Awareness of leasing and asset finance as a finance product for SMEs is on the up, according to research commissioned by Lombard.

The survey showed that 70% of respondents said they had an awareness of asset finance and more than half (53%) said they have used it as a form of funding in the past, while freeing up cash and spreading payments topped the table as the most commonly perceived benefits.

The number of businesses looking at investment to keep ahead of the competition was more than four in five businesses (82%) saying that they are investing to improve efficiency in order to drive productivity levels, while 57% of all businesses and four in five manufacturers (80%) are planning to invest to support export in 2016.

The survey was carried out on behalf of Lombard by Research Now and involved rigorous interviews with 750 UK businesses with a turnover of £2-£25m, including 100 manufacturing businesses.

Ian Isaac, head of Lombard comments, "The findings are encouraging news for the leasing industry. Since we carried out our last survey in May 2015 there has been an uplift in both awareness of asset finance as a funding option, and also a greater understanding of how to access it."

"The Finance and Leasing Association figures for 2015 show that asset finance funded almost a third of UK investment in machinery, equipment and purchased software, totalling almost £30 billion, the highest since 2007. So as a sector we appear to be heading in the right direction. However we need to continue to improve understanding of asset finance and its benefits in order to convince those businesses who have not used it as a form of funding business equipment."