Re-interpretation of the concept of Financial Gap.
In current literature, the problem of financing small businesses is often explained in connection with the concept of Financial Gap. Generally speaking, this concept indicates that the existence of asymmetric information between the two parties that is, the owners of small businesses and financial institutions is a cause to loan denials.

By applying an Ethnomethodological research perspective, this paper attempts to reinterpret the Financial Gap. By adopting this perspective, the aim is to contribute to the understanding of the Financial Gap through the analysis of the concepts used by each party in explaining the financial situations. We combined a set of data collected by in-depth interviews with the data collected by questionnaires. The idea was to capture the concepts by which the two parties interpret the Financial Gap in depth and width. The study concludes that causes to the rise of the Financial Gap have linguistic explanations. It arises from the two parties' use of different styles of language. The owners of small businesses often apply vocabularies that are compatible with the everyday activities of running the business. In contrast to this, financial institutions, like banking industries, expect that the owners of small businesses support their informational needs by rational models and formal vocabularies related to the basis of accounting that are used by big industries. The differences in styles of language become visible when the two parties, in a dissimilar way, treat ambiguities, address possibilities and constraints, present risks as well as deal with information needed for decision-making.

Keywords: Financial gap, Ethnomethodological perspective, Language differences

Article Type:
Decision-making (Usage)
Small business (Sweden)
Small business (Economic aspects)
Pashang, Hossein
Johansson, Anna
Waldemar, Petra
Nolander, Marie
Pub Date:
Name: European Journal of Management Publisher: International Academy of Business and Economics Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Business, international Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 International Academy of Business and Economics ISSN: 1555-4015
Date: May, 2010 Source Volume: 10 Source Issue: 2
Computer Subject: Small business; SOHO
Product Code: 9970000 Small Business
Geographic Scope: Sweden Geographic Code: 4EUSW Sweden
Accession Number:
Full Text:

Swedish research has repeatedly acknowledged the vital role of small businesses for the improvement of welfare society. A statistical study from year 2009 shows that 99% of all companies in Sweden are small businesses and that the welfare society is more than before dependent on the success of these businesses (Tillvaxtverket, 2009). Furthermore, it was shown that a region having a large numbers of small firms is experiencing a more dynamic industrial environment and healthier community life (Davidsson, Lindmark and Olofsson, 1994). According to Olofsson (the Minister for Enterprise and Energy in Sweden) small and medium sized companies are the key to future growth and success (Regeringskansliet, 2009). However, the critical factor for these businesses to exist and grow is the availability of funds to finance their operations.

According to Landstrom (2003), the most common source of funding the Swedish small firms is bank loan. This means that the availability of bank financing is an essential factor for the survival of the small businesses. A recent governmental study shows that 31% of all small companies claim that they have problems of obtaining a bank loan (Konjunkturinstitutet, 2009). In Swedish studies, the difficulties in obtaining external finance are often termed under the umbrella concept of "Financial Gap". Generally speaking the concept of Financial Gap indicates that there exists the state of "asymmetric information" between the owners of small businesses and financial institutions. In most cases, the term asymmetric information was related to the failure of small businesses to prepare financial information in accordance with what is usually prepared for the context of big businesses (Landstrom 2003).

It seems like that the previous researchers have examined the Financial Gap, mainly from the perspective of economic theory and market information, where the concept of asymmetric information originates. Arguably, the benchmark used for the evaluation of information produced for the context of small businesses can be questioned. This study will reduce the pre understanding effect of economic theory on the construction of Financial Gap. We, therefore, employ a different approach to re-interpret the Financial Gap. In so doing we examine the Financial Gap as a relational concept, for instance, as a phenomenon that needs re-interpretation in regards with the new situations, actors, and contexts. In re-interpretation of Financial Gap we will replace the promises of economic theory with the actors' vocabulary. It is more sensible that Financial Gap to be examined by engaging the standpoints of at least two parties, the financial industries and the small businesses. By engaging the actors--those who experience the Financial Gap--in the process of interpretation, we will reduce the theoretical effect of economic reasoning that was repeatedly involved to determine the Financial Gap (see Bruns 2001; Landstrom 2003). The strategy of engaging the two parties as actors tend to result in the presentation of the Financial Gap as a relational concept.

Of course, the existence of the gap between small firms and banks lead to unfavourable situations for both parties; on the one hand, the small businesses experience constraints to develop and survive, on the other hand, banks are restricted from engaging in profitable business in their surrounding communities. On the other side, it is necessary to investigate that to which extent the Financial Gap is structured by theoretical emphasis without engaging the actors in the process of interpretation. The problem of the study is further specified by addressing the following questions:

1. How is the Financial Gap described by the owners of small businesses?

2. How is the Financial Gap of small businesses described by banking industries?

3. Considering the two parties different ways of interpretation, in which way can the Financial Gap be redefined?


Perhaps the first study that showed concern for the existence of the Financial Gap dates back to the 1930's, when the concept of "MacMillan Gap" was introduced into the research context. This concept was invented by MacMillan to indicate that small businesses are experiencing difficulties in obtaining external capital even though securities for the loan are guaranteed (Stanworth & Gray, 1991). Bolton (1971) builds further on MacMillan's findings and emphasize that the difficulties for small businesses to rais external funding is related to the problem of knowledge. Later in time, Bruns (2001) argues that deficient external accounting information and failure in providing internal accounting information are reasons for why banks deny credit to small businesses. The Swedish researchers have often interpreted the Financial Gap as an information gap. For example, Landstrom (2003) claims that asymmetric information between the two parties is the cause to the rise of Financial Gap.

Recent Swedish experience, however, showed that banking institutions have difficulties to match their credit with the risk of business. For example, the bank fund exposure of big and middle size companies operating within the building constructions has caused 90% of the credit losses for two decades ago (Paulsson 2002). One of the big advantages of the small businesses is their ability to quickly adapt to the changing environment. This is because they normally have less bureaucracy than larger firms (Pettit & Singer, 1985) and the relative cost of credit lost is lower. The owner and manager of small firms is often the same person and this affects the level responsibility contributing to the survival of the company (Demsetz, 1983). Furthermore, the owner is involved in every aspect of the day-to-day operations; they are engaged in all levels of decision-making simultaneously which reduces the cost of management control (Demsetz, 1983). Decision-making in small businesses is conducted in an informal manner. Rice and Hamilton (1979) emphasize on the social perspective of decision-making and view the decision process as an "open system" where the decision makers seek satisfactory solutions rather than optimal solutions based on alternative choice-making. Rice and Hamilton (1979) explain that the small business owner does not have a system for filtering the information and will thus experience unorganized noise. Small businesses do not expend their money on developing advanced management accounting systems. A favourable aspect is that the information they use is not rationalized by management accounting system and it contains ambiguity and contingencies which is a natural part of operational activities and actions. The owners and managers of small businesses revealed that most of their decisions were results from their intuition, experience and guesswork, which indicate that there is no formal decision-making process carried out in small businesses (Rice & Hamilton, 1979).

Regarding uncertainty, small businesses seem to accept uncertainty in a larger extent than big businesses. Here, we need to make a distinction between the concept of risk and uncertainty; risk refers to situation that the use of calculation helps individuals to control that situation rationally, while uncertainty refers to situation that calculation cannot be used, and thus, the situation is not fully under the control of individuals. Davidsson (1992) argues that owners of small businesses are not less risk averse than others, but instead are more willing to accept uncertainty. Additionally, Davidsson (1992) means that small business owners underestimate risk, since they do not use calculation to support their assessments.

A study done by Binks (1992) has shown that it is costly for banks to collect a satisfying amount of information from small businesses, and therefore it becomes difficult to assess their risk. Normally, banks apply a formal decision-making process to assess the risk of businesses. The process of risk assessment consists of information collection, information procession, information analysis, decision and a continuous follow-up of the credit worthiness of the firm (Murray, 1959, cited in Svensson, 2003). Assessment of the businesses' credit worthiness consists of a judgment about the businesses' future income and repayment ability as well as a security judgment (Svensson, 2003). Under transactions-based lending, the lending decisions are based on "hard" data, such as data from financial statements, information about the quality of the available collateral and data about historical numbers (Berger & Udell, 2002). Hence, decisions under this type of lending require detailed and quantifiable information (Jankowicz & Hisrich, 1987). According to Svensson (2003), accounting information constitutes an important basis for the financial institution's assessment of the credit worthiness of a business. Furthermore, Bruns (2001) has found that deficient accounting information is a common reason for the denial of loans. Bruns (2001) further identified that banks believe that a business that does not base its decisions on internal or external accounting information is acting unprofessionally. Accounting information is required as a basis for the banks' forecasts in order to reduce the risk of providing funds as well as to ease their inspection and control of the business (Svensson, 2003). In provision of credits and rate of interest, banks compare the accounting information of one business with the accounting information of another business. Yet, Svensson (2003) found a tendency that the importance of accounting information decreases as the firm creates a strong relationship with the bank. Banks that adopt relationship-lending strategy base their credit decisions on "soft" data, such as information about the character and reliability of the firm's owner (Berger & Udell, 2002). This information is gathered through regular contacts with the firm over time. Berger & Udell (2002) further argue that relationship-lending can help to reduce the information gap of small firm finance. As a result, relationship-lending is of great importance for reducing the information gap between small businesses and banks (Berger & Udell, 2002).


In order to understand how small businesses and banks express the Financial Gap, there is a need to come closer to both parties. In other terms, it is better to allow that the two parties engage themselves in explaining the financial situations that they encounter. The method used here to reach this purpose is called Ethnomethodology. Ethnomethodology was developed by Garfinkel as a distinctive research method, and, from a sociological viewpoint. The concept of ethno refers to a particular group of people who work as a network, while methodology refers to that particular group's everyday practices as well as the descriptions of these practices. According to Garfinkel, it must be true that "members" of a specific society have some shared methods for achieving social orders and to understand social situations. (Rawls, 2002). The social orders of a group or network is reflected in the language they use in communication (Blumer 1969). In essence, the term Ethnomethodology implicates an inductive approach, which is said to be a systematic study of everyday life that seeks to understand and describe rather than explain. Coulon (1995) phrases Garfinkel's view of Ethnomethodology as;

'...the analysis of the ordinary methods that ordinary people use to realize their ordinary actions.' (Coulon, 1995, p. 2)

Ethnomethodology is a method for exploring the nature of the interactions between the people, the way they create and perceive society. Furthermore, it helps analyzing the different methods people use for accomplish their daily matters. Therefore, the studies performed under this perspective are aimed at gaining knowledge about the practical reality of everyday life, how people reason when, for example, they engage in conversations. This aim can be reached by making sense of the social reality of the "members" of a group; the researchers need to speak the same language as the "members" and follow the rules of the game of that "members". Only by doing this, the beliefs, behaviours, and commonsense ideas can be grasped and analyzed. Thus, Ethnomethodologists organize their research in the background of the assumption that all people are practical sociologists. (Coulon, 1995) This view can be further illustrated by a citation, which says that;

'The real is already described by the people. Ordinary language tells the social reality, describes it, and constitutes it at the same time.' (Coulon, 1995, p. 2)

The research approach applies two central concepts; indexicality and reflexivity to conduct the interviews and data collection by questionaires. The term indexicality says that words are "indexed" to the situation where they are spoken, why the words only show their exact meaning in the context of them being produced. Building further on this, the term reflexivity says that peoples' way of understanding, grasping and interpreting the social reality is determined in the exchange of words. Hence, Ethnomethodologists argue that describing and producing an action is equivalent, since you produce the action as you describe it. People adopting the Ethnomethodological perspective can use a wide variety of research methods. However, these methods have one thing in common; they all focus on determining what people in different situations do and how they make sense of reality.

This research is a part of larger research that was designed to investigate the Financial Gap in regards with the community of small businesses in the County of Jonkoping. We do not categorize the small businesses in clusters such as entrepreneurs, family businesses etc. The reason for this is related to fact that the previous research could not show that categorization has effect on the definition of the Financial Gap. In this specific study we attempt to interpret the Financial Gap by means of Ethnomethodological perspective, assuming that there is a relationship between small businesses and banks, and that this relationship is constructed and deconstructed over time by actors who engage themselves in the process. This way of approaching the Financial Gap is necessary because the relationship between the two parties has non-stable characteristics, shaped and reshaped continuously as actors encounter and interact. Arguably, factors that should normally explain the Financial Gap are constantly changing, and as a consequence, new factors become significant.

The main data were collected by using in-depth interviews. The interviews have been conducted with members of two organizations which work closely with small firms and they own small businesses themselves; Almi Business Partner and the Swedish Federation of Business Owners. These are the largest organizations in Sweden that represent small businesses. We have also conducted in-depth interviews with representatives of two, out of the four, main banks in Sweden that operate in the city of Jonkoping; SEB and Handelsbanken. In addition to this, we have sent a questionnaire to small businesses within the Municipality of Jonkoping. The businesses that have participated in the study are private limited companies, registered between the years 2003-2007, with 1-10 employees. In total, 40 small businesses participated in our study and answered our questions. The questionnaire constituted of Likert-style rating, divided into different themes and was administrated by the use of e-mails.


As discussed in the previous section, this report is drawn from the context of a larger report that was oriented to re-interpret the Financial Gap. The following figures, concepts and themes are "indexes" that are drawn from a larger mass of empirical materials. As far as it is possible, we present the Gap as if it is experienced by respondents. The respondents are actors that are directly related to the financial situations of the small businesses.


Both the interviews and the questionnaire indicate that accounting information is not used for decision making in regards with the conduction of everyday activities. Furthermore, the result from the questionnaire reveals that 95% of the companies' owners are directly involved in all types of everyday activities. The illustration below shows the existence of an informal structure for decision-making. Together "gut-feeling" and "experience" form a basis for 77% of all decisions made in the small business. The chart further shows that accounting information, forecasts, and budgets are used to support 20.5% of all decisions made.


The data collected by interviews confirm the same result. One of the respondents (lending officers of the bank) argues that:

'They base their decision on a feeling; it is a "gut-feeling" rather than anything else.' (Participant C)

The lending officers emphasized that small businesses lacks formal structure for their planning. "The owners deal with situations as they occur rather than relying on a forward-looking plan". In contrast to this, the banks have a formal decision-making process. According to both lending officers, the credit decision process consists of both quantitative and qualitative assessment criteria. Part of the quantitative assessment is to use a computer based scoring model in order to classify the companies into different risk categories. The qualitative assessment, on the other hand, is to a large extent based on feelings and gathering information about the intangible assets. In a credit decision process, both lending officers argue that cash flow, personality of the entrepreneur and collateral are the main determinants of the loan credits.

Board of Directors

Considering the function of the board of directors in conducting the businesses, the findings from the questionnaire revealed that 28.6% of the companies have external members. The questionnaire's result indicates the board of directors has generally an inactive function for the development of the small businesses. The activeness of the board was tested by examining five actions; regularity of meetings, sending out agendas in advance, preparation of reports, the board's monitoring of decisions and the board's contribution with useful ideas. These are illustrated in the graph below.


Based on the result dawn from the questionnaire, the representatives of businesses argue board of directors in small businesses are often formed of family members and friends. In effect, there are no active board meetings, strategies and decisions are formed around the kitchen table. The lending officers emphasize the same result.

'...we assume that they do not have, so to speak, a structured decision process or an active board, but it is rather the family that makes the decisions.' (Lending officer C)

Financial Information

The use of financial information in decision varies among different companies. As can be seen in the chart below, 27% of the respondents seldom use financial information while 34.9% sometimes use it and 38.1% use in the major circumstances.


The level of usage of financial information was indirectly tested with three questions aimed to capture the routines of using financial information. The first question captures the use of monthly reports. It was founded that 52.4% often produce monthly reports. Only the 38.1% of small businesses provide budgets. Furthermore, only 38.1% state that they often use financial information as a tool for controlling the operational units or to compare their units with other units (benchmarking). In agreement with these results, both representatives of the small businesses argue that owners of the small businesses do not give the first priority to the administrative work. As long as the business runs smoothly and everything is under control, reports are not considered necessary.

'If one is an entrepreneur then the administrative work is subordinated to other activities and therefore, one has difficulty of providing reports. In general the owners of the small businesses are actually uninterested to do the administrative work' (Representative B)

'The banks and their business departments are not really synchronized with the activities of the small business man. Banks are more synchronized with big corporations which have routines and financial managers. Maybe they fit better together, than the entrepreneur and the bank.' (Representative A)

The interviews disclose that financial reports are not easily accessible in small businesses. Instead, that is something that is produced in the end of the year or when situations required. The negative view of the role of financial information does not, however, mean that it does not exist. Instead, small firms have their own way of working with financial information.

'They have everything in their head, not in print, and it is not in numbers... They have a clear picture. They have a complete view of what would come out in a report. And here we have a gap between the language of banks and the language of small business man.' (Representative B)

According to the lending officers, there is a great variation in preparation of financial information when the owners of small when meet the bank. In general, the accounting information the banks receive from small businesses is poor and sometimes the numbers are old and irrelevant. 'Entrepreneurs live in and breathe with their companies; it is seldom happen that this group of people loves papers' (Lending officer D).

Additionally, both lending officers emphasize on the problematic aspect of the entrepreneurs who have a lot of information in their heads. 'We need to have something to base our decisions on... the information needs to be formalized' (Lending officer D). One of the representatives of the small businesses agrees with the lending officers that owners of the small business are often unprepared when meeting with the banks. 'I believe that they are unprepared and naive many times' (Representative A).


Small firms' perception of their relation with the banks was tested through three factors; the bank's familiarity with the business, the banks' understanding of the firm's needs, and the firm's trust in the bank. Firstly, only 19.1% of the businesses claim that the banks are familiar with their business. Secondly, 23.8% state that the banks understand their needs, and thirdly, 23.9% have a great trust in their banks. The graph presented below shows that small businesses' perceive their relation with their banks as problematic; only 25.1% have considered having a good relationship with their banks.


The rrepresentatives of the small businesses emphasize on the need of a close relationship with the banks. In a closer relationship, the flow of information will increase and the entrepreneurs become more open about their businesses. In order to build a close relationship, trust is a main building block;

'Trust is extremely important. It takes a long time to establish and it can be eliminated in a second. The word trust should be framed in gold.' (Representative A)

Additionally, both lending officers believe that a good relation between the lending officers and the small businesses is important. Sometimes a good relation, to some extent, can weigh out poor securities and deficient financial information. On the question regarding what banks may perceive as problematic in their relationship with small businesses, the lending officer (C) answered;

'I believe that the big problem really lies in the communication, they have information in their heads and for them it is obvious. It is their baby, their whole project. Yet, to get it down in print, be able to formalize it, so that we can understand it and be able to use it as a base for our decision, from here, there is a giant leap between us.' (Lending officer C)

The lending officer emphasized on the "different personal traits" that affect the parties' relationship. 'There is a reason for why they are entrepreneurs and why I work at a bank' (Lending officer C).


The empirical data presented above are indicative of differences in how the two parties understand the financial situations. There are two groups of individuals; those who are members of the community of financing and those who are members of small businesses. These two groups employ different styles of languages in the presentation of their financial requirements. A focus on the themes and concepts that used by each member, portrait some differences in using vocabularies. The following table presents an interpretive scheme that shows conceptual differences.

The two different sets of vocabularies and concepts capture, in fact, the same Financial Gap in terms of two distinctive realities. The small businesses and banks portrait their respective financial reality by mobilizing two types of vocabularies. The difference in standpoints should be related to the use of vocabularies and the fact that the respondents are members of the two distinctive communities. Banks prefer organized information in order to be able to calculate the risk of credit. Information drawn from a risk calculation is relevant for their decisions. In a loan application, banks classify businesses into different risk categories which require some kind of universal benchmark. The calculation activities help them to compare various credits with one another and provide loans for the less risky unit. The organized information is also needed because the financial decisions should be justified administratively. As a result, banks' information must fulfil the institutional requirements, in the context of which, their financial operations are justified.

Conversely, the small firms should deal with ambiguous situations. The situations they encounter are not symbolized in rational terms that eliminate the ambiguity. By means of trial and error and subjective judgments, the owners of small businesses carry on their actions and orient their decisions. Decisions and actions are not separated and there is not a need for the analysis of the decisions which are decoupled from actions. They are used to tolerate uncertainty, accept ambiguity of action, and avoid the cost of calculation and formal decision making. The owners of small businesses do not need to justify their decisions administratively; information is only used to guide the action--not to justify the decisions. Additionally the small businesses do not need to justify their decisions to the banks, and perhaps this is the area that creates communicative problem in relationship with the banks.

The two members differ in thinking; while banks emphasize on the analytical reasoning, small businesses emphasizes on practical reasoning. The distinction will be marked more conveniently if we emphasize that banks are more concern with "decision making" decoupled from the action itself. While, the small businesses should deal with action in close relationship with decision, they cannot separate action from decision. Banks make their decisions preferably through the analysis of accounting information (decoupled from action). On the contrary, small businesses make decisions in accordance to what is happening at the moment, what is the problem, and how it can be solved practically. The small businesses act and reason intuitively because in most cases action is not analytically understandable. The true entrepreneurs should trust their "gut-feeling" because the situations ahead them, are often difficult to be determined analytically. On the contrary, members of the community of financing make decisions about the situations which are determinable; that is to say that, they have a choice to avoid the ambiguous situations--for example denial of certain credits that appear to be ambiguous. Consequently, the two groups speak different languages; banks favours numbers and analytical tools, and predetermined goals, while the entrepreneurs present themselves in terms of their future "visions" and their "experiences".


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Hossein Pashang, Jonkoping University, Sweden

Anna Johansson, Jonkoping University, Sweden

Petra Waldemar, Jonkoping University, Sweden

Marie Nolander, Jonkoping University, Sweden
Figure 5: Interpretive scheme depicting differences in using

Small Businesses act through:    Banks decide through:

Ambiguous Information            Organized Information
Action-Based Information         Decision-Based Information
Practical Reasoning              Analytical Reasoning
Intuition & Gut-feeling          Risk Calculation
Non--Financial Information       Financial Information
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