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How the General Export Facility supported a game-changing project for Circular Group

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When new business, Circular Group, saw an opportunity to pitch for a major project to accelerate its growth journey, HSBC UK’s introduction to UK Export Finance’s (UKEF) General Export Facility provided the support the company needed.

Specialising in the supply of tailored wet processing solutions for sand, aggregates and recycling applications, and with an emphasis on putting customers first, Northern Ireland based Circular Group was launched in March 2020. “A week later, the global pandemic started, so it was a tricky time to start a business,” explains Sean Kerr, co-owner of Circular Group. “But we pushed on and things went well.”

One of the business’ early successes was the opportunity to tender for a large order with one of the UK’s biggest recycling companies. “With a contract value of close to £4m, the project was a game-changer for the business,” says Sean. “At such an early stage, a contract like that could make a huge difference to business growth and investment in our people and our infrastructure.”

Customer-first approach

Up against three established businesses, the tender process eventually saw Circular Group selected as preferred supplier. It was a strong validation of the unique approach the company is taking and what sets it apart, says Sean: “Most other companies in our industry are quite large, but by offering a bespoke, personalised solution, we find we can give customers what they want rather than trying to fit their needs into our existing products and solutions.”

As a new company with a limited trading history, and given the value of the contract, Circular Group’s customer sought security through a financial-backed guarantee that the project would be delivered. “In terms of securing the contract, there were probably three boxes we needed to tick – having the technical solution the customer required, which we did; having the team and the communications to back that up, which we did; and finally, the key was financial security,” says Sean.

Our flexible General Export Facility has been a gamechanger for companies like Circular. The vital working capital they receive from HSBC gives them the certainty they need to secure new business and invest in their exporting potential.

Liz McCrory | UKEF Export Finance manager for Northern Ireland

Supporting growth

With the contract riding on that, Circular Group approached HSBC UK for support. “We’d previously secured a guarantee from HSBC UK for a smaller project and for a smaller amount, which we’d backed with cash, so we were familiar with the process,” says Sean. “However, this was a much higher value. After explaining the significance of the project, they introduced us to UKEF.”

Circular Group’s export sales met the criteria for UKEF’s General Export Facility or GEF. The GEF provides a guarantee to banks like HSBC UK to support UK exporters and help them secure trade finance facilities. Available across trade loans, bonding and letters of credit lines, the GEF can support facilities of up to £25m with a maximum repayment term of five years.

“Our flexible General Export Facility has been a gamechanger for companies like Circular,” commented Liz McCrory, UKEF Export Finance manager for Northern Ireland, who worked with Circular on the deal. “The vital working capital they receive from HSBC gives them the certainty they need to secure new business and invest in their exporting potential.”

Working with HSBC UK and UKEF, Circular Group secured the guarantee and work on the project commenced. “It ticked that final box for our customer and provided the comfort they needed to award us the contract,” says Sean.

Opportunities ahead

Looking ahead, the experience has also given Circular Group insight into how their growth plans can be supported, says Eoin Heron, co-owner of Circular Group. “It was a great learning process to see what kind of platforms and facilities are in place to help businesses that are genuinely working hard and trying to export or offering something that's pretty unique. Support like the General Export Facility puts businesses like ours in a place where they can be serious contenders for large projects. We’ve already been in discussion with HSBC UK and UKEF in terms of future business and other large contracts in different parts of the world.”

As opportunities expand, those discussions will ensure Circular Group is in a strong position to respond quickly, Eoin explains. “We’ve proactively provided HSBC UK with a list of higher probability projects where facilities might be required to ensure that securing the guarantee doesn't become a bottleneck, and we’re also exploring the possibility of having a facility on standby for a certain amount that we can call on if needed.”

Growth potential in North America, Europe and Asia, is in the company’s sights over the long-term, but for now the focus says Eoin is on “maintaining steady growth and quality of service to ensure customer satisfaction”. And the support of both HSBC UK and UKEF looks set to continue to be part of those plans. “Their support and their obvious desire to help us win jobs has been a real positive.”

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