Blog post

Local expertise is vital if small business owners are going to get the service they deserve

6 mins read

By Charissa Chang, Business Relationship Manager at Allica Bank

If we really want to understand our customers, we need a proactive feedback strategy
 
There’s a worrying trend at present that is seeing small businesses lose access to specialised financial expertise. Banks are continuing to centralise and cut down on their physical presence in towns and villages across the UK, often taking their local business relationship managers with them.
 
It’s creating a vacuum of local knowledge and expertise, which our small business communities are already sorely missing. Take my sister-in-law, for example. She’s operated a small hairdresser just outside of Bradford for 27 years. After the credit crunch, her local bank branch was closed, and she lost access to her local business relationship manager.
 
As a result, she no longer has someone to go to for tailored advice that knows her business and the opportunities and challenges she faces in the area. Instead, she’s been pushed towards using online channels or speaking to a centralised customer support centre. But how can they possibly know what’s best for her business? 
 
There’s no one-size-fits-all 
 
When assessing what product might be best for a small business, there are so many different local factors that need to be taken into account. There are opportunities here in Manchester that businesses in the likes of London, Cambridge or Bristol don’t have access to. And unique local challenges, too.
 
The development of Media City, for example, has been a boon for the local area and has attracted some great creative talent. The likes of Kellogg’s, PZ Cussons, Google and Amazon have all opened vast distribution centres, generating fantastic opportunities for local suppliers and boosting employment further. There’s also been extensive investment by many firms alongside the government into apprentice and training schemes to develop local skills. These issues all need to be taken into consideration when, say, assessing a small business for a loan.
 
In few situations is this lack of local knowledge more apparent than when it comes to commercial mortgages. Many banks will have the same products on offer for businesses in London as they do for those based in the North. However, so much about a property’s potential is determined by its location.  
 
Property price growth in London has stagnated in the wake of Brexit, while yields are also being squeezed because prices are so high. The same can’t be said for all parts of the North, though. But that doesn’t seem to matter to many mortgage lenders, whose broad-brush approach has denied many healthy businesses an opportunity for growth.
 
That’s why at Allica Bank we place so much value not only on having local experts that know their markets inside out. We’re also given the flexibility to assess every individual business on its own merits. We take the time to properly understand a business owner’s situation and be able to apply common sense, rather than simply tick boxes. After all, no two businesses are the same.
 
Network of experts 
 
It’s not just knowledge of the issues that’s important, though. It’s the people, too. Small businesses need to be able to rely on their bank having a trusted network around them that can provide a bespoke and tailored service. They should know that when a surveyor goes to view a commercial property, they will also consider wider issues such as employment, education levels, re-saleability and the geographical sector appetites of the area they’re in.
 
As someone that’s worked for almost 20 years in the North’s business and financial community, I have a wide network of contacts who intimately know their patch and that I know can provide the best value for small businesses. These close relationships mean I am able to provide an educated and expert service to clients from start to finish. And it means that, if perhaps Allica Bank can’t offer what a business owner needs, I can point them towards someone who can.
 
Working together at local level 
 
It is important that as more and more services become centralised and digitised, small businesses aren’t denied opportunities for growth simply because the person making the decisions doesn’t understand them.
 
I am pleased to say that, at a time when most larger banks are reducing their numbers of business relationship managers, Allica Bank is actually growing our network across the UK. This is because we know that each and every business is different and deserves to be treated as such. We want to work in partnership with business owners to make sure we properly understand their concerns, and then collaborate to empower them to succeed.
 
My key objective for 2020 is to make sure I am visible across the regions I will support by way of meeting business owners and learning about how Allica Bank can make their lives easier. If you’d like to find out more about what we do or would just like some advice, drop me an email at charissa.chang@allica.bank. It will be great to catch up!