'We want to give a boost to our business clients'
Banking has changed radically over the last five years and the pace of change is both a challenge and an opportunity for banks. However, the innovation isn't confined to mobile apps and new products.
It's also linked to what businesses can - and should - expect to get from a financial institution. As Ulster Bank's head of business banking, I've seen a significant increase in the appetite of local SMEs, not only for funding, but also their desire for support, guidance and networking.
At Ulster Bank last year, we saw a 40% increase in loan draw downs by small businesses and we've seen similarly strong growth in 2017.
However in addition, customers have been seeking to develop 'soft skills' and enhance their networks - growing their knowledge and their contacts.
So to meet that need, we've introduced the Boost programme. It provides networking and information events covering topics such as growing your business, protecting it and managing your cash flow.
It is a practical way of providing meaningful help for our customers.
Owning and operating your own business can be extremely rewarding, but it isn't without its challenges. Research shows that whilst business owners want to grow, often, they don't know where to go to for advice to help.
Through Boost, we want to create a pathway for local businesses to the correct networks and make it easier to find the resources people need at all stages of growth. We aim to give businesses access to support and specialist services.
Whereas larger corporates might need to give greater consideration to issues like Brexit or the political environment, a smaller company needs a narrower scope.
There are ways in which it can be refreshingly straightforward for emerging businesses - success is focused on you, your idea and your execution, without as much concern needed for broader trends. Boost is aimed at giving you tools to cut through the noise.
As we look ahead this week to the Balmoral Show, where we will see some of NI's finest local producers and growers exhibiting, I'm grateful of the chance to engage with these networks first hand. Small businesses need a vibrant culture of entrepreneurship to celebrate their success, encourage collaboration and competition, and generate growth and private sector wealth creation.
Events like Balmoral are an important part of that - a marketplace for new products as well as ideas - and which will hopefully provide further strong signals for the year ahead.
- Mark Crimmins is head of business banking at Ulster Bank