Barclays has been at the heart of the Northern Ireland economy for over three decades and it’s been working with a manufacturing stalwart – the Bamford family – for longer still. Ulster Business speaks to Graeme MacLaughlin, relationship director for Barclays in Northern Ireland, and Jo Bamford, chairman of Wrightbus, about their joint future in a green economy, and continuing to grow their expertise and strengthening their relationship
“We’ve been banking with Barclays for 50 years,’ Jo Bamford, chairman of Wrightbus tells Ulster Business.
Barclays has been a key banking partner for Jo Bamford and his family’s businesses across the generations, and this has recently extended into Northern Ireland following the business development activities of the local team, which recognised the strength and potential of the underlying business and ESG credentials of Jo’s long-term strategy for the future.
And it’s had both an eye on growing its local expertise, complemented by its wider UK network, while helping drive change towards the global green recovery.
Barclays has spent the last three decades building its presence across the corporate business space here – assisting firms from the micro to SMEs and right up to those boasting a turnover in excess of nine figures.
It’s been at the heart of the economy during that time, and has recently further bolstered its multi-generational relationship with Jo Bamford and his family – founders of the international manufacturing giant JCB.
Jo is now chairman of Wrightbus, and founder of hydrogen firm Ryse. His company bought the Ballymena bus-maker out of administration in 2019 – taking the reins, and driving it towards an electric and hydrogen future.
At the core of assisting in the latest business venture is Graeme MacLaughlin. He’s relationship director for Barclays in Northern Ireland, and the man tasked with looking after some of the bank’s largest private sector clients right across the region.
“My role is to manage large corporate relationships, both from a business development perspective, but also those from an existing portfolio,” Graeme says.
He’s been working in banking throughout his career, and with Barclays for 15 years, having previously worked in England.
Graeme and the rest of the wider Barclays team have been at the centre of the Bamford family journey for decades, forging a key personal banking relationship.
“As a family we have been banking with Barclays for about 50 years,” Jo Bamford says. “We have a good long-term relationship with them, and they offer all of the right banking services we need.
“We have relationships with people and those last a long time. It’s a very good relationship, and they are good people.”
That relationship and reach is key to both Jo and Barclays as a whole – encompassing its ‘One Barclays’ philosophy.
“There is the wider Barclays family here, and we aim to offer solutions, for clients, working with colleagues across the Barclays footprint,” Graeme says. “If there are relationships to develop or expand, having people locally on the ground to work with the management team here and their advisors, has been key for everyone.
“It’s about being able to throw the umbrella over everything. It’s about having a seamless platform across the group.”
Led by Adrian Doran, Barclays’ business in Northern Ireland has grown from its corporate banking roots to a full-service financial operation with a branch network.
“We have typically been known as players in the large corporate banking segment – firms with turnover of £50m plus. But over time, and particularly over the last few years, we have also focused on the wider corporate and business banking space. That includes start-ups right up to companies with over £1bn in revenues.
“The key for us is also our sector specialism. We work very closely with companies in sectors such as manufacturing and energy, but also a range of others including technology, healthcare, and professional services. We try and differentiate in that way – bringing sector-specific knowledge, bringing clients together and really understanding what the opportunities are.”
And that extended relationship with Jo Bamford’s acquisition of Wrightbus in 2019 – which is now headed by chief executive officer, Buta Atwal – came about through Barclays’ own relationships and having an ear to the ground regarding the Ballymena-based bus-maker.
“We had dialogue with Jo’s professional advisors and were aware there were opportunities coming as a result of the Wrightbus administration,” Graeme says. “It was clear there was a good quality underlying business, and with developments in renewables and other technologies, we could see there was an opportunity.
“It was clear Jo needed a strong banking relationship, as well as someone with great local knowledge of the arena in which the business was operating in. We were able to offer a wide range of products and opportunities that an expanding business like Wrightbus needed.”
Jo said: “Barclays is a very pro-active company to work with – particularly in Northern Ireland – and they have provided us with the assistance in finance and product knowledge we needed to help grow our business.
And since the deal, that’s meant Barclays being at the heart of the Wrightbus journey. That includes access to key trade finance products, such as bonds, guarantees and indemnities.
It also included supporting Wrightbus with advance payment guarantees for its recent major deal with Translink for a host of zero-emission buses – another client of Barclays.
Barclays remains the key banking partner for the bus-maker, everything from the general day-to-day – such as salaries and supplier payments – to the various tools and products available to help finance trade.
The bank is also well-versed in the future. And that future is green.
“We are very focused on helping clients with the challenging task of delivering their own green aspirations,” Graeme says. “But also, breaking down some of the barriers around financing and solutions which they may need to access.”
And for Jo, while during the Covid crisis he’s been creating a stable bedrock for the company, he is also eyeing its long-term future in becoming a green bus business.
“We took over a bus manufacturing business in November 2019 and then Covid hit,” Jo says.
“But we are transitioning to zero-emission buses and there has been the exciting news that we have now received government funding to start driving change, and driving zero-emission buses.
“There are a lot of plus points. And by the beginning of next year we should have a full line-up of zero-emission buses, single and double-decker, batteries and hydrogen.”
While it’s still producing diesel buses amid current market demands, Wrightbus is moving towards becoming a fully zero-emissions business in the near future.
“That will really change where the business moves forward – we will then become a zero-emissions firm,” he says.
Barclays has developed its own interests and product base around how it can assist clients in moving towards a green future – whether that’s transport, manufacturing, or its own carbon footprint.
“We are helping our client base on their journey towards reducing their carbon footprints,” Graeme says. “It’s a commitment on us as a major financial institution to signpost that and deliver it.”
And like others, Barclays has played a key role in assisting in the fightback against Covid – supporting clients through a host of government financing and assistance schemes, such as the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) and Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS).
Looking to the future, Wrightbus, helped along the road by Barclays, is well on its way to further developing and growing the green economy here, in Northern Ireland. It’s also being awarded £11.2m from the Government to assist in developing hydrogen fuel technology.
And Jo’s keen to see Northern Ireland forge its own position on the hydrogen map. “Northern Ireland has an opportunity to grab the hydrogen economy in its own back yard – whoever does that will reap the benefits.
“We have Wrightbus, we could produce hydrogen in Ireland and it can happen. The UK and Ireland are pretty small islands, and there is a world out there. We have to have products which engage with the world.
“At this stage it’s about creating a solid foundation for what is a relatively young business in its new owner’s hands, before eyeing up and expanding across the global marketplace.”