Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Bank Northern Ireland chief on keeping it simple for customers

By Ellvena Graham, head of Ulster Bank Northern Ireland

In the world of banking, detail is all-important. Translating this complexity for our customers is part of the job - to provide simplicity and clarity so that people and businesses can make informed decisions about their finances.

Keeping things simple and taking the time to stop, reflect and focus - these are the principles that underpin the Ulster Bank Business Achievers Awards. Next week, the winners of the Ulster final - Almac, Moy Park, Arklu, Slurrykat, BA Kitchen Components, Cornerstone Automation Systems, Employers for Childcare and Avondale Foods - will be making the journey to Dublin to compete in the all-Ireland awards.

Also hoping to succeed are the finalists from three other provincial finals, across eight different categories, with all ultimately trying to win the title of Ulster Bank Business Achiever 2014.

At Ulster Bank, we understand that a good business is more than just the sum-total of its parts. The culture, effort and ingenuity of individual employees, and their response to both success and failure, helps to differentiate firms that operate in very similar industries. This kind of platform is a welcome boost for those who win. But it is worth considering the circumstances in which they have to do it, and why I firmly believe these awards are important for what they say about our economy more broadly.

Building a business in a post-recession society is a dynamic and exciting challenge.

Many local companies have responded excellently to changing consumer preferences. Firms have had to move up the value chain in terms of the goods and services they provide. While confidence in our private sector remains strong, your closest business competitor could just as easily be from Singapore as Strabane. Since the 1970s, globalisation has meant that millions of people in emerging markets have become middle class consumers and competitors.

More recently, local enterprises have also had to respond to the effects of the recession and the subsequent impact on consumer confidence. So the local businesses that do well in this environment, through export and innovation, staying ahead of international trends while also remaining alert to demand at home, deserve praise and admiration for making and doing in a fiercely competitive market.

It's why we continue to promote and invest in these awards. There are obvious tangible benefits to encourage firms to take part - the overall competition winner will receive a £40,000 publishing bursary with the Belfast Telegraph, business mentoring from Enterprise Ireland and a full service communications workshop. These things can go a long way towards enhancing and sustaining a company's profile, allowing them to tap new markets and sell to new customers.

But beyond the benefits that our individual winners receive, trying to create an environment where we look up to entrepreneurs and laud them for the things they get right, can only help contribute to our economy.

We're mindful that this needs to be done in a sustainable way. Throughout each stage of the awards, companies have been judged on a variety of criteria including financial performance, company milestones and achievements, future strategy for business people and the business and the development of innovative products and services. These are all important to us as they show that Ulster Bank Business Achiever Awards aren't simply a reflection of past glories.

It celebrates those that look to the longer term as well. And when you see previous Ulster final winners such as First Derivatives, Mash Direct and Wilson's Country, I think you'll agree that planning can enable our winners to go on and do great things.

I hope that many of you will take the opportunity to look out for some of the ambitious and focused businesses and people that we will be profiling through these awards - those keeping it simple and having the conviction to press forward with their business ideas.

You can follow all the action through our Twitter feed @ulsterbank and #UBBAA - the very best of luck to all our finalists.

Belfast Telegraph