The new Australian Business Growth Fund for SME’s explained…

Business Strategy Graphs and Charts

by Angela Haynes

The Australian Business Growth Fund (ABGF) was officially launched by Treasury on 27 November 2019 with an announcement that ANZ, CBA, NAB and Westpac have all committed $100m each over a 5 year period, in a match of the federal government’s own $100m pledge. HSBC and Macquarie Group have also committed $20m each bringing initial investment capacity to $540m. Negotiations between the government and large superannuation funds are on going heading into Christmas with no figures on how much will be invested by super funds.

Banks have a strong motivation to support this fund as it maximises the opportunity for economic growth which, in turn, give banks a better environment in which to pursue their own businesses.

The ABGF aims to provide longer term, passive equity funding to small and medium businesses. It will operate as a commercial entity independent of the Government and participating banks. It will expect a return on its portfolio companies however the <40% investment stake means that business owners can maintain their controlling interest.

Whilst the draft bill is before parliament, in principle, the Cumberland Business Chamber wholeheartedly welcomes the fund and applauds the collaboration of the major banks, the government and the super funds in due course.

This is a potential game-changer for small business seeking finance. Our members are telling us that obtaining growth funding for their business can be difficult, often requiring debt funding to be secured against a house or a property. The alternative is relinquishing some control of their business in order to raise equity.

Angela Haynes, President of the Cumberland Chamber of Commerce

Indicative criteria to qualify for investment
The ABGF is proposed to be industry agnostic and touted to offer $5m to $15m funding for a 10% to 40% equity investment stake in growing Australian companies with the following criteria:

  • Australian based businesses with annual turnover of $2m to $100m
  • Post start-ups with proven business models
  • Can demonstrate three years of revenue growth and profitability
  • Where a significant expansion opportunity has been identified
  • With management who have an entrepreneurial focus
  • Where the business is leveraged less than 50%

Structure and basis for the fund
The fund is based on the UK and Canadian business growth funds. The UK’s Business Growth Fund commenced 8 years ago and according to founding shareholder HSBC, it has invested over 2 billion pounds into 285 companies over this time. the objective is to invest in a diverse portfolio of companies which allows it to manage its overall risks by offsetting losses in some companies with gains elsewhere, taking a long term approach to investing. Since it became operational in 2018, the Canadian fund has invested CAD63 million into local companies.

Australian banks and superannuation funds will inject equity capital into the ABGF which in turn will invest passive equity into Australian small and medium businesses.

The ABGF 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.

Responding to small business need for growth capital
The Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman (ASBFEO), alongside the Reserve Bank, has argued there aren’t enough avenues to capital available for high potential companies in Australia. The ASBFEO’s Inquiry into sources of capital for business growth concluded the finance was both scarce and expensive. The ABGF was the number one of ASBFEO’s eight recommendations in the ASBFEO’s Affordable Capital for SME Growth report, to address the market failure to provide affordable capital to growing SME’s.

The Council of Financial Regulators (CFR), in a report released in October, said tighter lending standards for small business had been a significant focus for the body. It has noted that “lending to small business has hardly grown over the past year, compared with a 5% increase in lending to large businesses,” the CFR report said.

Does the ABGF go far enough to support SME’s?
It goes some way towards matching the demand for SME capital with supply and this is certainly a first of its kind for Australian small and medium businesses however an area that would further enhance business is acquisition funding. Th ABGF principally supports expansion and growth however, in Australia, with our aging population, sufficient capital to fund a business to transition to a new generation, whether familial or arms length, can be hard to come by.

How we can help…
Whilst the ABGF is still a work in progress, there are other grants and business incentive programs available to businesses with annual turnover between $2m and $100m. Feel free to give Cumberland Business Chamber’s President, Angela Haynes, a call on 0419 444 010 or email: president@cbchamber.com.au to discuss or know more.