Ruth Graham, head of trade and export finance, Northern Bank, sponsor of Excellence in Exporting category in the Belfast Telegraph Business Awards in association with British Midland International (bmi), talks financial matters
Tell us about your business.
Northern Bank is one of Northern Ireland's leading retail banks, providing straightforward banking to local consumers and businesses. We combine the efficiency of leading edge technology with the expertise of highly experienced relationship managers supporting businesses through both the challenges of the economic downturn and growth opportunities.
What is your unique selling point?
We offer the full range of specialist support to the business community, including asset finance, invoice finance, merchant acquiring, cash management, foreign exchange and interest rate hedging products, and money market deposits.
As sponsor of the Excellence in Exporting category, we are particularly proud of the industry-leading service and support we provide to new and experienced exporters in Northern Ireland. While our dedicated team of local business specialists are on hand to provide prompt guidance and support, platforms such as our markets online system and trade finance module on Business eBanking are invaluable resources to our customers. We combine locally-based consultative relationship management with top class systems and technology.
Who are your customers?
Northern Bank looks after the financial needs of consumers across Northern Ireland and, through our business and corporate banking teams, is privileged to support some of our most dynamic and successful businesses.
What have been the biggest challenges for your business over the last year?
We are not immune to the challenges of the current economic climate, and nor are our customers. While we saw confidence among local firms beginning to re-emerge at the start of 2011, the Eurozone crisis saw this confidence become more subdued. When business confidence takes a knock, it is all the more important for us to stay close to our customers and their plans.
Where do you see opportunities for your business in the year ahead?
We are committed to playing our part in driving the local economy forward. We are very confident in the breadth of support and expertise we can offer to ambitious trading businesses - providing opportunities for their growth and ours. Our commitment to supporting exporting businesses led to a partnership with the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, ASM and A&L Goodbody in the development of Export First, designed to provide practical guidance and expertise to fledgling and potential exporters.
How do you view the health of the Northern Ireland economy?
Northern Ireland's economic fortunes in 2012 are invariably linked to outcomes in both Europe and the UK.
Despite the ongoing risks that exist, our central forecast is for a small economic improvement at the global level in 2012. While the euro crisis will continue to bring volatility, we expect the euro currency to muddle through with the US and China expected to pull global growth in the right direction, but we would expect low economic growth locally in the year ahead.
Should the Executive do more to help local business?
Given that Northern Bank is supporting the Excellence in Exporting category, we are very encouraged by the prominence given to export by the Executive in the draft economic strategy and its recognition of the requirement for a focus on innovation, research and development and skills.
The ambitions to grow exports and to diversify into new - and a wider range - of markets, are both necessary and exciting for our economic prospects.
What advice would you give to aspiring exporters?
Export has a vital role to play in the fortunes of many businesses, sectors and in the wider economic fortunes of Northern Ireland.
Aspiring exporters should not be discouraged by challenging global and local conditions, but should fully explore their potential and avail of the wealth of expertise and experience on offer locally.
I would encourage all aspiring exporters to get involved with programmes such as Export First and benefit from the invaluable opportunities to learn from some of Northern Ireland's most seasoned exporters across a range of sectors.