过去两年，英国替代金融行业一直在等待政府出台强制的银行推荐机制。早在2014年3月，英国商务秘书Vince Cable就曾首次提及这一机制。而在2014年8月举行的AltFi欧洲年度峰会上，前任英国财政大臣George Osborne也再次确认，英国政府有意在创新金融（"Innovate Finance"）项目中推出这一计划。
英国商业银行（British Business Bank）受命承担平台遴选工作。《2015春季财政预算计划》（Springtime Budget 2015）显示，英国商业银行已经开始接受提名候选机构申请，最终候选名单已于2015年7月确定，这其中包括了专业中介平台、p2p借贷机构等多个领域的企业。《2016年3月财政预算》（Budget of March 2016）计划中确定了三家中介平台，他们分别是Funding Options, Funding Xchang和Bitfitech，具体任命将会随推介机制公告一起发布。
推荐机制将于下季度正式投入使用，而参与该计划的银行也必须立即参与其中--将银行拒绝的贷款申请人推荐给上述三个平台。据Funding Options首席执行官Conrad Ford极少，如果参与计划的银行无法完成这一任务，就将为视为违反法律规定。而使用推荐机制必须先征得受助中小企业允许，而上述三个金融平台也必须帮助保护中小企业的信息安全。
受任命的三个平台目标借贷人群稍有不同。Funding Xchange主要面向短期在线借贷人，但同样也与Macquarie这样的独立专业机构合作。而Funding Options合作的企业范围也更大，并已经与几个大型机构（如汇丰银行、Bibby）等达成合作。虽然三个平台的商业模式各不相同，但是根据政府规定，三个平台均不能因推荐机制而向中小企业收取费用。标准的模式应该是向终端的资金出借人收取相关费用。
而被推荐机制选中的几家银行同时覆盖了英国和北爱尔兰地区，其中包括苏格兰皇家银行（RBS）、巴克莱（Barclays）、劳埃德集团（Lloyds）、汇丰银行（HSBC）、桑坦德（Santander）、Clydesdale & Yorkshire、爱尔兰银行（Bank of Ireland）、爱尔兰联合银行（Allied Irish Bank）和丹斯克银行（Danske Bank）。
A start-date to the government’s much-vaunted bank referral scheme has at long last been set.
The alternative finance sector has been waiting for the mandatory bank referral scheme to get going for over two years. Then business secretary Vince Cable first hinted at the scheme in March 2014, at the inaugural AltFi Europe Summit. Former chancellor George Osborne later confirmed the government’s intention to realise the programme at the launch of Innovate Finance in August 2014.
But its implementation has been protracted by a multitude of logistical pain points. The mechanics of how and when a bank should refer a business to the alternative finance sector has proven anything but straightforward. The answer ultimately emerged in the form of the neutral finance platforms – online matchmakers which receive data on a loan applicant directly from the banks and then connect those applicants to lenders that are better suited to their needs. The government decided that these portals were to form the nexus of the referral scheme. The British Business Bank was tasked with picking the winners – and there were a fair few portals to pick from.
The Springtime Budget 2015 revealed that the BBB would begin accepting expressions of interest from designation candidates. A number of those candidates were then shortlisted in July 2015. The shortlist, as it turned out, was not especially short, featuring a wide variety of companies – from specialist referral platforms, to well-established peer-to-peer lenders. Three companies were earmarked for designation in the Budget of March 2016: Funding Options, Funding Xchange and Bizfitech. The official designation of these three outfits will occur with the advent of the referral scheme itself.
When the scheme goes live next quarter, designated banks will be required – with immediate effect – to refer rejected loan applicants to the three designated finance platforms. Should they fail to do so, they will be “breaking the law”, according to Funding Options CEO Conrad Ford (pictured above). SMEs themselves must give their permission for a referral to take place – and designated finance platforms must protect the anonymity of small businesses until then.
Each of the three designated platforms features a slightly different mix of lenders to the next. Funding Xchange works mostly with short-term online lenders, but also with Macquarie, which offers its own form of specialist finance. Funding Options is integrated with a broader panel of firms, featuring a sizable contingent of incumbent lending businesses, such as HSBC and Bibby.
Each of the designated finance platforms operates its own distinct commercial model. These cannot involve charging small businesses for using the bank referral scheme. The standard model is to charge a facilitation fee to the end-lender.
The British Business Bank recently opened up a second round of the assessment process, which may well lead to more neutral finance platforms being designated in 2017.
The designated banks – which must by law participate in the scheme – are spread across the UK and Northern Ireland. They are: RBS, Barclays, Lloyds, HSBC, Santander, Clydesdale & Yorkshire (CYBG), Bank of Ireland, Allied Irish Bank and Danske Bank.
In terms of the sheer scale of the referral scheme opportunity, the UK’s largest four banks currently account for over 80 per cent of primary banking relationships for small businesses. Many small businesses only approach the largest banks when seeking finance. In the case of first time SME borrowers, the rejection rate is around 50 per cent. A report from November 2015 by GLI Finance and the Cambridge University Centre for Alternative Finance estimated that a lack of awareness around alternative finance options could cost the UK economy as much as ￡20bn by 2020. Meanwhile, a British Business Bankers’ Association (BBA) report from December 2015 revealed that more than 40 per cent of SMEs would seek to take advantage of the referral scheme, were it to go live.