The UK's alternative finance sector is booming. Recent figures from the Cambridge Centre for Alternative Finance and Nesta show that the sector grew by 84% in 2015, to an impressive £3.2bn. Commentators have clamoured to try to explain the industry's growth.
While many discussed alternative finance's gradual move to the mainstream, buoyed by traditional financial services' backing, I think there is a more simplistic answer.
Businesses and individuals are waking up to the reality that alternative finance can provide the answers to some of the oldest problems facing SMEs.
"UK SMEs owed over £500bn in unpaid invoices"
A fitting example came at the start of this year. In January, Lloyds Banking Group published research stating that UK SMEs are owed over £500bn in unpaid invoices. Half a trillion pounds in late payments is crippling the SME economy. In this kind of business landscape, it's little wonder that small businesses are continually searching for new methods of finance.
A business' obvious choice for lending is to turn to the most recognisable source of finance - their bank.
The rise of alternative finance is shifting the landscape. Through sophistication in financial technology, alternative finance has added a completely new avenue for SMEs to source funding.
There is now a plethora of peer-to-peer lending solutions that give firms a much wider choice. Coupled with the increasing online presence of traditional and independent finance institutions, small businesses have a huge selection of funding available to them.
So why is everyone still complaining about SME finance? The challenge is no longer the range of options in the marketplace. It is about the search for the right solution.
Currently, the majority of businesses spend only one hour looking for finance online, with 71 percent applying to just a single lender, according to the BDRC SME Finance Monitor.
"SMEs making ill-informed decisions about their financial future"
In an age where we use technology to compare products in almost every other walk of life, from car loans to electric juicers, this truly baffles me. SMEs are making ill-informed decisions about their financial future.
SMEs should be exploiting this lending expansion and increasing maturity in the alternative finance sector, making use of the full range of tools at their disposal. Emerging behind the wave of alternative finance platforms, businesses can use comparison marketplaces, such as Capitalise.com, to find suitable lenders that are matched to their borrowing criteria.
"It's now possible to search and compare lenders"
It is now possible to search and compare lenders to find relevant and competitive finance options. With lenders specialising by industry, product and even location, there are many choices. Being able to cut through the ever-complex lending market in the UK helps small companies to access finance and grow their business.
It will, almost certainly, take time for businesses to grasp the full scale of this opportunity. The alternative finance industry stats, however, show that the market is wising up at a rate that will make the financial landscape unrecognisable in 20, ten, or even five years.
It's time for more SMEs to look beyond traditional and high street finance options to unlock their potential. It's time they embraced alternative finance for the catalyst it is; a catalyst for change the likes of which this sector has not seen for a very long time.