'Improvement' in lending to firms
Almost two-thirds of small businesses seeking bank finance in Northern Ireland were successful, it has been revealed.
Local traders found it easier to access money over the last three years as lenders improved services despite difficult trading conditions, a lobby group for shopkeepers said.
Almost half of those asked rated the performance of banks as good or excellent.
Grocers, chemists and butchers were among businesses from across Northern Ireland surveyed to help inform an inquiry by an influential group of MPs later this year.
Retail expert Glyn Roberts said: "Overall it appears from our survey of independent retailers the banking sector is making progress in service provision."
The number of shoppers in Northern Ireland last month was 3% higher than a year ago, large retailers have said, with sweltering temperatures contributing to the recovery.
Stormont's Executive has a range of measures designed to encourage banks to lend to businesses hoping to expand and kick-start economic growth.
Mr Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA), said 65% of those who sought finance within the last three years were successful in accessing it, which suggested an improving trend given difficult trading conditions in the last year.
"However banks still have some way to go in this area as 35% were turned down for finance," he added, saying he hoped for improvement next year.
The survey of 100 members of the trade association will form part of a submission to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster which is investigating banking.
Other results showed 64% of those surveyed had an overdraft, with a third unhappy and claiming their bank had unilaterally changed the conditions, causing a negative impact of their businesses.
The research said 62% of those surveyed had a company credit card, with only 3% alleging that their bank had altered the contract to the detriment of their companies.
Mr Roberts was keen to see how the recent closure of branches had affected the number of shoppers and spending patterns. While 76% said there has been no impact, 24% said they have been affected. Rural members especially expressed concern at the greater distances they had to travel to lodge money.
The chief executive said: "Along with the lord mayor of Belfast, we are pressing banks to adopt a vacancy strategy to tackle this issue and to examine options for alternative use for empty buildings."
In total, 42% rated the service from their bank as good or excellent, 38% average and 20% below average or poor.
Mr Roberts added: "The banking sector overall will be happy with this figure and it demonstrates that they have responded to pressure from our members and Government to improve."
He added: "Banks have a key role to play in investing for recovery and need to learn from their past mistakes and look towards the future."