Belfast Telegraph

Perception is everything at a time where common-sense banking is much needed

By Richard Donnan

What does it mean to be a business bank in 2016? To my mind, success requires a mindset that values relationships over products, that is socially conscious and engaged in the community in which it operates, and which understands that what people think and say you do - as opposed to what you say about yourself - is one of the biggest determinants of long-term sustainability.

For an industry that has been heavily focused on numbers, this is a fresh challenge - particularly because it can feel like innovation that is reshaping the industry is pulling in the opposite direction. Industry standards are evolving with new data technologies available, like blockchain, and consumers are also looking for more information, innovation and accessibility through mobile apps.

Yet in spite of this, I believe banking also has as much to do with humanities as it does sciences.

Furthermore as the number of things that a bank can do increases, a common-sense approach is needed to keep banking, focused and clear about what it can do really well.

That might sound aspirational - but in fact it's essential.

Otherwise your research and development has the potential to lead you away from customers.

At Ulster Bank, we keep ourselves grounded through two main strands - our support for the local business environment and early stage entrepreneurs, and through tailoring our products and service offerings to meet the changing nature of business.

For example, through the Entrepreneurial Spark hatchery, we're helping to provide the space and expertise needed to prepare the next generation of entrepreneurs - providing them with the tools and raw materials they need to build great businesses.

Our support isn't about looking for an immediate return - it's founded on a belief that a local business environment that is broad, strong and varied lifts all boats.

And I know that dealing with these exciting early stage businesses, who are very clear about what they expect from a bank, is exactly the kind of direct engagement and feedback that is needed.

We also seek to match innovation with practicality when it comes to our products, by being on the lookout for business trends that are shaping the local economy.

Invoice financing, for example, is an area that has room to grow in Northern Ireland.

Financial providers helping businesses to release working capital from unpaid invoices, enabling firms to smooth their cashflow and put in place plans for growth and investment is certainly positive for the overall environment.

But the suitability of any solution like this is based on a face-to-face meeting with customers, and getting under the skin and truly understanding their business.

So as 2016 progresses, and we deal with the challenges and opportunities ahead, we look forward to pressing on with our eyes firmly focused on our customers and their future needs with our feet firmly on the ground.

Belfast Telegraph