Reflections from the Welsh Finance Roundtable at the Pavilion
With all that has been going on in recent months surrounding the Scottish Independence Referendum, the other smaller partners of the UK – namely Wales and Northern Ireland – seem to have been a little overlooked. Actually though, what was going on in Scotland and the questions that were being asked in relation to the Scottish economy and its ability to survive financially as an independent nation and an independent economy also raised some interesting questions for the likes of Wales too. If Wales were to one day decide that they too wanted to have a referendum on UK membership for example, would it be reasonable to think that the economy of Wales could survive, or more importantly thrive, without being a part of the United Kingdom?
A recent ‘round table’ event hosted by ABN AMRO CF at the Iconic Pavilion in Cardiff on Sep 3rd addressed some of the challenges Wales would need to overcome if it wanted to compete on this level and be able to grow its trade, not only with overseas clients but also with the rest of the UK. There was also a lot of optimism about the current progress being made in overcoming these barriers. Here are some key notes to come out of the event.
At the Roundtable Rhian Elston, Investment director for Finance Wales, addressed the exciting opportunites that overseas trade could present for Welsh businesses, if only business owners could get over the fear of the laws and regulations that surround it. She also mentioned the challenges Wales faces even when it comes to trading with the rest of the UK, particularly the current situation of traffic on the M4 which the government have recently outlined plans to address with the new £1bn relief road around Newport, the largest capital investment programme ever announced by the Welsh government.
Kelvin Thomas, regional director at ABN AMRO Commercial Finance, chaired the meeting and he focussed some of his comments on the challenges Welsh businesses face when it comes to funding. He championed Wales as an up and coming force in creative industries but also commented on how these skills might be wasted if the funding issues facing creative businesses were not addressed. He gave mention to the role accountants can play in educating business owners as to the different types of funding sources available to help them to invest and grow, saying that accountants needed to take on more of a role of business advisor rather than just someone who keeps a track of the numbers.
The issue of how public funds are being used to fund emerging businesses was also raised in the discussion, or the lack of available funds might be a better way of putting it. Mike Fenwick, director at Broomfield & Alexander, talked about the impact that company grants can have in encouraging more companies to do business in Wales, but Rob Warlow (Business Loan Services) highlighted the need to direct the funding that is available at businesses which are likely to employ more people in the future, rather than supporting businesses that are by nature looking to remain as lifestyle businesses.
Kelvin Thomas was also positive about the fact that access to commercial finance is available to Welsh businesses who are looking to grow and also to trade overseas, reporting a 10%+ year on year growth in invoice finance. Rob Warlow also felt that access to finance was not the main issue but that it is more of an issue of businesses being risk averse when it comes to taking on debt after the recent economic downturn and that business owners were not being properly educated as to the positive effects that borrowed money can have on a business when used correctly. He also mentioned that many business owners were still not fully aware of the possibilities of alternative financing methods such as invoice discounting, asset finance and crowdfunding.
The overwhelming tone of the Welsh Finance Round Table event was one of optimism for the future of Welsh business but also of a need to educate business owners on how they can access the finance needed to grow their companies and how to then use that finance effectively. With Cardiff consistently being voted as one of the top 5 cities to live in the UK, new routes being planned into Wales in the form of the M4 relief road, and also the improving outlook for lower cost flights out of Cardiff airport, the future looks bright for businesses in Wales. Now it’s just about giving companies and business owners the tools they need to take advantage of these increasing growth opportunities.