Getting to know you

High street banks get a lot of criticism from small and medium-sized firms. Top of the list is the demise of the human element.

The complaint is valid and not just because a personal touch is friendlier. Banks can only offer the right advice and make the right decisions when they understand their clients thoroughly. The remote and formulaic processes at big banks aren’t just cold, they are bad commerce.

Shawbrook Bank was launched in 2011 to bring the personal service enjoyed by large enterprises to the SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) market. “We offer a very non-box tick approach,” says Shawbrook’s Kieran McSweeney, managing director, Wholesale Finance. “We look beyond the balance sheet to the business itself.

“We want to know about the people running it, its history, the business plan and everything else. We develop a deep relationship over time – that’s our ethos.”

There are material ways Shawbrook makes sure this thinking is hard-wired into the bank. Take asset finance. A typical high street bank will allocate more than 50 businesses to each account manager. At Shawbrook the number is typically fewer than 20 clients per account manager. It means the manager can really get to know each customer.

Speed is taken very seriously. “Businesses need to know that the person they are talking to is someone who deeply understands their business and therefore can be confident they can articulate the banks strategy, and  be able to deliver a positive final decision,” says Mr McSweeney.

We develop a deep relationship over time – that’s our ethos.”

“At high street banks, such sector expertise, supported by bespoke underwriting and a focus on quick execution, is rare.”

This personal approach strips out a lot of pointless meetings. John Onslow, managing director of Shawbrook’s Business Credit division, says: “When people first come to us we can give them a high indication of terms at the outset, even before due diligence. And, provided everything checks out, we have a 100 per cent record of delivering on what we said we would do.

“That plays out fantastically well in an uncertain world. A high street bank can put clients through a tortuous process and at the end deny approval as someone higher up says they don’t like the sector. That’s not what you get from us.”

The institutions who work with Shawbrook support this claim. The Business Money Intermediary Index survey reports feedback from intermediaries on lenders’ performance on a range of criteria. Shawbrook Business Credit (formerly Centric Commercial Finance) has been rated number one for the past three years, from a field of 24 lenders.

In 2014 Shawbrook won 22 business awards across its operating divisions, many voted for by peers and industry intermediaries, validating its decision to operate in carefully chosen markets, providing specialist underwriting with a focus on relationships, innovation and talent while treating customers with respect, good sense, thoughtful judgment and care.

The fresh offering is resonating with SMEs, demonstrated by Shawbrook’s strong performance. Last year lending reached £2.3 billion. The range now covers commercial mortgages, asset finance, business credit, secured lending and consumer lending, administered by more than 460 staff in six UK offices.

Clients are perhaps the strongest barometer. Jon Newey, chief executive of Domus, a £20-million-turnover ceramic tile maker, uses Shawbrook Business Credit’s lending facility for working capital.

“We paid off our previous Shawbrook facility and went into the market to find best terms on a new one,” says Mr Newey. “Shawbrook still came out best overall in terms of speed, alignment to the business and cost. Once again the team quickly delivered a tailored invoice discounting line and cash-flow facility, and I look forward to working together in the future.”

The age of personal banking for SMEs isn’t over – it may just be starting.

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