HSBC has launched a £12bn (€13.5bn) SME fund to support businesses in the UK, including through asset finance facilities.

The SME Fund 2018 is the UK bank’s largest to date, having increased by £2bn on last year’s programme. The SME funding scheme was launched by HSBC in 2014, has lent out £46bn to date.

Amanda Murphy, head of commercial banking at HSBC UK, said: “Many SMEs in the UK are ambitious, entrepreneurial and ready to expand. After the success of last year, this increased SME Fund 2018 will help more businesses plug the gap between ambition and reality, supporting their growth. We are committed to help British businesses innovate, evolve and grow.”

The new SME fund includes £1bn intended to help UK companies grow their business, including through trade finance.

“British companies are optimistic about their trade growth prospects but it’s important they can get the finance they need to achieve it,” Murphy said. “We cover more than 90% of global trade and capital flows and are uniquely placed to help these businesses trade overseas.”

Small Business Minister, Kelly Tolhurst, said: “With more than 1,000 starting up every day, the UK’s 5.7m small businesses are the backbone of our economy.

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“Through our modern Industrial Strategy and industry-led initiatives such as this, the government and industry are building an environment in which businesses all over the country can thrive.”

As with last year, 2018’s SME fund will include £300m to support the UK’s agriculture businesses. The fund will be split and allocated to specific regions across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The 2018 fund comes with a range of reduced fees and support facilities, including free business banking for 18 months for start-ups and 12 months for switchers, and an online tool offering instant decision in principle for loans of up to £30,000.

HSBC is part of a working group set up by UK Finance and the Lending Standards Board (LSB) in June, examining fairness of SME lending contracts, in collaboration with the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on fair business banking.