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    The SME Observatory of the Belgian Federal Public Service Economy is delighted to have brought together a diverse group of experts in SME finance during our event “Access to Finance for SMEs: Assessment and Perspectives”, held on 13 March 2024 during the Belgian Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

    The event, which was moderated by Karen Boers and Bruno Wattenbergh, guided us through five compelling panel debates, delving into various aspects of SME financing. This gathering aimed to foster an open and inclusive dialogue among entrepreneurs, institutional and financial stakeholders, academics, and SME representatives.

    Our objective was to delve into innovative solutions addressing challenges across the entire spectrum of SMEs, from self-employed individuals to start-ups and scale-ups.

    On this page, you can rewatch the discussions and dive deeper into those topics.

    Aftermovie (Youtube)

    High Level Opening

    The event was opened by Belgian Deputy Prime Minister David Clarinval, followed by a keynote speech by Oscar Arce, Director-General of the ECB's Directorate-General for Economic Affairs. Both emphasized the crucial role of SMEs and underlined the need for solutions to the current and future challenges of SMEs.

    High level opening (Youtube)

    The outlook for the euro area economy and some insights on SMEs (PDF, 638.63 KB) by Oscar Arce, Director General DG Economics

    Given that the event revolved around the theme of access to finance, it presented the perfect opportunity to publicly unveil the 2024 edition of the OECD SME Finance Scoreboard. Before moving to the first panel, Mrs. Kamal-Chaoui, Director of the OECD Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Regions and Cities, delivered a brief presentation on the various trends across Europe, encompassing areas such as debt and equity finance, late payments, and a specialized thematic chapter focusing on sustainable finance for SMEs.

    Financing SMEs and entrepreneurs 2024: an OECD scoreboard (Youtube)

    Financing SMEs and entrepreneurs 2024: an OECD scoreboard (PDF, 1.55 MB) by Lamia Kamal-Chaoui Director, OECD Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Regions and Cities

    Panel 1 - Starters, start-ups en scale-ups: Bridging the gap between diverse funding needs and availability

    The first discussion panel focused on the stages of starters, start-ups and scale- ups and their diverse set of financing needs. The goal of the plenary was to assess the difficulties that may affect the SME demand for financing, the diversity of financial solutions and the possible tensions between supply and demand in the economic context of 2024 and beyond. Apart from a short introduction to transition finance, particular emphasis was given to examining the financing disparity among male and female entrepreneurs.

    Panel members: 

    • Astrid Bartels, Head of Unit Access to Finance, European Commission
    • Sébastien de Brouwer, Deputy Chief Executive Officer, European Banking Federation,
    • Sophie Manigart, Partner and Full Professor Corporate Finance, Vlerick and Ghent University
    • Jean-Pierre Di Bartolomeo, Executive Director, Wallonie Entreprendre

    Watch the Video of Panel 1 (Youtube) 

    Panel 2 - How to act against late payments and their impact on SMEs?

    This panel focused on the issue of late payments. During the session, details of the Late Payment Regulation, proposed in the SME Relief Package, were analysed. In addition to the regulatory aspects, the debate has shed light on various non-legislative measures meant at alleviating the effects of late payments, encompassing:

    • the European observatory on late payments,
    • financial instruments,
    • e-invoicing, and
    • alternative dispute resolution, including mediation.

    This discussion sought practical insights to address the consequences of delayed payments on SMEs.

    Panel members:

    • Antonella Correra, Legal and Policy Officer, European Commission
    • Cinzia Alcidi, Senior Research Fellow, Head of the Economic Policy and Jobs & Skills Unit, CEPS
    • Rafaël Jafferali, Partner, Simont Braun and Professor, Université libre de Bruxelles
    • Véronique Willems,  Secretary General, SMEUnited

    Watch the Video of Panel 2 (Youtube)

    Panel 3 - How can insolvency rules be improved to facilitate access to finance?

    This session explored the dynamic between insolvency rules, the harmonization of those insolvency rules and the effects of those topics on SME financing. The panel discussion was about European insolvency frameworks and the dynamic those regulations can have on SMEs, but also more broadly about the repercussions those rules can generate on several aspects of the economy. Antecedent insolvency harmonization attempts and issues were discussed, before focusing on the recent proposal for a Directive harmonizing aspects of European insolvency law and the challenges that may bring, in particular on SME financing.

    Panel members:

    • Cedric Alter, Partner at Janson and Professor at Solvay Brussels School of Economics and Management.
    • Arie Van Hoe, Executive Manager, Verbond van Belgische Ondernemingen – Fédération des Entreprises de Belgique
    • Andreas Kappeler, Senior Economic and Policy Analyst, European Commission
    • Ondrej Vondracek, Legal and Policy Officer, European Commission

    Watch the Video of Panel 3 (Youtube)

    Parallel panel A: Enhancing the intellectual property of SMEs to facilitate their access to finance

    In the contemporary knowledge-based economy, the significance of intangible assets has significantly risen in recent decades. Nevertheless, certain SMEs, particularly scale-ups, encounter challenges in leveraging their intangibles as collateral to enhance their operations. This conversation centred on the assessment of intellectual property (IP) for SMEs and its potential utilization as leverage for financial access.

    Panel members

    • Sophia Zakari, Director Enterprise Policy and Legal Affairs, SMEUnited
    • Alain Strowel, Senior Partner at Pierstone and Professor at UCLouvain
    • Guy Pessach, Director IP for Business Division, IP and Innovation Ecosystems Sector, World Intellectual Property Organization
    • Lally Rementilla, Managing Partner, IP-Backed Financing, Business Development Bank of Canada

    Watch the Video of Parallel panel A (Youtube)

    Parallel panel B: Sustainable finance and ESG reporting for SMEs

    The panel explored the role and potential of ESG reporting for SME financing, highlighting the importance of benchmarking systems and standardized frameworks for ESG reporting verification (Environment, Society and Governance). Speakers acknowledged that creditors are increasingly demanding statistics relating to the sustainability of corporate activity.

    That rise in non-financial reporting is driven by the emergence of new European Directives such as the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD). In that context, the harmonization of ESG assessments poses difficulties, but could be facilitated by the use of technology, such as AI, to simplify and streamline ESG reporting and make it more accessible to SMEs. The importance of making information generally accessible for SMEs to make their day-to-day activities more sustainable was highlighted, with initiatives such as online courses and standardized questionnaires aimed at reducing the administrative burden of non-financial reporting.

    Suggestions were made for encouraging sustainable financing, including tax incentives and aligning banking standards with sustainability objectives. Concerns about reliance on third parties and the potential misuse of ESG reports were also addressed, with the solution being to build trust and partnerships between the different stakeholders. It was concluded that ESG assessments and reports could be of great use for SME financing, and that SMEs and entrepreneurs are of crucial importance in achieving climate goals.

    Panel members:

    • Hilde Rutten, Chief Executive Officer, BergHOFF Belgium
    • Alexander Stevens, Chief Executive Officer, Greenomy
    • Karel Baert, Chief Executive Officer, Febelfin
    • Burçak İnel, Director of Financing Sustainable Growth, European Banking Federation

    Watch the video of Parallel Panel B (Youtube)

    Closing session

    During the concluding session, Luciana Tomozei Schwandt stressed the importance of SMEs in the ongoing and upcoming challenges, where access to finance plays a crucial role and how the European Investment Bank (EIB) fulfils her role in that.

    Finally, André Sapir presented his vision on the state of progress of the European Union, while urging European decision-makers to strengthen the Capital Markets Union and, more broadly, to consolidate the Internal Market. That approach aims to foster economic integration and competitiveness within the EU.

    Watch the video of the closing session (Youtube)

    Download the proceedings of the event (PDF, 2.85 MB)

    Last update
    15 April 2024