Small and Medium Enterprises

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Bank Finance to the SME Sector– Issues And Perspectives
here are a number of issues in lending to the SME sector, which banks generally face. The key issues among them are outlined below: (a) Information Asymmetry: Accurate information about the borrower is a critical input for decision-making by banks in the lending process. Where information asymmetry (a situation where business own-


implication of raising interest rates and/or curtailing lending is that banks will not be able to finance as many projects as otherwise would have been the case. (b) Granularity: This refers to a situation where the risk grading system at banks does not have the requisite capability to discriminate between good and bad risks. The consequence is tightening of

Y. Srinivas
(The author is Manager, Compliance Group at ICICI Bank. He can be reached at srinivas. yanamandra@icicibank. com)

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) play a very significant role in the economy in terms of balanced and sustainable growth, employment generation, development of entrepreneurial skills and contribution to export earnings. However, despite their importance to the economy, most SMEs are not able to stand up to the challenges of globalisation, mainly because of difficulties in the area of financing. With the opening up of the Indian economy, it has become necessary to consider measures for smoothening the flow of credit to this sector. The article provides a crosscountry perspective in this regard and highlights the Indian scenario with reference to SME lending. ers or managers know more about the prospects for, and risks facing their business than their lenders) exists, lenders may respond by increasing lending margins to levels in excess of that which the inherent risks would require. However, the sheer ticket size of SME lending makes it inviable for banks to invest in development of information systems about SME borrowers. In such situations, banks may also curtail the extent of lending even when SMEs are willing to pay a fair riskadjusted cost of capital. The credit terms, or an increase in prices, or both. From the borrower’s perspective, this leads to an outcome where the bank is over-pricing good risks and under-pricing bad risks. The fact that most banks in India have not developed adequate expertise in SME lending risk assessment exercises leads to the problem of granularity when it comes to SME lending. (c) Pecking Order Theory: Pecking order theory flows from the above two issues, which makes SME lending highly difficult for banks. Un-

der this hypothesis, SMEs, which face a cost of lending that is above the true risk-adjusted cost, will have incentives to seek out alternative sources of funding. Evidence suggests that in such situations SMEs prefer to utilise retained earnings instead of raising loans from banks. (d) Moral Hazard: Even when loans are made to SMEs, it may so happen that the owners of these SMEs take higher risks than they otherwise would without lending support from the banks. One reason for this situation is that the owner of the firm benefits fully from any additional returns but does not suffer disproportionately if the firm is liquidated. This is referred to as the moral hazard problem, which can be viewed as creating a situation of over-investment. The moral hazard problem may, thus, result in SME lending turning bad in a short period of time, a situation that all banks would like to avoid. (e) Switching Costs: SMEs may find it harder to switch banks, when countered with any issue. It is a known fact that the smaller the business, the more significant the switching costs are likely to be and, therefore, it is less likely that the benefits of switching outweigh the costs involved. This situation results in SME lending becoming a sellers market, which may not be attractive to SME borrowers. Steps for Smooth SME Lending In order to ensure that the

436 The Chartered Accountant September 2005

above issues do not...
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