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Providing debt finance is vital for future of banks


VITAL ROLE: Ian Jordan says Ulster Bank will play its part in helping Northern Ireland's economy rebalance itself

VITAL ROLE: Ian Jordan says Ulster Bank will play its part in helping Northern Ireland's economy rebalance itself

VITAL ROLE: Ian Jordan says Ulster Bank will play its part in helping Northern Ireland's economy rebalance itself

Margaret Canning speaks to Ian Jordan, the new head of business banking at Ulster Bank

Ian Jordan vows that the institution is “open for business”. It has received more brickbats than bouquets during the downturn, and was one of those banks taken to account by none other than Northern Ireland’s top clergy during a heated session of the Enterprise, Trade and Investment Committee in the Assembly last year.

Mr Jordan has succeeded Henry Elvin during a time of transition for banking north and south — and those they lend to are still in difficult times, and some of Ulster Bank's own clients are still in “intensive care” under the close monitoring of managers.

Mr Jordan also says the bank lent £300m to small businesses last year, and adds that the assessment conditions haven’t changed, “but economic conditions have”.

He says it’s not just the hale and hearty sectors, such as pharmaceutical and agri-food, that are the recipients of Ulster Bank finance. Mind you, it has attracted 200 new farmers in the past year, and boosts its visibility in that sector by sponsoring the Balmoral Show and the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Awards.

“Clearly, we are not doing the property lending we were doing before,” he says. “Businesses are being asked more questions by their banks because they are in a more challenging environment. They are being asked more questions about their accounts and where they see their business going.

“There are no sectors we rule out. There are good businesses in struggling sectors. I want to see the bank not just supporting existing customers, but attracting new business; perhaps those that can’t get finance from their existing bank.

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“I don’t like to be negative about other banks, but we certainly are open for business. That’s partly because we are part of the RBS group, which has its commitments to lend and has signed up to the British Bankers’ Association initiatives to support customers.

“But no bank has a long-term future if it can’t provide debt finance to its good customers.”

While the pain of First Trust and Bank of Ireland has been well-documented, Mr Jordan does not want to see the demise of any bank.

“Northern Ireland needs a number of banks, but exactly how many, I really don’t know at the moment,” he says. “There’s still competition in the marketplace.

“Personally, I don’t want to see banks withdraw from the market, because when that happens, it destabilises the whole market. Healthy competition is a good thing.”

He said business customers benefit from Ulster Bank’s network of 90 branches across the province.

“Businesses like having local managers and say they want to talk to someone just down the road who knows the locality and the challenges they face,” he says. “It also gives us market intelligence.”

The father-of-two says his new job means he doesn’t have enough hours in the day to do everything, but meeting and greeting a range of people, from journalists to businesses, “gives me the ability to hear a lot of perspectives on how the economy is doing. That puts me in a great position.”

But his overwhelming message is: “Not all banks are the same. Just because you get a ‘no’ from your own bank, it doesn’t mean it’s not worth talking to us.

“We want to play our part in helping the Northern Ireland economy rebalance itself.

“We have got to lend money to help that happen.”