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Certified Expert in SME Finance

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are important engines of growth, jobs and social cohesion. However, the creation, survival and growth of SMEs is often hampered by access to finance. Thus, access to SME finance has become a key priority in developing and transition countries. Since the early nineties, Frankfurt School of Finance & Management is combining advisory work, training, and policy advice with applied research. Our goal is to support financial institutions in developing and transition countries establish good practices in Micro and SME finance.

This online course, which is based on Frankfurt School’s broad experience in practical project work and theoretical business school education programs, is tailored to the needs of mid-level managers and loan officers active or interested in SME Finance.

This course is also available in French.

What Do We Offer?

  • Seven units including video lectures, a PDF script laying the theoretical foundation, examples, practical exercises, online tests and case studies.
  • A discussion forum for course related issues as well as for exchange of opinions and experiences with peers, tutors and the FSDF e-Campus team.
  • Personalized support from your e-Campus.
  • The possibility to attain a Frankfurt School Certificate after passing the final exam or a confirmation of course completion after completing the course. After passing the final exam, you will earn 6 ECTS (academic credit points of the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System). The points can be credited to other academic learning programs. 

Tuition fees*

Regular Tuition Fee:  EUR 1,550

Early Bird Fee: EUR 1,350 (by July 15)

  • 10% group discount (for 2 or more participants working for the same instutiton, informed to us before by an email)
  • 10% for FS Alumni
  • For company packages, please contact us
Payment Options
  • Bank Transfer (bank fees to be covered by the participants)
  • Credit Card
  • PayPal

Payment in instalments is not possible.

*Subject to change

Target Audience

  • Mid-management of financial institutions working with SME Finance
  • Operational staff within financial institutions working with SME Finance
  • Top management of financial institutions wanting to enter SME Finance
  • Staff of regulators, policy makers, donors and other SME Finance related institutions
  • Staff of SME associations
  • Consultants, students and other individuals interested in SME Finance


The course takes approx. 6 months assuming 5-7 hours of self-study per week. It consists of 7 units which build upon each other. You will take the units in sequence and will  need to pass an online multiple choice test before accessing the next unit.

Unit 3, 4 and 5 include an assignment which you will need to submit at a fixed deadline.

You are not sure if you manage to complete the course within 6 months? No worries! You can apply for a course extension (6 more months) against an administrative fee.


Course Start Course End Registration Early Bird
Sept. 1 Feb. 29 Jun. 1 - Sept. 1 by Jul. 15
Mar. 1 Aug. 31 Dec. 1 - Mar. 1 by Jan. 15


Registration is open until September 30th. 

Course Details*

The introduction to the course starts with positioning SME Finance compared to other client segments, e.g. corporate clients or retail clients. The learning goal of the course is to explain the main SME Finance principles, mainly focusing on credit risk analysis, the lending decision process and appropriate risk-taking intermediation as well as customer relationship management. SME businesses face a number of specific risks in their business but SME lending is a profitable business for many MFIs and banks that use the right methodology –cash flow based lending- and appropriate decision making tools.

Understanding the challenges that small and medium business owners are facing is fundamental to the provision of excellent service and achieving good credit decisions.

The course follows the below listed basic logics and assumptions on SME Finance:

  1. SMEs require specific financial services and products according to their comparably small size and often limited scope.
  2. SMEs sometimes operate in informal or semi-formal environments; access to reliable (or even audited) financial data is therefore often limited.
  3. Since audited financial statements and sound business planning may not be available, the financial institution has to analyze the situation of the client carefully and verify verbal or internal statements.
  4. Once data is gathered and verified, lending decisions can be taken based on financial considerations and depending on risk appetite.

*Subject to change

Unit 1

Introduction to SME Finance

Most SMEs work in specific environments with particular characteristics. These change from country to country, region to region and even in between cities in same provinces. A framework to characterize and categorize the specifics of SMEs in a geographically limited area will be explained and judged against international best practice approaches. Typical products and services required by SMEs in transition and developing countries will be presented and best practices on how to approach the segment explained.

Unit structure:

  • Definition of SMEs
  • SMEs as customers of financial institutions
  • International Trends in SME finance
  • The role of regulation and supervision and national and regional policies
  • Tax evasion as fact: challenges and barriers
  • Organizational set-up of a SME unit/department
  • Lending processes with international best practice approaches

- Individual cash flow based lending
- Relationship banking
- Group lending
- Credit scoring (statistical, judgemental, expert modus)

  • Products and banking services to SMEs
  • Marketing for SMEs
Unit 2

SME Credit Analysis - Collecting and Understanding Information

“Know your client” is an important principle to understand your customer in terms of business needs as well as for sound loan decisions. Many SMEs work in informal or semi-formal environments. Often no reliable financial data is provided or sometimes not existing. Non-financial information can be cross checked against financial information in order to get a realistic picture of the business’ economic situation. Furthermore the importance of understanding the purpose of a loan (“investment project”) will be stressed.

Unit structure:

  • Introduction to SME services and clients’ needs assessment

- Lending products
- Deposit products
- Banking services and others

  • Customer relationship management

- Know your client principle- Service quality

  • Introduction to SME Lending

- Basic SME lending criteria

  • Specifics of SMEs

- Non-financial vs. financial information
- Repayment willingness and capacity

  • Understand main SME Business Risks

- Character/Integrity
- Management risk
- Governance risk
- Market risk
- Financial risk
- Legal risk/Compliance
- Environmental (reputational) risks
- Collateral risk

  • Verification of clients’ information

- How to verify reliability of information provided
- Cross checking of non-financial information
- Cross checking of financial information (level 1)

  • Investment project evaluation
Unit 3

SME Credit Analysis - Verifying Information

This course builds on the information provided in Unit 2. Verifying that the information provided by the business owner is correct is fundamental to achieving good risk decisions. This unit will introduce the cross checking of financial information and develop the 8 SME risk categories in more detail.

Unit structure:

  • Understanding clients’ financing needs, assessment based on:

- business nature and situation,
- investment project financing structure and
- (verified) cash flow forecast

  • Verification of financial statements

- The need for cross checking refresher - Misleading financial statements
- Link between financial and non-financial information
- Cross checking of financial information (level 2 - balance sheet, income statement and cash flow items)

Unit 4

SME Credit Analysis - Financial Analysis

Understanding financial statements for SME business is an important element of good risk decisions and a low NPL profile. This course will introduce participants to understanding and interpreting key characteristics of SME financial statements. There will be a strong focus on analysing SME financial statements to assist with sound credit risk appraisal.

Unit structure:

  • The Balance Sheet

- Assets and Liabilities
- Shareholders’ equity
- The importance of valuations

  • Income statements

- Trading statement
- Operating statement
- The difference between Cash and Profit

  • Analysis of Financial Statements

- Performance
- Profit
- Efficiency
- Liquidity
- Return
- Solvency

  • Working Capital

- Accounts receivable analysis
- Accounts payable analysis
- Inventory analysis
- Cash flow implications of changes in working capital

  • Investment project

- Break-even calculation and analysis
- Internal rate of return

Unit 5

SME Credit Analysis - Cash Flow Analysis

Understanding the importance of cash flow for SME business is a key skill. This unit introduces the key features of cash flow analysis and financial forecasting. There will be a strong focus on preparing and analysing SME cash flow statements and financial forecasts to enhance with financial analysis.

Unit structure:

  • Preparing Cash flow statements

- Operating Cash flow
- Investing Cash flow
- Financing Cash flow

  • Preparing financial forecasts

- Balance sheet forecast
- Profit forecast
- Cash flow forecast

  • Assessing financial forecasts

- Cross checking
- Sensitivity analysis

Unit 6

Loan Portfolio Management and Monitoring

Proper monitoring systems as well as efficient loan work-out schemes are an important element of effective SME Finance for financial institutions. Key approaches will be laid out and effective instruments (e.g. loan restructuring) will be presented.

Unit structure:

  • Introduction to basics of loan monitoring and portfolio management

- Onsite visits
- Offsite investigation
- Portfolio indicators
- Monitoring processes
- Loan workout
- Portfolio handover procedures

  • Monitoring

- Reporting and MIS
- IT requirements
- Early warning systems
- From warning to action

  • Loan workout

- Instruments of loan work-out
- Restructuring
- Watchlisting
- Intensified Servicing
- Legal action
- Sequencing of instruments

  • Portfolio handover

- Preparation and framework
- Basic portfolio handover process

Unit 7

Elective Unit

Unit 7a: SME Finance and Supporting Activities

Based on the understanding of general SME Finance management, several key topics will be reviewed and efficient as well as effective solutions presented.

Unit Structure:

  • HR management and organization

- Job description and recruitment profiles/exams/interviews
- Bonus and incentive systems

  • Process management

- Importance of process management
- Visualization of processes and development of manuals and procedure
- Lean banking principles
- Implementation of SixSigma

  • MIS and ICT

- Reporting and monitoring
- Modern ICT and process efficiency (e.g. use of tablet PCs in onsite visits)

  • Interdepartmental competition and interaction

Unit 7b: Alternative Forms of SME Finance:

Understand the key differentiating features of different prevalent types of financial instruments that are offered by FIs, NBFIs and non-traditional FIs for typical SME finance needs. Identify opportunities for the FI to offer adequate products to SME customers resulting in a standardised approach that saves cost and improves the risk profile of the transactions. Learn about debt, equity, and hybrid finance. Appreciate that different financial instruments will fit the needs of a business depending on its stages of development.

Unit Structure:

  • Alternatives to FI Loans
  • Financing Networks of SMEs, linkages and clusters
  • Financing Seasonal Busines
  • Financing Production and Purchase orders
  • Invoice Discounting and Factoring
  • Inventory Finance – Warehouse Receipt Finance
  • Renting and Leasing
  • Purchase Finance
  • Financing Ownership Successions and Business Takeovers
  • Alternative Debt
  • Equity Instruments

Unit 7c: Gender Finance/ Women in Business

There is a significant opportunity to better serve the Women’s Market and a strong business case for solutions tailored for women. There are several myths about women-owned businesses that are preventing financial institutions from proactively participating in this very important market.

Understand the important role of female entrepreneurship in the World’s economy. Identify opportunities for FIs to build better relationships with Women owned small and medium businesses (WSMEs). Show how FIs can build a loyal and sustainable customer base by offer products that are better aligned to the needs of WSME customers. Dispel the myths that many financial institutions associate with Women-owned businesses. The Perils of Stereotyping. How Gender Influences the Sales Cycle.

Unit Structure:

  • Women in Business
  • Women as Entrepreneurs
  • Understanding the Banking Services Market for Women-Owned Businesses
  • Actions to Close the Credit Gap
  • Communication Styles
  • Future Developments – Financing the Missing Middle

Training Approach

The flexibility of our courses offers you the opportunity to follow your own schedule and to combine daily work with professional development.

The high quality offered will immediately improve your daily job performance as well as the performance of your institution.

Training Material

Video Lectures

  • Introvideos: After viewing the lectures, participants will have a basic understanding of each topic and will be able to classify importance and relevance of different techniques and aspects in a broader context.
  • Web-based Presentations: Web based presentation complement the scripts and give additional input on important topics.

Online Tests

Each unit ends with an online test comprising a set of 10 - 15 multiple choice questions. Only after having successfully completed an online test you will gain access to the next unit.

Reading Material

A PDF script is for most of our courses the main studying material. This reading material provides basic concepts and principles applicable to the subject of each unit.


The key to successful learning is the immediate use of newly acquired knowledge and the transfer of theory into practice. Our online courses are therefore supplemented by mandatory assignments.

Discussion Forum

A course discussion forum enables the interaction between participants and trainers and facilitates the exchange of experiences as well as possibilities to ask questions or get clarifications.

Suggestions & Recommendations

This course gives you the flexibility to decide on the timing and pace of your learning experience. However we will provide you with recommendations for you to take as much as possible from this course.

Your schedule: We will provide you a course schedule including voluntary and mandatory deadlines. The course schedule serves as a guideline for your personal learning schedule and will help you complete the programme within the given time frame.

Exercises: Even though the exercises in the script are not mandatory we strongly advise that you use them as an opportunity to check your knowledge and to prepare for the final exam.

Networking Opportunities: Use the forum to introduce yourself to your peer participants and to start interesting discussions.

Final Exam

Passing a final examination is a requirement for obtaining your certificate.

  • Location: The final exam takes place online
  • Duration: The final exam takes 2 hours.
  • Costs:  An additional final exam fee will be charged for the second and third final exam attempt
  • Certificate: Your digital certificate will be available upon passing the final examination.

If you do not wish to take the final exam, you will receive a confirmation of course participation after completing the course.

Course Lecturer: Mike Hill

Mike Hill

Mike is an SME specialist with over 40 years experience. He has been delivering SME training courses for over 35 years. He worked for Barclays Bank PLC from 1971 to 2004, in a number of Area Director roles. He won national awards for sales and service. He became a consultant in 2004. He is a Senior bank advisor specialising in SME finance and sales.


Course Tutor: Kairat Shalabay

Kairat Shalabay

Kairat is a Frankfurt School’s international advisor in SME banking and microfinance since 2010 and one of the leading consultants and trainers at Frankfurt School Competence Center in SME Finance. He is regularly engaged in the implementation of assignments in Eastern Europe and Asia. 

Kairat studied Economics in Turkey and holds a Master of Science degree in Finance from Exeter University, UK. 


He is experienced in strategic planning, designing operational procedures, product development, development of lending methodologies and processes, credit risk management, and training.

Course contributes to UN SDGs

All our courses contribute to the following SDGs


This course will enhance your knowledge in the following SDGs. The SWA offers professional and executive courses dedicated to the advancement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


Beyond your Certificate

Master of Leadership in Sustainable Finance

The Certified Expert in SME Finance is an Elective Module of the  Master of Leadership in Sustainable Finance. Join our Master programme after completing the CESF course and waive one elective module. Also, the amount you paid for the course will be deducted from the final tuition fee of the Master programme.

Frankfurt School Summer Academy

Our Summer Academy is designed to provide tangible take-home value: what you learn with us in Frankfurt, you can apply straight away in your own organisation. More than 1,000 participants over 20 years can’t be wrong – our trainings are cutting edge, delivered by leading experts in their field.  Yet, most important for the great success of our Summer Academies is the profile of the participants. You bring the regional expertisediversity of backgrounds and the unique practitioner’s perspective. Learning from each other is an integral part of our training philosophy. This is your opportunity to stretch your network all around the globe.

Diploma in Financial Inclusion

The Certified Expert in SME Finance is part of the curriculum of our Diploma in Financial Inclusion. Enroll to our Diploma  after completing the CESF course and waive one module. Also, the amount you paid for the course will be deducted from the final tuition fee of the Diploma.

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Contact us

Sheila Pierre-Louis
Programme Assistant