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 Head of Insight 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.