Tuesday, 6 November 2012

£1bn blow to small businesses

Thousands of small businesses could find it impossible to buy new vehicles and equipment after a market leader in providing finance announced it would pull out of the UK.

The Dutch bank, ING, has decided to close down Surrey-based ING Lease UK, which had been pumping over £1bn a year into the British economy.

Farmers, office-based firms and transport companies have been turning to leasing contracts, as bank loans and overdrafts have become harder to obtain.

ING is the leading source of leasing finance via brokers. Its withdrawal removes as much as 40% of this money at a stroke.

Under a lease arrangement, the broker arranges the purchase of the equipment, which is owned by the leasing company. All the business has to do is keep up the regular payments.

ING has already announced the sale of its UK savings business, ING Direct, to Barclays. It has been off-loading assets to repay the Dutch government for aid received during the financial crisis in 2008.

But the withdrawal from leasing also shows how banks across Europe are being prompted to slash some activities because of new rules forcing them to hold more capital in reserve.

The 300 staff at ING Lease's HQ in Redhill were told last week that half of them were likely to lose their jobs in the near future, with the remainder kept on to help run down the business.

This year 31% of total investment in new machinery and equipment has been paid for through leasing contracts, so the ING closure will cause months of disruption. It is likely to put a squeeze on this sort of finance for a great deal longer.

Competitors, including Investec Bank, Aldermore and Close Brothers, have promised to do what they can to fill the gap. But insiders say the best hope is that they will come up with half of the money needed.

Last year the leasing business provided £22bn to help keep British industry running, many of the deals done direct between banks and large companies. On that measure, ING Lease accounted for 5% of the market.

However, it specialised in the smaller end of the business: farms and young firms which got in touch via specialist brokers.

It's these customers, wanting essentials such as tractor attachments, computers, desks and commercial vehicles, which will bear the brunt of the loss.

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