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SME lending in Australia

Australian Banking Association Economic Report

Most businesses in Australia are small businesses. Nearly two-thirds of all businesses are sole traders, and around one-third employ less than 20 people. Small businesses have a lower chance of survival than larger businesses, with only 60 percent of all sole traders and 70 percent of businesses employing less than 20 people remaining in business after four years. In contrast, the survival rate for larger businesses hovers around 80 percent.

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Recent YouGov research estimates that nine million Australians have dreamed of working for themselves and starting their own business. However, 60 percent of these Australians (5.4 million) cited “access to money” as the reason holding them back.

The data in this report shows that many small businesses wait until the last minute to access credit. In 2017-18 nearly 1 in 3 small businesses sought credit to ensure the survival of their business, while 1 in 4 sought credit to replace equipment. Compared to large businesses, small businesses were much less likely to seek credit to upgrade or purchase new equipment.

At the same time, interest rates for loans to small businesses are at an all-time low, and bank approval rates for business loans remain steady. Yet fewer small businesses are approaching banks for credit. Only just over half (57 percent) of small businesses employing 0-4 people who sought credit in 2017-18 approached a bank.

ABA member data shows a 33 percent decline in business loan applications over the past five years, while approval rates remain at around 94 percent.