The man responsible for small business lending for NatWest and the Royal Bank of Scotland has this morning said he wants to do more for Portsmouth’s firms.
Ian Cowie, chief executive of the banks’ business and commercial banking arm, is in the city today to talk to customers, employees and business leaders.
His aim, he told The News this morning, is to listen, to rebuild confidence that has been lost in bank lending since the credit crunch hit in 2008, and to find out how the banks could better help the local economy.
He said: ‘What we’re trying to do is get a better understanding from our customers as to how it feels on the ground, and the best way to do that is to spend some time meeting them.
‘We want to find out the best way for us to support the UK economy and the local economy around Portsmouth, and we feel the best way to do that is to listen to our customers.’
Mr Cowie, who has worked his way up through the bank from being a branch teller, said the banks had launched a campaign to write to customers locally to tell them directly the banks are open for lending.
Since then the banks have allocated 356 loans worth £49m via the government’s Funding for Lending scheme in Portsmouth.
That is the second largest number of loans granted in the South East.
However, Mr Cowie acknowledges small and medium-sized business owners might be sceptical of approaching the banks for funding, expecting to be turned down.
He said: ‘We all had our confidence knocked, and we know there’s a lack of trust from the past two or three years with the banks.
‘What we’re trying to do is challenge ourselves more - we are lending, and we’re lending more than anybody else, but we want to do more.’
One of the ways the banks are doing that is by launching an independent review into its lending, chaired by former Bank of England vice chairman Sir Andrew Large.
‘We say we’re lending, SMEs are saying they still can’t access finance, and there are still a lot of people who won’t approach the bank.
‘That’s no good for them, and it’s no good for us.’
Mr Cowie explained the banks had invested in its staff in three key areas, including getting staff accredited in the Chartered Banker scheme, to try and link staff with knowledge of a particular sector to work with customers in that sector and, finally, for every one of the banks’ relationship managers to spend two days a year working for their customers.
Later today Mr Cowie will be meeting with city leaders and members of the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership to find out more about what is being done locally to help the economy and get businesses access to funding.
He said: ‘We are seeing some positive early signs of recovery in the economy - it’s still quite a struggle but there’s a little bit more of a spring in people’s steps, and I expect I will see that here in Portsmouth later.
‘If we can nurture that confidence , that’s a huge role we can play in the economy’s recovery.’
SMEs and the wider public are being invited to contribute their experience and feedback to the report by completing an online survey at independentlendingreview.co.uk.