The 2018 version of the code of conduct on financing SMEs continues the work already done to provide more information to companies, especially with regard to the state-provided mechanisms open to them. These are essential means of overcoming the problem of insufficient guarantees at the point of application.
Why a code of conduct?
This is not a brand new idea, as a first version of this code of conduct was drawn up in 2014 in order to apply the law of 21 December 2013 relating to financing for SMEs. At that time the code already aimed to reconcile banks and business owners seeking credit, in particular by specifying the information to be provided by the banker, the documentation required for the loan application, and the terms of the arrangement. In other words: the business owner had to be in possession of the full facts and placed in a position that allowed them to choose the best possible option and compare credit institutions. Following a review of this legislation, a new version of the law entered into force at the start of 2018, necessitating publication of a suitably updated version of the code of conduct governing the financing of SMEs. This has been in effect since 1 March.
Creating a climate of mutual trust
Loans from banks are an essential financing mechanism that allows companies to start up and grow. This is why it is important to enable business owners to place all the odds in their favour when they make an application. And one way of doing so is by providing a clear picture of all financing options open to them. To achieve this aim, one factor is key: information. It is important when the entrepreneur is completing their application, but it is equally as important once the request has been assessed and then either granted or refused. "Acting in possession of the full facts" also means that the business owner can discuss the matter transparently with their bank's representative and come to view this person more as a "financial partner", especially where an application is rejected and both need to find an alternative solution "together". If this is the case, the objective is clearly to prioritise directing the business owner towards other forms of financing or state guarantees which may underwrite or support the application for a bank loan.
Improving access to financing
The various actors at the table on this issue – Febelfin (Belgian Federation of the Financial Sector) and organisations that represent the self-employed (UNIZO – the union of small entrepreneurs, UCM – the small business owners' network, and SNI – the neutral self-employed union) – have taken concrete steps to reinforce these ideas:
- Provision of the www.financementdesentreprises.be online platform: this gives an overview of the main state guarantees, as well as the support and guidance systems available. This is a reliable tool that provides real support to bank advisors when they need to explain the range of options to their customers.
- Also available on this website are information sheets that explain the most common guarantees and securities and the reasons why these may be required. It should be remembered that the lender has a duty to inform the business owner of all details connected with their application.
- If it is declined, the bank must set out its reasons in writing. The business owner is also entitled to request an explanation (orally or in writing) of the reasons cited by the credit institution.
- The repayment penalty, which is the cost to the company of early repayment of the capital borrowed, was previously limited to a maximum of six months' interest for loans of under EUR 1 million taken out after 10 January 2014; however, the code of conduct has raised this cap, which is now set at EUR 2 million.
Export plans? Make sure you talk to our experts first
To prepare your international adventure properly, ask yourself the right questions and talk to people who have done it all before: partners, customers, fellow exporters and experts.
BNP Paribas Fortis listens to the questions asked by international entrepreneurs and offers reliable advice. "A lot of exporting companies ask for our help when it's too late", Frank Haak, Head of Sales Global Trade Solutions, says.
Entrepreneurs with little export experience are often unaware of the bigger financial picture. So what do they need to take into account when they set up a budget for their export plans?
Frank Haak: "Budgeting and pricing are affected by a lot of crucial factors: working capital, currency exchange risks and currency interest, prefinancing, profit margins, insurance, import duties and other local taxes, competitor pricing and so on. We always advise customers or prospects to start from a worst-case scenario. Quite a few companies are insufficiently prepared for their first international adventure: they see an opportunity and they grab it, but quite often disappointment and a financial hangover are not far away.
Our experts have years of export experience and the BNP Paribas Group has teams around the world. This means that we can give both general and country-specific tips. Let's say a machine builder wants to design and manufacture a custom-made machine. We recommend including the machine's reuse value in the budget: can this machine still be sold if the foreign customer suddenly no longer wishes to purchase it or if export to that country becomes impossible due to a trade embargo or emergency situation?"
What type of companies can contact BNP Paribas Fortis for advice?
Frank Haak: "All types! Entrepreneurs are often hesitant to ask for advice. Sometimes they are afraid that it will cost them money. However, the right advice can save them a lot of money in the long run. For example, we recommend a letter of credit or documentary credit to anyone exporting goods to a foreign buyer for the first time. This product is combined with a confirmation by BNP Paribas Fortis to offer the exporter the certainty that it will receive payment when it presents the right documents and to assure the buyer that its goods or services will be delivered correctly."
The consequences of not seeking advice: what can an exporter do in case of non-payment without documentary credit?
Frank Haak: "If you are not receiving payment for your invoices, the counterparty's bank can be contacted in the hope that it advances the payment on the customer's behalf. However, we shouldn't be too optimistic in that respect: the chances of resolving the issue without financial losses are very slim. Once you have left your goods with customs, you usually lose all control over them. Hence the importance of good preparation: listen to and follow the advice of your bank and organisations such as Flanders Investment and Trade (FIT). It will protect you against a whole host of export risks."
BNP Paribas Fortis
- is the number one bank for imports (approx. 40% market share) and exports (approx. 25% market share) in Belgium (according to the statistics of the National Bank of Belgium): it offers advice/financing and can help you to discover new export markets through trade development;
- is proud that Belgium is one of the world's 15 largest export regions and is pleased to give exporters a leg up, for example by sponsoring the Flemish initiative ‘Leeuw van de Export’.
Source: Wereldwijs Magazine
Biolectric is achieving growth with its anaerobic digesters
A young Belgian company that installs biogas facilities on farms is growing fast. Here’s how BNP Paribas Fortis is helping its development.
Biolectric is the epitome of the sustainable do-economy: it manufactures and sells anaerobic digesters, which are installed on farms so as to produce ‘green’ energy based on the biogas released from the farm’s own manure. The green heat and power generated from cow dung make the farm an energy-positive business. No less important is the fact that this approach reduces emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane by up to 70%. The average Biolectric reduces greenhouse gas emission by an equivalent of 2.000 kilometers driven in an modern car.
The company, which started up in 2011 in the East Flanders municipality of Temse as a typical scale-up, nowadays sells anaerobic digesters to farmers all over Europe.
Biolectric is a fast-growing company. In 2019, in order enable further growth, the bank provided the firm with a series of credit facilities, mostly in the form of a ‘sustainable impact loan’.
Tom De Winter is Biolectric’s contact at BNP Paribas Fortis. He tells us: “The bank has been working with Biolectric since the very beginning, but the relationship has become much closer since 2017. In order to obtain a better grasp of their technology, I’ve visited the firm several times with expert from our Sustainable Business Competence Centre. It’s very important to be able to understand and evaluate the firm’s technical proposition. When Biolectric founder Philippe Jans and industrial investment company Ackermans & van Haaren (AvH) came to talk to us last year about the imminent onboarding of the company by AvH, and the subsequent creation of a new low-threshold business segment, namely the construction of a facility with its own anaerobic digesters so as to be able to sell electricity to farmers in Belgium, the Netherlands and France, we knew straight away that we ought to go along with them on the project.”
“We weren’t the only bank in the running, but the client had clearly chosen us. The coordinated approach of BNP Paribas Fortis and our clear policy of backing sustainable solutions played a big part in that decision,” explains Tom De Winter.
As a pioneer, Biolectric has independently developed compact anaerobic digesters, known as ‘pocket digesters’, specifically designed to turn cattle dung into electricity and heat. Today there are over 200 of the company’s installations operating all over the world. This technology provides Biolectric farmers with a very nice economical as well as ecological return on their investment.
In 2019 Ackermans & van Haaren, which is also a BNP Paribas Fortis client, acquired a 60% stake in the company from Taste Invest, with founder Philippe Jans retaining the remaining 40%. AvH brings its professional management experience to Biolectric, thus strongly boosting the firm’s growth potential.
#StrongerTogether Coronavirus government bonds deliver extra €8 billion
The coronavirus crisis prompted the Belgian Treasury to issue additional debt securities. In just a few days, BNP Paribas Fortis and four other Primary Dealers launched a new government bond on the institutional investment market.
Treasury certificates and government bonds (known as OLOs) are an important source of financing for the Belgian State. They offer investors the possibility to lend money to the country in exchange for periodic interest. At the end of December last year, the Treasury assumed it would have to issue debt securities worth €30 billion in 2020. That would happen via an increase in the number of existing bonds, and through two new OLO transactions.
The corona crisis increased the country’s financial needs significantly. So, at the end of March, the Federal Debt Agency decided to issue additional tenders for the OLOs in circulation. It also immediately halted the repurchase of certain bonds, and raised the issuance target for Treasury certificates.
An additional measure was the issue of a third new government bond: OLO91. “This is a medium-term loan,” says Jean Deboutte, director of the Treasury. “The maturation date is 22 October 2027. With a zero-percent coupon, this bond is neutral for our annual budget.
“We wanted to bring OLO91 to market as quickly as possible. That has happened in a period of just a few days. It is also the largest ever OLO issue: €8 billion. We have attracted investors from 31 different countries, and around one-fifth of the volume comes from non-European buyers. That confirms the worldwide popularity of Belgian government bonds.”
The fast launch of OLO91 is in part thanks to BNP Paribas Fortis. “As a Primary Dealer, we take care of the placement and promotion of the bond among institutional investors,” says Director Debt Capital Markets Stefaan Van Langendonck. “We also reinforce activity and generate liquidity of OLOs and treasury certificates on the secondary market.”
Belgium has 12 primary dealers. They drew up a contract with the Treasury based on the Code of Duties. “BNP Paribas Fortis can rightly consider itself one of the most important intermediaries for Belgian bonds,” says Mr Van Langendonck. “Each year, we are invariably among the top three most active Primary Dealers in the country. Often we are number one.”
#StrongerTogether Lasea decontaminates masks using lasers
Lasea conceives precision laser solutions for high-tech industry. Faced with the coronavirus crisis, the Liège enterprise revived an old project to decontaminate surgical masks – and respond to the shortage of face coverings.
The secret weapon of Lasea is the femtosecond laser. This has an accuracy of 0.2 micron, 200 times smaller than a hair. Lasea’s high-tech equipment is notably used in horology, electronics, medicine and pharmaceuticals. Given the shortage of surgical masks, the Liège enterprise revived an old project for decontaminating, as Lasea CEO Axel Kupisiewicz explains.
“We had tested laser decontamination 20 years ago. At the time, the project had no commercial outlets. With the coronavirus crisis, we proposed using it to decontaminate used surgical masks. That’s how we joined a consortium managed by the University of Liège to develop a decontamination chain. Usually, it takes many months, even years, to carry out the tests and obtain certification. Thanks to the collaboration between the university and the Walloon government, everything was done in a few weeks.”
Reinvention thanks to a crisis
Lasea proposed two decontamination techniques. “For the first, we used a laser device manufactured by Aseptic Technologies from Gembloux, which we adapted to meet local needs,” explains Mr Kupisiewicz. “For the second, we have entered into a partnership with Optec, in Mons. This latter solution makes it possible to treat three or four times as many masks each day.”
Lockdown has also generated a new dynamic within the business. “We launched a brainstorming session to refine the strategy for the coming years. The result: a new organisation after the move to our new building, financed by BNP Paribas Fortis. On the other hand, the widespread use of videoconferencing has created a new dynamic at the heart of the company. Previously, the Belgian team, who were gathered physically on site in Liège, were in a way privileged in meetings with their French, American or Swiss colleagues, present via videoconferencing. Now, everyone is on an equal footing because everyone is behind their screen by themselves. It’s one of the interesting aspects of lockdown that has created a global spirit in an international group.”
A relationship of trust
“BNP Paribas Fortis has been by our side since the beginning, 21 years ago,” recalls Mr Kupisiewicz. “First via the local branch in Sart-Tilman and now, for seven years, via Corporate Banking. Given Lasea’s developments, enlargement to several banks was necessary, but BNP Paribas Fortis remains the primary bank. I place huge importance on personal relationships and a climate of trust. Be it the branch manager or staff at Corporate, our relationship managers know our activities and our products. It’s important: they understand the issues we face and as a result they know our financial needs.”
“Since the beginning of the crisis, the bank has asked if we need support to develop this project of decontaminating masks. We have been able to implement these solutions by redeploying our teams and we have not needed a large injection of capital. We have, on the other hand, welcomed the moratorium on repayment of capital on all our investment credits.”