What are the alternative finance opportunities in Northern Ireland?
Northern Ireland has had somewhat of a rollercoaster year, politically speaking.
Tensions between the country’s two foremost political parties – Sein Finn and the Democratic Unionist Party – have been a persistent trait of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing system.
In January, however, they came to a head with the resignation of deputy first minister and Sinn Fein representative Martin McGuinness. Seven months on, the situation remains unresolved.
These events have left Northern Ireland marred in uncertainty – causing a fair amount of collateral damage as a result. Northern Irish businesses have undoubtedly been among the hardest-hit victims.
Until this year, SMEs in Northern Ireland were making a steady recovery from the pains of the financial crisis. The Northern Irish economy as a whole, in fact, was looking up.
Previously, Northern Ireland had been on many traditional lenders’ ‘blacklists’ as a no-go zone steeped in bad debt. This was changing, however, and the country’s SMEs were beginning to reap the benefits of their hard-earned recovery.
However, amidst ongoing uncertainty, it appears lenders have slammed on the brakes again. In the last year (to March 31st 2017), the value of money lent to Northern Irish SMEs has fallen by 12% (to £1.5bn) compared with the previous year.
This all comes, of course, against a wider backdrop of Brexit-related ambiguity – and other areas of the United Kingdom have also seen falls in their SME lending.
What these figures demonstrate is the gaping hole in funding faced by Northern Ireland’s SMEs – who will most definitely be feeling the pinch.
This is where alternative finance providers can step in – and make a very real difference.
Traditional lenders may be back-tracking on Northern Ireland – but many alternative finance lenders, ourselves included, have instead seen a window of opportunity. Northern Ireland is, in fact, a market in which we have experienced significant success to date.
It is also one we look forward to continuing to work with. It is a market in which we have found highly resilient businesses built on strong and sturdy fundamentals.
These SMEs are, in our experience, just as credit-worthy as businesses anywhere else in the UK – and we are looking forward to our continued presence in Northern Ireland.