Government getting too heavily involved in business isn’t always a good idea, as it risks eroding the free market’s power to innovate. However, there is a place for regulation that gives all business the best chance to succeed.
When it comes to small business lending, Marketplace CEO Leo Tyndall says one simple change would make a huge difference to Australian SMEs, the requirement of a small business comparison rate. Watch the video or read the transcript below to learn how government can unlock the potential of small business.
I’m never a big fan of pushing government to do a lot of things because the the more involvement government has on business the danger it is that it actually doesn’t operate in a capitalistic environment. But what I do say the government need to do is ensure that there is a level playing field. To ensure that the SME’s able to make the right decisions.
What I mean by that is the SME itself should be able to within a very short period of time look at all the finance options and then go, “Yes. This is the price. This is the real price of my funds.” And to do that at this present moment, there isn’t a framework for every SME to be able to give a comparative rate.
So if we look in the mortgage market, you go and look at the advertising in mortgage market, you can say, “Well what’s the comparison rate?” and you can match them all and put ’em in a line and then say, “This guy’s got the cheapest rate ’cause this is his comparison rate and it’s the lowest.” We don’t have that in the SME market. And that’s what’s needed.
The SME market needs the requirement. What the government needs to do is say to SME lenders, “You must give a comparison rate. You must tell them what is the real cost of funds.” [The] very immediate time that [SMEs] touch base with you you should say, “This is what your cost of funds will be”, and so therefore the SME can quickly make a decision whether it is the cheapest or more expensive. Now you can say that you’re more expensive than the others and say these are the reasons why you’ve got all these other benefits. But you do need to give a true, clear price.
And that’s unfortunately not available at this time. So this is where I think the government really does need to step in and it’s only an extension of the Trade Practices Act or the the consumer laws. So it’s not like there’s a lot that they need to do there.
Each new year brings a chance to make changes for the better, but with a federal election just months away, this year is one of the more unpredictable. One thing is certain: SMEs will play a key role in the development of the major parties’ business policy, and for the resulting direction of the economy.
With an early budget, the election will probably be held in May, and at this stage it’s not likely to be a tight race. A December Newspoll found 55 per cent believe Labor will win, while just 24 per cent back the government for re-election. But even strong polling guarantees nothing, so both parties will be desperate for support, and every coherent group of voters will be up for grabs. SMEs are high on the list, representing everything from Mum and Dad operations to industry leading firms.
That’s a mixed blessing. While both parties courting the sector should lead to progressive policies that benefit both business and the economy, the promise of wholesale change can increase uncertainty. A closer than expected election could also result in political uncertainty, which would cause additional anxiety for the economy as a whole. That could have a pronounced impact on SMEs, especially if the availability of capital is affected.
For SMEs to enjoy smooth sailing after the election, both major parties need to be clear on what their policies are, and why they believe in them. The parties must prove they’re serious about supporting Australian business, with the intent to follow through on their promises regardless of the political landscape post-election. A promise not kept does more harm than good.
More importantly, policies that support SMEs and the overall economy must be sold to the public. That’s the job of politicians and the business community.
SMEs are the lifeblood of the Australian economy, and what’s good for SMEs tends to be good for everyone, especially during a domestic housing downturn and an unpredictable global political climate.
By helping the Australian public understand the importance of strong SMEs, the political and policy incentives of politicians become aligned. With everyone paddling in the same direction, it’s much more likely we’ll find a path around those dangerous waters.