NatWest’s call centres are receiving 25,000 calls a day on financial assistance programmes - a rise of 730 percent - as firms apply in multiple numbers for emergency loans.
The bank’s chief executive told BBC the lender is seeing a huge increase on the typical 3,000 calls a day its agents normally receive.
Alison Rose explained that while some of the business interruption loans, guaranteed largely by the government, were starting to reach businesses, NatWest still faces operational challenges to deliver various financial assistance programmes. All the support initiatives have been launched and in some cases extended within the last fortnight.
She told the broadcaster: “Our call centres normally take 3,000 calls a day; we are now receiving 25,000 which is why I’m redeploying staff, retraining staff and getting people to help.”
She added: “The money is starting to move but I appreciate it is a very desperate situation for a lot of businesses. We are putting funds out as quickly as we physically can to support businesses through this period.”
The recently revamped Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) is now available to more businesses; with eligibility extended to all viable SMEs affected by COVID-19, not just those which had so far been unable to secure finance.
Under changes to the scheme, banks are also banned from requesting personal guarantees on loans under £250,000.
However, it has since emerged that the banks themselves had been lobbying the Treasury extensively, asking for the need to request personal guarantees in the loan criteria, to be removed.
Although the Treasury made a point of banning banks from seeking the guarantees, Stephen Jones, chief executive of UK Finance, said: “The changes to the plan were changes we asked for very strongly, having had a week of experience of mobilising this scheme at very short notice.
“This change is extremely welcome and it means that banks will not be forced to make very unenviable assessments in terms of who cannot or can access the scheme in terms of viable businesses out there."
The government will continue to cover the first 12 months of interest and fees on the interruption loans.
UK Finance would not comment on reports in City AM (April 8) that the scheme had reached just 2,022 UK firms.
UK Finance did not provide the figure and the trade body said City AM’s estimated approval rate, which compared total enquiries with total loans provided, was not statistically valid because many enquiries are not actual applications.
A UK Finance spokesperson said: “On top of the significant commercial lending being made available to help SMEs, tens of millions of pounds are being provided to businesses each day through CBILS and with no interest or fees to pay for the first year of a CBILS loan.
“Lenders have been working closely with the government and British Business bank since implementation to ensure the scheme can operate in the best way possible to get money to viable businesses that need it.”