12 March 2023

Scramble to secure Silicon Valley Bank UK takeover amid fears for tech firms hit

12 March 2023

A number of potential buyers are circling the failed lender Silicon Valley Bank UK.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said the Government was “working at pace” on a plan to prevent affected businesses from going bust, which could involve an emergency private takeover deal.

A survey of 31 venture capital funds, which hold thousands of investments in UK tech and science firms, found that 34% of their portfolio companies – amounting to 336 – have accounts with bank.

More than 200 of those now face short or long-term cashflow risk, according to the data from BVCA – the industry body representing venture capital investors.

Around £2.5 billion of capital from these firms is locked in the lender.

Many other businesses are feared to be affected with the Times newspaper reporting that more than 3,000 firms have around £7 billion in deposits with with the UK subsidiary.

California-based parent company Silicon Valley Bank imploded and had its assets seized by US regulators on Friday – the largest failure of a bank since the 2008 financial crisis.

The Bank of England subsequently ordered its UK subsidiary into insolvency from Sunday night.

Banking giants HSBC and JP Morgan were among several parties exploring buying the bank’s British operations, Sky News reported. Both declined to comment.

Oaknorth Bank, a business lender founded by former Tory donor Rishi Khosla, was also in takeover talks, the PA news agency understands.

We cannot let the British start-up community pay the price for this bank failure, because it will be the British economy then that ultimately pays the price

There was also interest from The Bank of London and Abu Dhabi state-backed investment vehicle ADQ, according to Sky.

Discussions were understood to be going on into the evening as officials scrambled to find a buyer before the insolvency deadline.

Mr Hunt warned the tech and science sectors were at “serious risk”, but said there was is no risk to the UK’s financial system as a whole.

He said the Government and Bank of England were also was looking for ways to extend a temporary cash lifeline to firms affected by the collapse of the bank, a lender to “some of our most promising and exciting businesses”.

Speaking on Sunday morning political broadcast shows, he said: “The Prime Minister and I and the Governor of the Bank of England are absolutely determined to do everything we can to protect the future of these very, very important companies.

“We want to find a way that minimises or, if we possibly can, avoids all losses to those incredibly promising companies.

“What we will do is bring forward very quickly a plan to make sure that they can meet their operational cashflow requirements.”

The Chancellor declined to say whether the Government will guarantee 100% of companies’ deposits.

Only £85,000 of individual clients’ deposits will be protected through the UK’s deposit insurance scheme, meaning many faced major losses without Government intervention.

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves stressed the urgency of the situation, noting that when markets open on Monday many companies will not know whether they can pay staff or suppliers.

She said: “We need tomorrow morning to hear from the Government how they are going to protect them. Whether that is guaranteed, whether that is working with the US government on a rescue for Silicon Valley Bank, there are different answers to this problem.

“We cannot let the British start-up community pay the price for this bank failure, because it will be the British economy then that ultimately pays the price.

“I would urge the Government to do more than offer warm words, but come forward with specific plans.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, speaking to reporters accompanying him to the US, said the Government recognises the “anxiety and the concerns customers of the bank have” and is “making sure we can work to find a solution that secures people’s operational liquidity and cashflow needs”.

He reiterated that there is no “systemic contagion risk”, as he declined to “get into speculating” when pressed on whether an emergency scheme to cover deposits is being considered.

The Prime Minister, who was kept updated by the Chancellor on the situation throughout his flight to San Diego, backed the Bank of England Governor, saying “yes” when asked if Andrew Bailey is overseeing a robust regulatory environment for UK banks.

Tech industry representatives were summoned for an emergency roundtable with Secretary to the Treasury Andrew Griffith on Saturday.

BVCA director general Michael Moore said: “The immediate implications for the tech and wider private capital ecosystem are far reaching. This is about many highly skilled jobs.”

Silicon Valley Bank was put under US government control on Friday after being hit by a capital crisis and a bank run.

US Treasury secretary Janet Yellen said she was working with regulators to protect US depositors, but ruled out a major bailout.

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