Small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) exports in the UK could see significant growth if more companies were aware of and utilised the General Export Facility (GEF), according to Azets, a business finance specialist firm.

The GEF government scheme offers an 80% guarantee to banks for loans to businesses engaged in exporting and is one of several export finance initiatives managed by the government’s Export Credit Agency, which provided approximately £6.5 billion in financial support to UK exporters in 2023.

Despite this, GEF remains relatively unknown and underutilised, particularly in the SME sector, which is its primary target market, Azets said.

Mark Barrie, funding and strategic partnership director at Azets, highlighted the issue. “Feedback from SMEs and analysis of GEF data reveals that only 5.4% or around £350 million of the total financial support for exporters utilises GEF. There is considerable potential to dramatically increase the number of SMEs that are aware of GEF and the 80% government guarantee,” Barrie stated.

He pointed out that in 2022-2023, only £350 million of GEF guarantees were accessed, despite no cap on the amount the government will guarantee. Barrie believes that the Export Credit Agency must invest more in promoting GEF and that banks should prioritise it when assisting customers with export finance options. “Given that the government underwrites up to 80%, more banks need to proactively offer GEF as a key part of their financial support packages for the SME sector,” he added.

Barrie emphasised that targeting £1 billion of GEF guarantees for SME exporters annually should be achievable. He suggested that if banks and SMEs effectively leverage GEF, it could significantly boost SME exports. “SMEs still need to satisfy their bank’s lending criteria and due diligence tests. SMEs should also take the initiative and ask for GEF when negotiating financial support,” he advised.

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The criteria for GEF include demonstrating that at least 20% of turnover has come from UK export sales in any of the last three years or that at least 5% of turnover has been from UK export sales each year for the past three years. SMEs must also have premises and employees in the UK, pay corporation tax or make National Insurance contributions, and either manufacture goods in the UK or sell intangibles from the UK.

Guidance: General Export Facility

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