Specialist lender Time Finance has launched a new secured loan product, and doubled the funding support available to small to medium enterprises (SMEs), in a move aimed at helping businesses and the economy “start to get back to normal,” according to Sharon Bryden, director of commercial loans and asset based lending.

Bryden said: “We’ve increased our lending amount from £250,000, doubling it to £0.5m, because we feel it is the right time now.

“Coming out on the back of COVID, on the back of government funding being exhausted, effectively. SMEs wanting to grow their business or diversify, they need funding on the back of that.

“Although we do have the personal guarantee loans, the secured lending products gives another opportunity, for those SMEs that have got property that they can leverage against, to be able to generate cashflow into their business and to move their business forward.”

Bryden explained that the added benefit of using property as a security is that it is a lower risk approach for the lender, allowing Time Finance to then pass on the benefits and lend a higher amount to businesses in need.

The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loans Scheme (CBILS) saw the finance sector lend a collective £22bn to SMEs before it closed in March 2021. While the Recovery Loans Scheme, of which Time Finance is a member, has served as something of a replacement, the fact remains that government support is only one element of the push towards a return to pre-pandemic strength.

“To be fair, the government has shown a lot of support to SMEs during the COVID period,” Bryden said.

“But what is important is that once those support systems move away that we are there as funders to support SMEs. We are an alternative to a bank, where we’ve got to be commercial in what we’re looking at, but at the end of the day SMEs are the backbone of the economy.

“They’re in the engine of economic growth and development, and about three-fifths of UK employment comes from SMEs, so it’s vital that they’re supported.”

This means, she added, that there is a responsibility for all lenders to provide products that help stimulate this side of the market. This is particularly true of those non-bank, alternative or specialist lenders, as they have more freedom and flexibility in terms of their risk appetite.

She added: “They’re more agile and they’ve got an ability to change their product quicker than, say, a bank has. A lot of small lenders are also more aligned with SMEs in terms of their businesses profile as well, so they understand the frustrations or the issues.”

This more agile mentality also means smaller lenders are able to pick up technological innovations, where larger mainstream banks might struggle with legacy systems.

To this end, Time Finance is continually looking at the future of digital transformation and how this can support businesses to access a “one-stop funding solution,” factoring in invoice and asset finance, as well as commercial loans, and more.

The lender is also always considering what other products or market areas are going to become important in an ever-changing market, Bryden added.

Overall, despite the fact that this conversation has been happening since the pandemic began, Bryden does see 2022 as the year that the economy starts to get back to some semblance of normality. This is partly, she said, due to the push to get back to offices and away from the home, and the positive mentality this is likely to create.

She explained: “I’m hoping that mentality will then lead to businesses thinking about the future and looking at how they can move forward – how they can invest and develop their own new product and expand into their own new market as well.”

However, the fact remains that the pandemic has fundamentally changed the shape of industries such as leisure and retail, changing perspectives on what makes for a secure investment in sometimes surprising ways.

Bryden said Time Finance deals with these changes by taking each case on an individual basis, rather than relying on algorithms. This, again, is where specialist lenders come to the fore.

She explained: “We’ve got that human approach, where we look at deals we can assess the positives, and can think outside the box.

“Lenders have to be aware that businesses have had to change the result of COVID, and we’ve seen that through our applications. People will probably enjoy that different approach.

“Dealing with alternative finance providers means you can pick up the phone and have a conversation and understand the business. It’s important to be able to do that.”