HSBC offers small firms share of $5bn

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The Independent Online

HSBC will launch a new $5bn (£3.4bn) working capital fund today for small and medium sized businesses around the world to ensure they have access to credit during the current economic crisis.

Michael Geoghegan, HSBC’s chief executive, said £1bn of the fund will be dedicated to small businesses in the UK, with the balance spread around the globe. “This is a difficult time for business in many economies,” Mr Geoghegan said. “Customers are rightly looking to see how banks can help. Small companies are the lifeblood for most economies and it is their success that will create economic growth.”

The fund will lend to companies with turnovers of up to £25m to provide them with working capital to help with cash flow needs and support those which trade, or want to trade, overseas. It will be greeted with relief by the Government which has been trying to push Britain’s banks to lend more to small businesses and is looking at various proposals to kick-start lending to the sector.

Starting with the £1bn fund in the UK, HSBC will extend the capital to Hong Kong and then through its branch network in 65 countries. Paul Thurston, the head of HSBC’s UK operations, said the fund shows the bank wants to support its customers whose continued growth will help to restore the UK economy.

HSBC and Barclays are the only big UK banks which avoided having to take part in the Government’s £37bn bailout launched in October to rescue the British banking system. Lloyds TSB, HBOS and Royal Bank of Scotland were all forced to take up new capital and are now partly owned by the Government. Earlier this week, they all announced measures to support smaller business customers.

With assets of $2.55bn, HSBC has one of the strongest balance sheets in the world and has so far been relatively immune from the worst aspects of the credit crunch. Mr Thurston added that HSBC has helped more than 120,000 small businesses start up this year and offers 18 months free banking to them. The credit crunch has also been good for business as over the last year it has seen more than 32,000 small business customers switch their banking to HSBC because of other lenders’ higher charges or reluctance to extend loans. HSBC now has more than one million SME customers and more than 3,000 specialists advising businesses, he said.

Positive news also came from Bank of Scotland on Friday when it announced it had closed a £434m fully seeded fund holding its risk capital investments in Britain’s PFI and PPP infrastructure assets.