Part-nationalised Royal Bank of Scotland today said it could struggle to meet business lending goals this year as worried firms look to clear debts.
RBS - 70 per cent owned by the taxpayer - has agreed to make an extra £25 billion available to businesses and homeowners as a condition of state support.
The NatWest owner has boosted mortgage loans but fewer banks have withdrawn from business lending and a gap in the market has not emerged, chief executive Stephen Hester said.
The bank’s comments come after Bank of England figures this week showed a £14.7 billion fall in loans to businesses between April and June.
Mr Hester said RBS was “open for business”, but added: “Just as we have lent money, a lot of people have paid us back.”
While the firm made £28.6 billion in gross loans to business during the first half, net lending was down £7.3 billion because customers paid back more.
The firm is also facing the challenge of finding enough creditworthy borrowers ready to take on debt when their own business prospects and customer demand is weaker.
Total UK business lending fell 4 per cent to £155.1 billion during the first half of the year, the bank’s results showed.
Loan applications from small business were down 37 per cent, although the bank still made 100,000 business loans with an 85 per cent acceptance rate among smaller firms.
But Mr Hester added: “Demand has been comparatively muted, with companies cutting inventories and expansion plans and reducing their bank borrowing requirements.
“In the absence of a more general recovery in borrowing appetite the targets will remain challenging.”
Despite claims that banks were stinging customers with increased charges, RBS added that average interest rates on loans were at half the level of a year earlier, while 94 per cent of customers who renewed overdrafts did so at the same margin or lower.
RBS currently has between 20-30 per cent of the UK small business banking market, but could also face calls from the European Union to shrink its franchise to gain state aid approval. The bank is in talks to prevent disruption to customers.