Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 December 2014

Neil Ward: Branch Manager, HSBC Royal Avenue, Belfast

The Royal Avenue branch is the first in Ireland to offer Sunday opening for customers
The Royal Avenue branch is the first in Ireland to offer Sunday opening for customers

Banking on a brighter future in flagship branch

How’s business?

Business is going really well. HSBC has recently opened a new branch in Royal Avenue, Belfast as part of its ongoing expansion plans. We have also committed over £50bn nationally to mortgage lending, which demonstrates that we are not afraid to lend and are currently offering mortgages of up to 90%. We have recently acquired a number of new business accounts due to our local knowledge and international presence, which makes banking more convenient for those companies that are exporting from here.

Any exciting projects in the pipeline?

We have invested £2.5m in the opening our flagship branch at Royal Avenue, which is the first bank anywhere in Ireland to offer Sunday opening. So far things are going very well and the Sunday opening hours have proved extremely popular.

We have also introduced state-of-the-art facilities at the new branch for Premier Customers, who avail of our most exclusive banking package, tailored to their individual financial needs. This enables them to access banking services around the world.

HSBC is also the principal sponsor of the forthcoming British and Irish Lions Tour, and we have a number of events lined up to coincide with that, along with a few surprises too, of course!

What are the long-term prospects for your company?

We are already a global bank with a presence in a number of countries and our aim is to expand here in Northern Ireland. Contrary to public perception, HSBC has had a 40-year presence here — known formerly as Forward Trust Asset Finance — we launched our first retail branch in Belfast in 2001.

Our experience here has provided us with extensive market knowledge. We tend to see our business as a lifelong partnership, working with customers through their life stages from buying their first home, to life insurance or help when starting up a business. This is something we intend to develop.

What are the biggest challenges facing your organisation?

Being recognised as one of Northern Ireland’s local banks presents challenges. We offer products and services such as mortgages, business banking and savings accounts but we find that many people may perceive us as too big for their needs. This is certainly not the case, our global presence is, in fact, a huge advantage as we can provide them with the best offers — we even have a January sale with discounts on certain products.

Could the Government help you to do business better?

We would like to see the government continue to strengthen their support for companies here that wish to export. We work with them in this respect as HSBC’s global presence enables us to provide cultural and economic briefings in advance of government trade missions to Asia and other parts of the globe. This is an area in which we excel in terms of providing customer service and support. We see our role as enabling more businesses here to export or expand their operations abroad without worrying about their banking requirements.

Why would someone work for you?

We are an exciting and growing global business and there are many opportunities to develop personally and professionally. Staff training and support is provided and staff satisfaction surveys ensure that management receives feedback. We are a very enthusiastic team that works hard to support each other.

Your views on the economy please

Because we face uncertain and potentially challenging times, people think a lot more about their finances. Many are now reviewing their income and expenditure to ensure they are in a healthy position, whilst taking nothing for granted. We provide support for our customers, particularly during these times.

The business climate — good or bad?

One of the consequences of a difficult business climate is that customers consider where the best place is that they can feel safe. People recognise us as a secure bank and are continuing to deposit with us. HSBC continues to be appropriately capitalised, funded from the Group’s internal resources. Unlike other banks, HSBC therefore has no current plans to utilise the UK recapitalisation initiative.

What ambitions do you have on a personal level?

To put the Royal Avenue branch on the map and to let people know we are here. I would also like to gain experience overseas, perhaps in the Middle East. And I would love to see Wigan Athletic win the league!

What do you get up to in your spare time?

I am an avid soccer fan and I also enjoy playing tennis. I recently became a dad, so much of my spare time is devoted to my baby daughter.

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