The financial risk to small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) in the wake of COVID-19 is being investigated by researchers at Nottingham University Business School.
The UK-wide study, in collaboration with the Bank of England, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the University of Exeter and the University of Lancaster, will examine the resilience of SMEs and their risk exposure - a measure of potential loss or future losses - resulting from COVID-19. The researchers will subsequently develop new methods to help support SMEs in the aftermath of the pandemic.
SMEs are widely recognised as a key pillar of the UK economy and more than 99% of the approximately six million businesses in the UK are SMEs, employing more than 16 million workers1.
As the COVID-19 crisis unfolds, SMEs are faced with unprecedented challenges, including declining revenues, inability to retain employees, postponement of investments and loan repayment difficulties.
The 18-month study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), as part of UK Research and Innovation's (UKRI) rapid response to COVID-19, will construct a measure of economic risk for pandemic extreme events and develop a new credit risk assessment protocol to evaluate SME borrower profiles (or score cards).
Building on the integration of economic and non-economic data, the project will make use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to widen the range of firms that can be rated methodologically and that can therefore access different funding channels.
As a result, the project will address the problem of structural credit constraints for SMEs when exposed to extreme pressures. A major part of the project will be devoted to the implementation of Machine Learning and Deep Learning to draw information from varied sources of financial, sociodemographic, and geographical data.
By combining various datasets and factors that have previously been considered in isolation, the experts will be able to construct one holistic set of metrics to provide a complete picture of the challenges and opportunities facings SMEs.
Project lead, Professor Meryem Duygun, a Professor of Banking and Finance at the Nottingham University Business School, said: "The pandemic has caused significant economic disruption at both national and international level, but it is also providing an ideal opportunity for reform to improve the fundamentals of the UK's economic structure.
"Our study will contribute to enhancing SMEs' resilience and boost their (extreme event) risk management and prevention skills. To achieve this, we will exploit a range of novel approaches specifically tailored for UK SMEs. By accurately assessing the overall pandemic risk and credit risk exposure of SMEs, we hope that our study will assist policy makers to design adequate and timely measures. Equally, the banking sector may utilise our study findings to improve their design of score cards during pandemic events".
Dr Eddie Gerba, Research Manager at the Bank of England, said: "This is a fantastic opportunity to deepen our understanding of the challenges and risks that SMEs face in rare and extreme events such as COVID-19, and better equip them for resilience."
Flora Hamilton, Director of Financial Services at the CBI, said: "This study will provide some useful tools to assess the credit risk exposure of SMEs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the winter months likely to disrupt demand and cash flow in many sectors of the economy, this research will be valuable for informing future policy decisions and will help improve the resilience of many SMEs."