Who is checking your financial information ?

Information is a powerful tool and the information super-highway, aka world wide web, is having to face up to a number of challenges as its usage grows.

There are issues surrounding social media use and abuse in particular. But it’s not just a matter of social etiquette and personal privacy. How accurate is the information provided? And who is checking? There is no doubt that the internet is an amazing source of information about all sorts of topics and, as such, has transformed most people’s lives. Within a moment or two of wondering what the facts are about a subject, we can ‘google’ it and, in a few clicks, have the knowledge.

The problem is that if anyone can publish anything, how can we trust what we are reading? With a source like Wikipedia people with different perspectives may challenge and amend what is there, but what of the business world?

Certainly speaking personally the new problem that is emerging in my area of work – access to loan finance for small businesses unable to fully meet their requirements from other sources – is summed up in a couple of questions: 1. Who is keeping the web information up to date? 2. Is it reliable and fully informed?

There used to be a number of mainly public-sector-supported national and local websites to point potential applicants and their advisers in the right direction. Nearly all are no more. New sites are either ‘under construction’ or a ‘work in progress’, but regrettably at the moment they are not truly ‘fit for purpose’. They will need considerably more input.

The Google approach on its own can also prove misleading, because I can see that many of the sources or articles on the first page and onwards are either well out of date or are dominated by paid-for results, which leaves Wonga and other high cost lenders well in front of the game. In our own case, as we develop and change our terms and conditions according to the funding we have available, I have become aware of how hard it is to keep a track of every online listing there is which mentions our previous terms and conditions.

A classic example of this issue which I recently came across is a scheme that finished three years ago still being promoted on a ‘sources of finance’ site! In order to help, people most frequently think of setting up new information ‘hubs’ rather than adding to, or signposting to, existing sites. The problem here is that it not only takes time and money to make businesses aware of new sites, the different options have the potential to offer conflicting or different information.

All this makes it harder for small businesses to access the information – and money – they really need. It seems we are reaching a situation in which information is actually getting in the way, rather than supporting, the matching of available funds to needy businesses.

The time is certainly ripe for some fresh thinking. Now that would be a constructive challenge for the British Bankers Association, which just happens to have launched www.businessfinanceforyou.co.uk. If they could get everyone offering support for the small business sector to input to and update their site that would truly be a deserving cause that would support small businesses and the UK’s economy.

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