The lender’s two managing directors have plans for major growth – for both their business and the UK SMEs it funds
No one fares well in a pandemic, as we are all too aware, but there is light at the end of the tunnel as UK SMEs seek to overcome their struggles with Covid-19. The funding platform Growth Lending – an accredited provider of the government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) – is forging ahead under two new leaders with outstanding track records: its managing directors, Kristi Oliver and Lauren Couch.
The lending group, which comprises the funders BOOST&Co, GapCap and KX Media Capital, offers invoice financing and working capital solutions, in addition to CBILS loans. The group provides fast, flexible funding to high-growth, innovative businesses, and its wide range of funding options means that it can help businesses that need money to mitigate the immediate impact of Covid-19, as well as companies seeking funding to grow (for example, by taking advantage of the recent resurgence in mergers and acquisitions).
So who are the women leading this charge? Oliver joined Growth Lending in February 2020, moving from her role as BOOST&Co’s first head of working capital. Originally from San Francisco, she spent 15 years with Silicon Valley Bank in the US and the UK, providing banking services and debt to innovative firms of all sizes. Oliver played a key role as the bank’s UK branch expanded from 20 to 250 employees, building its working capital capabilities and a graduate programme, as well as co-leading the development of a change-management team.
Couch, who set up and led BOOST&Co’s Bristol office, completing new business worth £83m in 22 months, moved to Growth Lending in October. During 16 years with RBS, where she started as a law graduate in commercial banking, her roles included head of client relations in London and the south west, head of business development, and director of relationship management with responsibility for the south west’s corporate ABL portfolio, focusing on debt sizes of £10m to £100m.She has extensive experience of mergers and acquisitions, asset-based lending and working capital finance.
Fast, flexible funding in a crisis
Growth Lending, which was founded to support UK SMEs where traditional banks could not, has been lending since 2013, helping fast-growing firms to accelerate their growth by providing flexible funding solutions ranging from £100,000 to £10m in selective invoice finance, invoice finance facilities, trade finance and revolving credit facilities. Backed by institutional capital, it has 30 employees in London, Bristol and Cape Town.
The group began the year with £9m AUM, but expects this to increase to £80m by the end of 2020, and Oliver and Couch aim to make Growth Lending into a £200m business in the next 12 months. Couch describes these plans for growth as “incredibly exciting; the group benefits from huge experience and strong funding lines, as well as a progressive and dynamic approach”. With many firms struggling to counter the effects of Covid-19, whether they need money to survive or to thrive, she believes that Growth Lending’s “fast, flexible funding is needed more than ever before”.
Oliver agrees, noting that the group’s swift growth will benefit innovative businesses across the UK. “We want to help as many firms as possible, and since this crisis began, smaller and alternative lenders like Growth Lending have been able to get cash to companies more quickly than the banks. We also offer a more personal service, and we can lend to loss-making firms, particularly early-stage businesses in exciting sectors that are ready to scale. In this situation, it’s so important to move swiftly, and that’s what Growth Lending is all about.”
Animals, art and the Inca trail
Given that the coronavirus crisis has led many people to rebalance their lives, what do these two busy women enjoy doing in their spare time? Both love travelling, with Oliver having spent six months backpacking around Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and South America before moving to London in 2011. Couch admits that “having a two-year-old has postponed my plans to do the Inca trail for at least 14 years”, but she has not let the pandemic stand in her way: “I count myself very lucky to have gone skiing – and to Berlin and Crete – in 2020,” she says.
Oliver declares herself “passionate about animals”, adding that she has volunteered in animal shelters or conservation programmes everywhere she has lived (“often, I’d rather spend the afternoon with a pup than do anything else”). Couch moved to Bristol seven years ago but enjoys returning to London to indulge her love of art, musicals and sightseeing. “I also exercise every day, so I can eat out as much as possible, and have equally as many cocktails,” she says.
So, let’s raise a glass to the new team leading Growth Lending – not just fulfilling their own ambitious plans for growth, but offering SMEs a range of funding options that could make a valuable contribution to the recovery of the UK’s economy, too.