NatWest boss: City moneymen failing women who want to start businesses

NatWest boss warns that City investors ‘letting down a generation’ of female entrepreneurs by failing to stump up cash to get their firms off the ground

The boss of NatWest has warned that City investors are ‘letting down a generation’ of female entrepreneurs by failing to stump up the cash to get their firms off the ground. 

Alison Rose, who became the first female chief executive of a big UK bank in 2019, said that access to funding was the ‘number one barrier’ holding back female entrepreneurs in Britain. 

Research shows companies founded by women receive just 1p in every £1 of venture capital invested in the UK. 

Concern: Alison Rose said that access to funding was the ‘number one barrier’ holding back female entrepreneurs in Britain

Rose told The Mail on Sunday: ‘Venture capital is meant to invest in businesses of the future and I know therefore that encouraging the investment community to support the UK’s female entrepreneurs and founders will make a real difference. Access to finance is the single biggest opportunity and number one barrier that we need to break down.’ 

Rose has already taken action at NatWest to bridge the gap. The MoS understands NatWest’s private banking arm, Coutts, is close to raising £40million from wealthy clients to support female-led firms. 

Coutts, which counts the Queen as a customer, is planning further fundraisings through its UK Enterprise Fund, which it set up in partnership with BGF, an investment company that manages £2.5billion. 

A flood of companies have been launched during the pandemic by people who have lost their jobs or decided on a career change. According to the Centre for Entrepreneurs think-tank, a record 772,002 businesses were started last year. 

However, concerns are mounting that too many start-ups are relying on loans to fuel their growth instead of raising capital from investors. 

Companies have taken on cheap debt as a result of record-low interest rates. But highly indebted firms are more at risk of collapsing if money gets tight, and refinancing can be costly once debt expires. 

Many small companies have also turned to emergency Government schemes during the crisis, including ‘bounce back’ loans worth up to £50,000 each. About £46.5billion of bounce back loans was borrowed, leaving taxpayers on the hook in the event of a company defaulting. 

Rose warned that growing businesses will need equity funding by deep-pocketed investors if they are to survive – and thrive – beyond the pandemic. She said: ‘Lots of small and medium-sized businesses are relying on debt to get them through the current crisis. 

‘That may be necessary in the short term, but in the long term, growth economy companies need other options besides loans – options such as equity funding. Successful growth requires the right capital structure. If we can’t get the funding structure right for the growth economy, we will let down a generation of entrepreneurs.’

Rose was commissioned by the Government to review the state of female entrepreneurship in Britain. In her 2019 Rose review, she found that £250billion could be added to the UK economy if women started and grew new businesses at the same rate as men. 

In an update by NatWest in April, the bank said nearly three-quarters of female business owners found managing their business in the pandemic stressful, compared with 55 per cent of male entrepreneurs. 

The Rose review also found women are significantly less aware of start-up funding options than men, so are more likely to rely on bank loans, credit cards, or family and friends. Despite the stark figures, a series of initiatives to support women in business have been launched in the City of London. 


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