Savings banks are some of Europe's most important providers of SME finance.
ESBG members are traditionally natural business partners with SMEs and follow their progress. Savings banks' local presence is an important factor for the close relationship with SME, buttressed by their clear focus on retail banking.
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The ESBG has been in close contact and cooperation with the European Commission in the elaboration and with the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Investment Fund (EIF) in the implementation and characteristics of SME-focused programmes outlined in the EU Action Plan for the 2014-2020 period. Together with other stakeholders, specially other banking associations and small business organisations, the ESBG has participated in round tables (i.e. SME Finance Forum), organized regularly by DGENT, in order to gather input for the elaboration of these initiatives.
In the current context of financial, economic and social crisis in many European countries, targeted EU funding for SMEs and microenterprises can be one of the drivers to promote growth and economic recovery in Europe. Nowadays, market gaps and deficiencies in debt and equity markets in Europe are limiting the access to finance of European companies and in particular SMEs; for example 75% of European SMEs depend on external funding, and access to finance is the second most pressing problem for Eurozone SMEs. Finding appropriate ways to finance the real economy and specially SMEs is a priority for the European Union. In this regard, the European Union is working towards providing constructive solutions to empower the economy and boost sustainable, inclusive and smart growth. In order to facilitate small businesses growth and development, the EU has set out a comprehensive system of financial policies and instruments to support SMEs with the most appropriate sources and types of financing at each stage of their life.
The Action Plan for the period 2014-2020 includes many initiatives to ease SME access to finance. The programme includes a range of financial instruments such as loan guarantees, risk-sharing facilities and microcredit initiatives, which are much welcomed by the ESBG membership. Mainly, there are three programmes: COSME, HORIZON 2020 and CREATIVE EUROPE.
- The Programme for the Competitiveness of Enterprises and SMEs (COSME) aims at improving growth-oriented SMEs access to finance in the expansion and growth stages, including equity and loan guarantee funds.
- Horizon 2020 targets R&D and Innovation-driven SMEs and small mid-caps and provides them with access to equity and risk finance. It includes equity finance and guarantees for SMEs.
- Creative Europe is the new EU programme dedicated to the cultural and creative sectors. Creative Europe is an initiative that provides guarantees to SMEs from the cultural and creative sectors.
Together with the above mentioned financial instruments, the action plan includes other measures to improve SMEs ways of financing such as equity funding (Venture Capital, Business Angels, etc.), revising the state aid rules relevant for SMEs, improving the SMEs access to capital markets (making SME markets more visible, more visible listed SMEs and reducing reporting burdens for SMEs). Other projects include to improve the monitoring and the information about SMEs and to improve the qualitative rating.