dialogue

The EU's 2006 capital requirements directive increased the use of rating procedures and credit scoring systems in banks. To ensure good ratings, small businesses must know what factors banks take into account in producing them. If they provide their banks with the right information they may obtain better credit terms. Thus, greater transparency and a constructive dialogue between the two parties are essential. See also the report on transparency and dialogue.

  1. Mezzanine finance

Mezzanine products combine features of loan and equity finance and can help finance the start-up and expansion of small businesses, including innovation and business transfers. Although they can be an important complementary source of finance for SMEs and their use has recently expanded, they remain little used compared with normal loan financing. See also the report on mezzanine finance.

  1. Securitisation of loans to small businesses

SME loan securitisation offers banks an opportunity to extend the relationship with a customer, independent of balance sheet constraints. Despite the current adverse market developments there is potential in freeing up funds from banks' balance sheets for SME lending in the medium term. The Round Table identified areas for action to increase lending to small businesses through greater use of securitisation by banks. See also the report on SME loan securitisation.

Fourth Round Table (2000-03)

The focus was on identifying the concerns of small businesses when trying to access finance in the 12 countries preparing to join the EU, and disseminating some of the good practices identified during the third Round Table.

Third Round Table (1998-2000)

This Round Table had a wide group of participants - representatives of SMEs, banking federations, public institutions providing funding for small businesses, the venture capital industry, mutual guarantee societies and regional development agencies.

The main focus was on the financing problems faced by start-ups and early-stage companies, highlighting the different perspectives of banks and small businesses and the problems that result from these differences. It also examined the problems associated with financing transfers of enterprises and transnational financing.

Themes addressed in detail included:

  • risk assessment and ratings
  • additional support services for small businesses
  • segment-specific products and services for different types of companies in the various stages of their lifecycle.

The final report pdf - 403 KB [403 KB] matches best practices with the problems identified and contains suggested actions and recommendations for the European institutions.

See also the Commission working document on the code of conduct between credit institutions and small businesses (2004).

Second Round Table (1995-97)

Participation was extended to include more businesses, a wider geographical coverage and more types of financial institution - commercial banks, co-operative banks and savings banks.

Discussions mainly focused on initiatives devised by the banks themselves to improve access for SMEs to finance. See also the final report (1997). pdf - 783 KB [783 KB]

First Round Table (1993)

Composed of senior representatives of financial institutions and organisations representing SMEs, its mission was to explore the financial problems specific to small businesses and suggest mutually acceptable solutions.

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