On 9 November the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) hosted a conference on Co-operative banks and innovation in SME financing. The event was organised in cooperation with the International Confederation of Popular Banks, the European Association of Co-operative Banks, the UNICO Banking Group and the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises. The European Commission also took part.
The conference looked at the growing role of technology players in SME financing and discussed their interaction with more traditional cooperative banks. SMEs account for 99 % of Europe's businesses, provide 2/3 of private sector jobs and contribute more than half of the total added value generated in the EU. But they often struggle to raise the capital they need to carry out research, develop new products and penetrate new markets. Crowdfunding, peer-to-peer lending and capital market financing, combined with more traditional cooperative bank loans, can open up new financing opportunities for PMEs. The EFSI can also provide lifeblood by mobilising private capital to finance strategic investments in the EU.
Three specific issues were tackled in three different panels:
- Cooperation between crowdfunding platforms and cooperative/popular banks in SME lending: turning threats into opportunities
- Innovative SME financing with the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI): experiences and the way forward
- How is the regulatory framework affecting the role of co-operative banks in financing SMEs?
In his opening speech EESC President Georges Dassis stressed that "financial technology and cooperative banks must be viewed not only as competitors, but also as partners. The best results will be achieved by using them both". There was general agreement that the financing of SMEs should be as broadly based as possible to ensure optimal access to finance at every stage of their development.
At the same time, participants made it clear that the local presence of traditional credit institutions, especially in rural, remote and peripheral areas, remains essential for SMEs, with 77% of SME funding in Europe still coming from banks - mainly cooperative and savings banks.
Panellists also stressed that there must be an adequate regulatory environment for all funding channels. Proportionality and simplicity should be a guiding principle for EU institutions to avoid unnecessary administrative burdens on credit institutions when implementing new rules. Cooperative banks voiced their concern at multiple regulatory requirements for banks and joined the European Parliament's call on the European Commission to assess the negative impact of these requirements on their lending to SMEs when reviewing the so called Basel III regulations.
Background information – relevant EESC opinions
The role of cooperative and savings banks in territorial cohesion (2015) – rapporteur: Carlos Trias Pinto
Crowdfunding in the EU (2014) – rapporteur: Juan Mendoza Castro