Bucking the trend by understanding our customers

By Steve Pateman
Head of UK Corporate and Commercial Banking

It’s results season for many businesses. The time of year when companies big and small make a public statement about the last twelve months: the ups and downs, what has worked and what might not have been so successful. Many UK banks have followed suit, and it was interesting to gauge the media reaction to a range of issues that the results generated.

It wasn’t surprising to see the question of SME (Small and medium enterprise) funding come to the fore once again. Ever since the credit crunch began, the issue of lending to smaller businesses has been at the top of the agenda. The public, rightly, want to see the banking sector back up its promises with real action, while the Government has made it a priority to encourage banks to increase their lending. So the news that few banks achieved this attracted a predictable amount of negative comment. Recent British Bankers’ Association’s figures showed that new loans to SMEs fell to £949 million in January and February, from £1.06 billion a year earlier.

Santander also published results recently. They show that we are bucking the trend and have increased our lending to smaller businesses by 29% year-on-year. Why the difference? It’s no secret that we want to be the SME bank of choice, and have therefore actively sought out new business. And we really get to know our customers - we don’t just look at their short-term numbers. Instead, we find and encourage the business’s underlying strengths.

With the banking environment still challenging, our ability to lend — backed up by a strong balance sheet, prudent lending policies and a desire to build deep relationships — has benefited both us and our customers. They have been able to plan for their future with confidence. Meanwhile, we have delivered on our promise to provide a genuine challenge to the established order - and invest in UK businesses.

This has come about largely thanks to the time we’ve spent with businesses up and down the UK to understand their needs. Indeed, our Chief Executive Ana Botín has been out in the regions talking to our customers to get a greater insight into what they require from their bank. Unusually for a senior banker, Ana also has hands-on experience of running a company, having spent three years managing an SME.

As she says, “unless you actually do it, you don’t know what it’s like...” We are investing a lot of time with our relationship managers so they too learn how to understand both the business and the customer.

Watch the video below featuring Steve Pateman, Head of UK Corporate and Commercial Banking talking about the bank's commitment to SMEs.


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