Bank of England stands ground after Nationwide slows SME lending plan

Bank of England put on the defensive over demands forcing lenders to boost balance sheets after delays to Nationwide’s small business banking launch linked to new rules

Nationwide
Nationwide

The Bank of England was put on the defensive once more over demands forcing lenders to boost their balance sheets after delays to Nationwide’s small business banking launch were linked to the new rules.

Britain’s biggest building society is understood to have put on hold plans to lend to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), with a report in the Financial Times suggesting the move comes as it battles to meet tougher requirements for it to hold more capital as a buffer against financial crises.

Nationwide revealed plans to enter the SME loans market last year, where lending has shrunk as banks retreat and demand wanes. At the time chief executive Graham Beale described it as a “natural extension of what we can do“.

But the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) recently demanded Nationwide draw up plans to plug a hole in its balance sheet by bolstering its leverage ratio, which measures its capital as a percentage of its assets, to 3% by the end of 2015.

The group is now having to be more selective in how it invests in the business, according to the FT, and has instead chosen to focus on boosting its share of the current account market.

It is reportedly unlikely to launch a full SME service before 2016, dealing a blow to Government plans to unblock the credit logjam to small firms.

Nationwide played down suggestions of a delay and said it had never put a timescale on the launch. A spokesman said it was a “strategic intention” to enter the SME banking market and that it will do this at the right time for the society and its members.

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