Blog post

We need to collaborate to give small businesses the power to succeed 

7 mins read

By Mark Stephens, CEO of Allica Bank

If we really want to understand our customers, we need a proactive feedback strategy
 
I have managed several small businesses throughout my career. A topic that was often a cause for debate was how we were measuring our success. After all, it’s easy to get carried away focusing on profitability and growth. But what good is that in the long-run if you have unhappy customers? And is doubling your turnover really that much to celebrate if it’s being outpaced by costs?
 
At Allica, we, of course, have profit and revenue targets like anyone else. However, we also choose to measure our success by the success of our customers. I understand how that might sound a little cliché. But, to me, a bank with a growing and prosperous customer base is a sign of a sustainable business.
 
Collaboration  – one of Allica’s three core values (alongside integrity and being straightforward)– is going to be a key component here. We can’t do this alone. To help our customers be successful, we need to work closely with them and the wider broker community to understand their needs in order to provide solutions. Everyone has a part to play.
 
This means putting Allica’s short-term commercial interests aside. It means being honest if we don’t think we have the best answer to a customer’s need, and then pointing them towards another provider or a broker that is better positioned to help. 
 
Why? Well, because it’s the right thing to do. But also, if our customers know that we have their best interests at heart, they’ll become strong advocates for Allica Bank and choose to work with us again.
 
People power
 
To truly help small businesses, they need access to human expertise and support, alongside innovative and intuitive digital tools. There’s a trend nowadays in finance to move away from having any human input at all. But, if you ask me, this is going to seriously harm a small business’s banking experience.
 
Business owners, like most people, aren’t commercial finance experts. They know their business, products, and sector through and through. But as they grow from a sole trader to a partnership and then a limited company, most won’t have been in that position before. The likes of PAYE and vehicle hire purchases will be completely new territory, and they’ll rarely have a support network that’s qualified to help.
 
I’ve grown a number of businesses in the past; while Allica itself is a small business. I know what a lonely experience it can be sometimes as a business owner. That’s why we want to let entrepreneurs know that they don’t have to make these decisions alone.
 
Tailored expertise
 
If we are to give this guidance, though, we need to have the right in-house expertise. Taking out a commercial mortgage for a small business, for example, isn’t the same as opening a personal bank account. One size does not fit all! Every business is different and has its own challenges, quirks and needs – the solutions made available to them should reflect that.
 
This means our team has to have the experience and knowledge to suggest the right products and give educated advice. Of course, we’ll never know as much about a customer’s market or business as they do, but we need to know enough to apply our financial expertise to it. This is why collaboration is so important, to enable us to pool our strengths and achieve a common goal.
 
At Allica, we have a strong and growing network of relationship managers out on the road. They have years of experience supporting their local business communities. We’re also planning on hiring sector experts, with strong backgrounds in the likes of construction, hospitality or agriculture. These will be able to work alongside our regional relationship managers to provide even more tailored guidance, while also running workshops and sharing knowledge.
 
Losing the human touch
 
One reason I’m so passionate about collaboration and human support is that business owners are running out of sources of advice elsewhere. Gone are the days of being able to visit a business manager in-branch at your local bank. Instead, small businesses are forced to speak to a centralised support centre, where the person on the other end of the line rarely knows who they are or anything about their situation.
 
The trend now is for reducing customer interaction by increasing self-service and automation. New digital banks are able to onboard new customers by just the touch of a few buttons, with no human intervention required at all. Now, don’t get me wrong, these technologies are vital for a modern and seamless customer experience, which we’re building here at Allica, too. But good tech shouldn’t come at the expense of human interaction if it’s needed – it should complement it.
 
A culture of collaboration
 
Creating a bank that puts the interests of our customers front and centre starts with the people. At Allica, we live and breathe collaboration. We don’t promote a hard sales culture, but instead celebrate how we have supported our customers. We hire relationship managers based on their passion for helping small businesses to succeed, not hitting targets.
 
For me, this creates a working environment that is much more enjoyable. One built on working together, supporting each other and providing feedback. I hope our customers feel this, too.
 
It’s still early days for Allica. But I know that – together – we can create a bank that can truly empower business owners to succeed. I’m looking forward to working with you!