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Danske Bank chief executive Vicky Davies: fresh thinking leading the way forward

Vicky Davies has just taken up the role as chief executive of Danske Bank in Northern Ireland. With a wealth of experience across finance and banking, she speaks to Ulster Business about her clear goals for the bank – which she says are all about helping customers, colleagues and society to thrive

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Vicky Davies

Vicky Davies

Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

Vicky Davies

Vicky Davies

Kelvin Boyes / Press Eye

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Vicky Davies

It’s very clear from the outset that Vicky Davies has a target for where she sees Danske Bank’s future.

She’s now at the helm of the bank, after almost a decade with Danske, and following on from two years as deputy chief executive.

And as chief executive, she’s eyeing core, key areas to focus on – supporting customers, boosting its digital capabilities, acting as a local leader on global issues, increasing sustainability and ensuring Danske Bank is a diverse and great place to work.

“A bank’s job is to help people and businesses fulfil their ambitions, playing our part in helping them thrive,” Vicky says.

She’s called Northern Ireland home for 16 years. Proud of her Welsh roots, Vicky’s career has seen her working across the world of business and finance, including in management consultancy and working with private equity companies in London.

“I love living here,” she says. It’s both a fantastic place to have a family, and a career.”

Vicky is Danske Bank, and the former Northern Bank’s, first ever female chief executive – and one of the few women to hold such a senior role across Northern Ireland’s banking sector, taking over the reins just two months ago from her predecessor, Kevin Kingston.

And while uncertainty and challenges around Covid and Brexit still exist, Vicky says the overall picture is “cautiously optimistic” for both the bank, and its customers.

She says the transition to her new role from her predecessor has been “seamless”. In her first few weeks she’s been out to visit many of the bank’s business customers and has met with over 1,000 colleagues – both virtually and face-to-face in head office, across the branch network and its operational centres.

“I have things I want to achieve. It’s also getting used to the buck stopping with me,” Vicky says.

“As Northern Ireland’s biggest bank we are a reflection of the local economy. We have seen a massive swell in deposits, which are now at record levels. When it comes to the pace of economic recovery, a lot will depend on pent up economic capacity like this turning into consumer spending and business investment.

“It is a positive sign that we are now seeing business customers starting their repayments on Covid support loans and payments holidays.”

“No one expected the path to recovery not to have a few bumps – businesses are experiencing challenges around rising input costs, access to labour and more recently energy price increases. However it is important to note that many of our business customers have come through the pandemic really strongly and are thriving and expanding.

“Issues around Brexit, supply chains and input costs are challenging, but most larger businesses here have incredible resilience and are just getting on and dealing with these situations as best they can,” she says.

The bank’s latest financial figures show continued improvement. It posted pre-tax profits of £38.1m for the first half of 2021, before loan impairments. And Vicky says much of those impairments are being written back – highlighting the health of the bank.

“If we compare to where we thought things could have been, it’s more positive than we expected,” Vicky says.

“With smaller businesses it is much more sector and business dependent. But overall, looking at the economic growth figures for this year, I expect to continue to see an improving picture.”

“For us, I see fresh opportunities. Every day we must ask ourselves how can we further support our existing customers, yet also attract customers currently with other banks to switch to Danske.

“When I talk about a bank’s job being to help fulfil other people’s ambitions and help them thrive, what do I mean? It’s helping people to own their own home, helping businesses get financing to grow, provide job opportunities and invest in new technology.

“There are fantastic businesses which are indigenous to Northern Ireland that are growing so much – we are working with many of these leading businesses to ensure we help them grow and achieve their aspirations.”

Danske Bank has long been at the forefront of the move to digital solutions, and it’s continuing to lead the way in improving customer experiences through this medium.

And Vicky says the digital skills which the bank has were “absolutely fundamental” in dealing with the onset of Covid disruption. There are now more than 100 local staff dedicated to digitising and simplifying the bank.

“We have invested heavily in areas such as robotics, automation and data,” she says. “During the initial launch of the Covid ‘bounce back loans’, we would never have been able to get those thousands of loans out as fast as we did without the in-house digital expertise that we now have here in Northern Ireland.

“For me, the key priorities in this area are building more capability, recruiting talent into the business with the right skills and partnering with different organisations. It’s an investment in people, in partnerships and capabilities. We are taking every process in the bank and looking at it from end-to-end – completely digitising it.”

That includes reducing as much paperwork as possible, customers signing digitally, and accessing and applying for products through the bank’s multiple digital channels.

But Vicky says while digital is now front and centre, she remains a huge believer in the human touch.

“People still like to do business with people and I very much believe branches and contact centres will remain hugely important to our customer offering. That’s why in recent years we have invested around £6m in transformational branch upgrades in many locations. Our latest transformation will be our branch at Forestside Shopping Centre in Belfast, which is due to reopen to customers in November. The plans we have for it are amazing and I can’t wait to see what customers think.”

She’s not pulling any punches when it comes to her aspirations for improving the bank’s sustainability credentials.

“The climate crisis is the biggest challenge of our generation and we need to act now and fast. We have signed up to Business in the Community’s Climate Action Pledge to reduce our emissions by 50% by 2030 – I want to accelerate that.”

That also includes ensuring all of Danske Bank’s branches are fossil-fuel free by the end of 2023, targeting £2bn in sustainable lending, and strict targets on reducing its own carbon footprint, and within its customer base. “We want to go green and help our customers go green,” she says.

Danske Bank’s climate action programme is headed by its own newly appointed head of sustainability. Highlights so far have included the bank launching the UK’s first carbon neutral mortgage – with more green loans set to be introduced before the end of the year.

The company is also leading the way on diversity and inclusion. “We now have around 40% of women in senior roles, but we still have some way to go in other areas,” Vicky says.

“We have just launched a new network around race and ethnicity. This complements existing networks on gender diversity, LGBTQ+ and disabilities. Not many local companies have widened their diversity drive as much as we have, and that’s something we are very proud of. But there is still so much to do if we are to achieve our objectives.”

She says while gender should not be an issue in the workplace, seeing a female chief executive take over at the helm can only be a boon for younger women – envisaging themselves in similar roles, one day.

“We are an organisation which is two thirds women,” she says. “My brother is physically disabled and my niece and nephew are mixed race.

“So, I’m a huge believer in diversity in its broader sense. For me, one of the things I want to look back on is taking this to the next level.

“We are also creating placements for people with disabilities to work in the business. We want to really make a difference.”

Talking about the changing world of work, Vicky says “I’ve always worked flexibly throughout my career. It’s something I have been fortunate to be able to do given my roles.

“At Danske Bank we try to provide as much flexibility as we can for our people. I have a young family and I intend to continue to see them as often as possible during the week. I want us to be seen as the best place to work in Northern Ireland, and flexibility, where possible, will be key to that.” π


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