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Big ideas for small businesses

Written by Ronnie Dungan on Friday, 15 January 2021. Posted in Scaling up, Interviews

Alternative funding FinTech firm Funding Options, has positioned itself as the friend of SMEs and start-ups, and its ambitious expansion plans will have been boosted in a business climate crying out for just such support.

Big ideas for small businesses

As the country continues to struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic and gets used to the new reality of life outside of the EU, the business sector adapts as best it can but is undoubtedly in need of many different types of support. 

Unable to trade, whilst overheads continue, for the most part, as with much in business, it boils down to finance. Even at the best of times, banks and other lenders have recently been frugal in their approach, but faced with the biggest national upheaval in living memory, are under pressure like never before to help businesses stay alive.

In this climate, alternative funding sources such as FinTech brand Funding Options, are ideally positioned to offer help for SMEs and, lest we forget, the many start-ups that will be reaching out having formed either as a result of the collapse of a previous venture or a change in employment circumstances that has prompted them go it alone.

Simon Cureton is Chief Executive Officer at Funding Options, where he’s using his extensive experience in the alternative finance sector to ensure the company is at the forefront of Open Banking and other innovations within the industry.

Before joining Funding Options, Cureton was one of the founding members at Esme Loans. Prior to that, he worked for RBS international as part of its transformation programme, as well as other blue chip financial companies including Morgan Stanley, Barclays Capital, Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Deutsche Bank.

“I have been attracted to the FinTech sector ever since I took on my first role,” says Cureton, “in a startup as Head of Product and Distribution for MyWealth - a business initiative by The Commonwealth Bank of Australia to create the first self-directed wealth management proposition globally. Throughout my career I have always sought to avoid staying in my comfort zone and testing myself in such a role was hugely enjoyable and rewarding.

“I joined Funding Options originally as Commercial Director but when the opportunity to step up to the CEO position was offered to me, I didn’t hesitate to take it. Leading such a dynamic team at the forefront of FinTech, and providing a vital service to such an inspiring client base as UK and Dutch businesses, has been a privilege and the highlight of my career to date.”

Cureton says two of the biggest challenges with SME finance are fragmentation within the sector, with hundreds of lenders, introducers, comparison websites and other intermediary firms all competing for business from the same customer base; and a lack of knowledge on the part of business owners of their potential options for finance. 

“Funding Options was founded with the simple aim of helping those businesses understand and access appropriate finance solutions easier and more efficiently, through a single platform that provides them with a holistic view of their funding options on completion of a simple online application,” he explains.

The firm balances tech and data-led competencies with human expertise, to provide funding solutions that are individually matched to customers’ needs.

Data funnels each individual application towards a recommended set of matched lending options, while the customer success department is on hand to further assist and make sure the right solution is on offer. 

Thinking small, as you might put it, is at the heart of the Funding Options ethos, but Cureton says the firm is pretty agnostic as to what type of business it helps or, indeed, the level of finance required.

“Businesses can apply for finance through Funding Options ranging from hundreds of Pounds to multi-million Pound loan applications. The breadth and depth of our proposition in the UK differentiates us from our competitors, as does our product coverage, which ranges from unsecured and secured lending to property finance, asset finance, trade finance, invoice finance and Merchant Cash Advances (MCAs) for example.

“Our successful international operation in the Dutch market is another key differentiator between Funding Options and its competitors. We launched in the Netherlands in Q1 2019 through our partnership with ING and since then, the business has established itself as one of the key facilitators of vital financing through the alternative lending sector there.”

The coronavirus pandemic has sadly impacted some sectors far more than others of course. Businesses from the hospitality sector, retail and travel, for example, will need help once the current restrictions are eased.

One upside (and Cureton prefers to see the upside) is that the Funding Options team has learned a lot about the companies it wants to support over the last 12 months. 

“The whole Funding Options team spent all of 2020 post the first lockdown in March, in the trenches alongside our customers fighting to provide them with appropriate finance solutions in a market that for weeks had no common reference point for any of its participants. This was new territory for us all.

“The example many of these businesses have set in doggedly persevering through the waves of negativity and setbacks the post pandemic months have thrown at them, has been genuinely inspiring. It is quite incredible in fact to think that 2020 will be a record year for new company registrations! I think that speaks volumes for the entrepreneurial spirit in this country.”

As we start to (hopefully) emerge into the light and look forwards once more, Cureton believes his company is in an even better position with the nature of what it offers and has invested further in technology to launch new, improved, versions of applications. 

Necessity is the mother of invention and home working has seen an acceleration in the adoption of digital solutions for businesses and employees, which is great news for FinTech.

“For the SME finance sector specifically, this manifested itself in a marked (lockdown enforced) rise in e-commerce, greater usage of game-changing technologies such as Open Banking by our lender partners and increasing adoption of Open Banking as a means to provide bank transaction information by businesses themselves.”

Funding Options is already well ahead in its journey to integrate Open Accounting solutions into the customer journey, says Cureton, and is looking further ahead already to the prospect of Open Finance in the UK.

As we begin 2021, the firm is leaner than it was twelve months ago and has been working on a next-gen version of its business finance platform which it hopes to launch this quarter and believes will disrupt the status quo and significantly enhance the way businesses can access finance in the future.

“Looking further ahead in 2021 and beyond, concludes Cureton, ”We will be diversifying our service offering to businesses to cover adjacent verticals such as business insurance, energy and telecoms, for example. This is a logical extension of our existing proposition and it allows us to utilise our significant data assets to further benefit SMEs. We have established some exciting new partnerships that will power the business to new heights in our current markets and of course there is the potential prospect of further international expansion in due course.”

This article was brought to you courtesy of Funding Options their award-winning technology searches the market to find the right funding options for your situation.

About the Author

Ronnie Dungan

Ronnie Dungan

Ronnie is a business journalist and comms specialist of some 30-plus years' experience, although thanks to a rigorous moisturising regime, and the right lighting, you wouldn't necessarily know it. He has edited and published so many titles that he has properly lost count. It's well over a dozen, but he shows no signs of calling it day just yet.

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