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  1. Spotlight on Policy
7 November 2019updated 09 Sep 2021 3:59pm

Introducing the virtual CFO

Demystifying the search for small business funding will be key to the success of UK plc.

By Andrea Reynolds

Time is money. No truer is this adage than for small businesses and sole traders. And against the backdrop of widespread digitisation, with more and more businesses and services making the move online, companies of all sizes are facing a pressure to adapt. But the idea that each and every company should employ a chief financial officer charged with securing and managing cash flow, so that the rest of their employees can focus on modernising products, or sourcing new customers, is a bit unrealistic, isn’t it?

Swoop, a cloud-based digital platform designed to identify, filter, cross-compare and complete various aspects of a company’s operation, aims to give small businesses more control over their finances. Think of it as a sort of virtual CFO – one that doesn’t require the hefty yearly salary to employ.

Leveraging a combination of artificial intelligence, algorithmic search technology and data science, Swoop has been put together by a team of finance experts with decades of combined experience.

Often the task of securing funding can involve multiple trips down internet rabbit holes to no avail. Navigating their way through enduring uncertainty about eligibility, inputting the same data but in different formats for banks and grant agencies, with no guarantee of a successful outcome at the end of the process, contribute to an ongoing administrative headache for too many small businesses in the 21st century.  

By hooking directly into firms’ data sources, such as their income and outgoing expenses, Swoop can streamline the usually arduous process of looking for the right funding – whether that’s someone’s first £5,000 or their next £50,000 to help with international expansion.
Put simply: Swoop puts in the hard yards online so that small businesses don’t have to.

And rather than potentially waiting weeks for an external accountant to prepare financial statements to support a loan application, for example, Swoop can do it in real time by integrating all of a company’s finance-related software, bank accounts and Companies House information with its platform. Swoop also offers savings advice by analysing companies’ expenditure on their utilities, banking and broadband, and suggesting alternative providers.

Small businesses represent the backbone of the United Kingdom’s economy. Government initiatives such as the British Business Bank or the HMRC plans to make tax digital are welcome, but they can only be as effective as people are aware of them. More work needs to be done to demystify financial technology so that small businesses view it as an enabler, rather than an obstacle.

At Swoop, we understand that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to supporting small businesses, and that various stages of companies’ life cycles will require different types of funding. Currently, there are too many inefficiencies both in the process it takes for SMEs to reach the funding they need and in how the government advertises their availability.

Third-party platforms such as ours can help to bridge the gap between the private and public sector, and the government should consider listing more of its loans and grants against them from the onset, to make our streamlined process even faster. Not every company can afford to invest in a huge dedicated finance department or six-figure CFO, but if fintech is rolled out more widely, that might not be seen as much of a problem at all.

Andrea Reynolds is chief executive officer and founder of Swoop.

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