Q&A: Judith's banking on local finance
Judith Totten, managing director of Keys Finance, examines the challenges facing local business owners over the coming months and reflects on the skills she picked up as a banker.
Q: How did your career bring you to Keys Finance?
After 20 years in Northern/Danske Bank, I made the life-changing decision to walk away from job security and set up my own business, providing working capital support to indigenous Northern Ireland businesses.
Q: Name the three people to whom you owe your success?
Family for supporting me, my Keys Commercial Finance 'family' and Colin Dundas (former boss at Danske, now a non-executive director at Keys Commercial Finance) for encouraging me.
Q: What is the Northern Ireland finance sector like to work in?
Varied, exciting, frustrating, rewarding, fun and challenging... all at the same time, and I love it all.
Q: How is Northern Ireland plc doing, compared to the rest of the UK?
We're showing definite signs of recovery but like many regions there are highs and lows. SMEs are the backbone of Northern Ireland business with over 90% of our local businesses being classified as such. In UK-wide terms so we have a much greater responsibility to support small business through their challenges. The key one is being used to the support structure and the image of the 'big animal'. It's a true saying "you don't know what you have 'til it's gone".
But the real challenge was fundraising – setting up a new finance company in 2010/2011 was viewed sceptically but I always felt the timing for change and choice was actually perfect. Challenges and rebuttals have made us more empathetic with our own clients – we have been there and can guide them through the maze of fundraising. The benefits of self-employment far outweigh detriments though – being in charge of our own destiny is rewarding.
Q: What are the main challenges faced by the small business owner in the next 12-24 months?
Funding gaps still need addressing for most and we need to bring choice as alternative funders. The ongoing corporation tax debate is hotting up – will that impact us ? The Scottish Referendum – who knows the impact that will have.
Clearly there is some political uncertainty in Stormont at present. That is always a concern to local business owners. The well-documented shortages in public funding, rising costs of energy and the need for sustainable solutions are all high on everyone's agenda.
There are many challenges for sure but again we can ease the burden by looking at each one and helping the SME owner to work through them one at a time. You can't eat an elephant at one sitting but we can work together and plan.
Q: What should Stormont being doing for the finance sector and the small business owner?
To be fair, I think that the Executive is focused on key matters and they do not have an easy task . But, I think our elected representatives need to really drill down into what our businesses need – large and small alike. Whether the concern is funding, corporation tax, fuel costs or more esoteric issues pertinent to specific sectors. Stormont needs to encourage transparency and open communication with funders and policy makers alike . It is all about listening and acting with integrity.
Q: What advice would you give to someone wanting a career in banking today?
Do it – why not? I had an excellent career and made life-long friends but on a professional level I learned so much about structure, roles and responsibilities and simply how to deal with people and business. The bank is a really excellent place to learn a broad set of transferable skills.
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