Accountants are central to RBS/NatWest's small business ambitions

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RBS and its subsidiary bank NatWest have set their sights on accountants as key partners in unlocking new services and financing for the UK’s small businesses.

NatWest have appointed regional managers and colleagues to be local “business growth enablers”. These BGEs are tasked with finding more effective means of helping accountants and their clients.

RBS has been developing the business growth enabler idea for a couple of years now. Their role is to visit small business clients to review their finances and plans, and to open the door to a wider local netowrk of contacts. Of course, the BGE is able to advise and offer various finance and lending products along the way. 

“We know accountants are hugely influential with their clients, many of whom are our customers of course,” said Haydn Thomas, the head of business development for NatWest/RBS’s business banking. “We want to make it easier for accountants to work with us, and we believe we’re well placed  through our team of local Business Growth Enablers to work far more closely with the sector.”

The results have been positive and now the bank wants to expand the project. “The positive feedback we’ve already seen from our round table events supports this belief and we are committed to building long lasting proactive pro-active relationships across the country.”

This kind of outreach programme is a welcome departure for banks such as NatWest, which still have work to do to repair the relationships damaged by the financial crisis a decade ago. “A few competitors have stepped back, but we’re adding more to this relationship,” said Andy Doman NatWest director of business banking.

“We find customers think that we’re not here to lend money. But when I look at what we do, 70% is spent with clients looking to borrow. We’ve tried to get message out - we will look at every proposition. There isn’t anything we will totally dismiss.”

To AccountingWEB members, RBS’s acquisition FreeAgent will be the most prominent example of the bank’s ambitions. RBS now offers FreeAgent for free to small business banking customers and their accountants.

But the partnership with FreeAgent was an eye opener for RBS, too. The bank have been able to put 18,000 small business customers on the FreeAgent platform sinc the software collaboration started (in the run up to the eventual takeover). RBS quickly recognised the influence the profession has on small business banking decisions. And rather than competing with accountants, RBS’s growth advisers are keen to work with them.

Banks and accountants, according to RBS, have numerous overlapping interests. At an event this past May in Wimborne, Dorset, NatWest business growth enabler Lucy Kitcher explained that she’s frequently approached for advice and contacts on people who could provide different services like accountancy, marketing or legal advice.

It’s here where the opportunity lies, according to Kitcher. “What we’re looking for in building this relationship is to connect our mutual non-customers,” she said. Kitcher’s target is to run two events per month in association with local advisory boards to address key small business issues.

The local nature of the events allows for the experience to be tailored. In the case of Dorset, the events focus on the coastal county’s hospitality industry. The May meeting was designed to bring accountants into that local network. The next event in Weymouth in June will look at the marketing side of the hospitality industry.

“We can jointly run an event together,” Kitcher said. “Let’s bring 20 clients each and make those connections and support the local economy.”

One accountant at the Wimborne meeting told AccountingWEB: “The fact that NatWest are hosting these type of events and trying to work collaboratively with local accountants is in itself a positive step.

“We tried as a firm - probably 15 years ago, way before cloud accounting - to branch out to banks locally and run sessions where we intended to demonstrate the type of management information we could produce for clients, how this could be analysed and setting KPIs specific to each business.

“The aim was to share this with bank managers which would assist the bank with lending decisions and so on. However, it was quite hard work to get any interest and was equally hard work in following up to get banks to work with us or refer clients to work on this basis.”

Now that NatWest has its own cloud application, the bank has a platform that can support the firm’s original concept. “Perhaps becoming a FreeAgent advocate and attending these events might do no harm at all to our business getting referrals from them,” he said.

About John Stokdyk

AccountingWEB’s global editor has been with the site since 1999 and likes to spend his time studying accountants’ technology habits. When not nerding out, you can find him exploring obscure indie music and searching for the perfect organic sourdough loaf from his base in Brighton, UK.

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11th Jul 2018 17:34

Third time I’ve seen this said in the last couple of months but zero evidence of it (yet) on the ground.

None of the high street banks appear interested in either my practice or my clients businesses and haven’t for years.

I won’t hold my breath on hearing from any of them soon.

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12th Jul 2018 09:56

Totally agree the last comment, with 2 local exceptions:

Santander are opening branches here in Cumbria, where the 4 big banks are all trying to close every branch at 100mph and slash the services they offer.

The Cumberland, along with Santander, in my view has the best internet banking for accountants apart from the fact that with the Cumberland statements only go back 6 months so you have to log in and download every 6 months. Locally the Cumberland seems to have realised just what a poor service the Big 4 offer local businesses and are growing that part of their business. It also has proper mortgage underwriting rather than the "box ticking from 200 miles away" approach increasingly seen in the Big 4.

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13th Jul 2018 12:46

Interesting. On the basis that NatWest have closed their branch in our town within the last 6 months would suggest the reverse of what they are stating in this article!!

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By DJKL
13th Jul 2018 16:45

Banks, where it all went wrong:

Where banks lost their entry to business was when they decided to play fast and loose re communication with accountants, either in industry or in practice.

Opening my business card holder to R today it has 12 Royal Bank contact business cards, insofar as I am aware only one is still with the Royal and in place and he was in Business Restructuring up at St Andrews Square. Now I presume the 11 who are no longer where they were have been, at least in part, replaced,but I do not know who these people are, none of them have been in touch. (I have not changed my office telephone number, the banks have it)

But it is not just Royal, I had two contacts with Bank of Scotland, all communication dead, plus one with Anglo Irish, not heard from (though not surprised- they died). I had large number of contacts with Nationwide, up to 2016 our main group lenders, they are now out of the commercial property lending market (our main market) but we do little bits outwith this yet nobody from them ever calls looking for business.

At least with the above we no longer have any ongoing banking relationship, but even with those of the group entities who do have an ongoing position with a bank there is no communication, Allied Irish I no longer have a relationship manager but a call centre , we carry an operating current account with them and have a couple of years left (£90k) of a term loan, yet I have no named individual to talk with if anything arises. (Like granting new leases- getting their consent is a right royal pain, at least 2.5 years from now i will not need to bother)_

Same with Clydesdale, we have five group current accounts (active) and one decent sized Telebank deposit yet the idea of us having a relationship manager is now alien to them, the days of my calling a named individual at the Plaza in Edinburgh are gone; it is years since I say received an invite to anything at Edinburgh HQ, business briefings and the like, reason, I have no named contact, nobody to call even with odd little things re our accounts.

I only have one fit for purpose banking relationship left, a much smaller local Edinburgh bank which we moved our main borrowings to in 2016 and apart from our relationship manager leaving them the other week (I will be given a replacement) I usually always have a contact;I can at least still call his assistant in the interim on her direct line.

Banks will generate business by making contact and remaining in contact, business banking is a shambles via call centres and as the banks more and more only offer relationship managers to really large entities they are going to continue to struggle to access the mid market sector (£500k-£3.5m borrowing), banking relationships need face to face meetings to prosper but they are just no longer interested in such an approach.

So, all the banks, rake around the office, find all the old business cards held, start making some calls and renewing contacts re the business entities you did not destroy after 2008.

p.s. if you do make contact a few contrite apologies re past behaviour would not go amiss, or even better an offer to attend a breakfast briefing with a bacon roll ( I am a cheap date)

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13th Jul 2018 17:38

Shades of back to the future...

Some 20 years ago, I worked closely with Barclays, who had a local business operation and I and a number of fellow accountants were always attending presentations, lunches etc.

The last presentation was when a guy named Alistair Camp, was made CEO of Barclays small business, on a re-named start-up. Camp tried, unsuccessfully, to pitch the "New" concept of Call Centres as they started top close branches. He was shouted down by ALL advisers present. The Call Centre "Agents" hadn't much of a clue! The management structure changed totally; and it rapidly became virtually impossible to speak to a manager, as they took days to return calls on business opportunities. I couldn't even tell you the name of my business manager! Last I checked, he/she was in Leeds or somewhere - I am based in Essex! Even if I did finally obtain a telephone number and name, these were changed with monotonous regularity.

Banks became focused on flogging dodgy insurance products, about which branch staff knew very little: the PPI fiasco is an excellent example of the problems!

SMEs generate circa 48% of UK GDP in terms of the "Real Economy" on main street: yet bankers have, over time, increasingly ignored SMEs, to their eventual cost and detriment.

Smart.

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