Guest blog from Paul Croucher UKEF
At some point every exporter has to push their boundaries and expand into a new market. In recent years the same has been true for us here at UK Export Finance – the Government Department that works with companies, banks and overseas buyers to provide trade finance and insurance solutions that support UK exports.
Since 2011 we have addressed the market by re-introducing products and services targeted directly at helping SMEs and mid-sized companies. We’ve also expanded by setting up a new network of Export Finance Advisers (EFAs) in all 12 regions of the UK, including Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
The start of this particular journey for UKEF can be traced back to the global financial crisis. One of the effects of the economic downturn was that many UK exporters, especially SMEs and mid-sized companies, felt a withdrawal of credit, the reduction of credit limits on their buyers, or an increase in premiums. This severely hampered their ability to accept and fulfill export orders.
This left a gap in the provision of trade finance and credit insurance that UKEF has been working closely with the commercial sector to try and fill.
Expanding our products and services
Since 2011 we have expanded our range of Trade Finance and Insurance Solutions to help better accommodate the needs of SMEs. We’ve also worked towards shorter application processes, faster turnaround times and product improvements with work ongoing in all areas.
Crucial to this has been the creation of the national network of EFAs. There are now 12 advisers across Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the nine regions of England and the network will reach 24 advisers by early 2014.
The EFAs play an important role not only in delivering direct support, but also as a gateway for potential exporters. Our EFAs get many calls every day and if UKEF cannot help then our advisers will always try to point exporters in the direction of someone who can.
The demand is certainly there. Since 2011 UKEF has helped over 100 exporting businesses, to fulfill export contracts worth over £1 billion under its new trade finance and insurance products – where SMEs and medium-sized businesses have been the primary beneficiaries. (In 2012/13 UKEF supported over £4 billion of exports for all sizes of companies). But there is much more still to be done if we are all to achieve the Government’s ambitions to boost UK exports and rebalance the economy.
Collaboration is crucial
Given the large and growing demand, we want to ensure our EFAs have all the knowledge, tools and products they need to deliver an excellent service to the businesses they advise.
In order to provide the best advice our EFAs need to have a clear understanding of the processes and practicalities of international trade and a broad and up-to-date awareness of global trade issues.
As the UK’s leading professional body offering accredited training courses in export and international trade, and with its renowned suite of qualifications and training, we could not have a better partner in this than the Institute of Export (IOE). So we are delighted with our recent agreement that all UKEF EFAs will study for the IOE’s Diploma in International Trade.
The Diploma’s emphasis on problem solving, and it holistic modules covering areas such as marketing, management, logistics and purchasing make it an ideal fit with some of the real-life situations that our EFAs will need to deal with every day.
The training will cover a range of topics from the different financing methods in international trade, to the details of export trade documentation and the many variations in customs and exercise processes around the world. Most importantly our EFAs will know what its like to be an exporter.
An upward trend
This training is important because we are seeing more and more SMEs and mid-sized companies look overseas for new contracts, tapping into far-flung but fast-growing markets such as those in Asia, Africa and South America. A report from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in September 2013 found that over 25% of small firms are expecting an increase in exports in the third quarter of this year.
A similar FSB survey revealed a marked increase among non-exporters who said they would be interested in starting to export their goods or services. The number interested in export rose from 43% in 2010 to 63% this year.
A partnership vision
The Government has set a target to double levels of UK exports to £1 trillion by 2020, and UKEF is determined to play its part in achieving that goal.
Partnership is fundamental to UKEF’s work, as we are always working with the private sector and others to help boost exports. We know that we cannot achieve our ambitions alone, and partnering with IOE is an enormous step in the right direction. We’re looking forward to continuing our journey together.