by Anne Williams, COO, Henry Howard Finance
We’ve all seen the headlines – “High street bank to close more branches”, “Rural village left with no banking facilities” – and we see it ourselves when we visit our local towns. Traditional banks are moving away from personal relationship finance and are doing more and more online.
Recent figures from Which? demonstrated that 60 banks are closing every week on the UK’s high streets. That equates to nearly 3,000 branches which have disappeared since 2015.
Shocking statistics, but if you are a small or medium-sized business you’ve probably seen this shift coming for years. Long gone are the days when you could make an appointment to see your bank manager to discuss extending that overdraft facility or the need for a small injection of cash to buy that new equipment.
High-street business bank relationship managers are mainly based on the phone in central offices or, increasingly, their work – depending on the size of the SME they deal with – is being pushed online.
The truth is, we all love shopping, getting our news and communicating online. It’s easy, quick and convenient. But when it comes to finance for your business, should it be the only solution?
At Henry Howard Finance we don’t think so, and that’s why we’re balancing the two. In the past 12 months we’ve been expanding our network of account managers around the UK, as these days we see an even greater need for personality-led SME financial solutions. In addition to offices in South Wales we have recruited new members of staff in the Midlands, Devon, Cornwall, St Helens, West Wales, Bristol and Manchester, with plans to add more around the UK in 2019.
Henry Howard Finance is a 115-strong team of can-do people who want to help SMEs grow, thrive and survive. With more than 20 years’ experience in the SME finance market, we’ve seen trends come and go and we know that flexible, bespoke finance packages are what companies small and large are looking for.
They want to be able to chat through their finance options with someone who understands their business, someone who takes the time to listen to the challenges they are facing, come up with solutions and follow the whole process through to its conclusion.
For many SMEs, financing assets or getting suitable vendor finance solutions to increase productivity or a customer base is key to growth, and for some can be a big make-or-break risk. That’s why we feel it’s important for them to either meet or chat on the phone to a dedicated account manager to go through the nuances of any finance deal.
Along with the human touch for asset finance relationships, we are also leading the way with our vendor technology. We’re currently investing a further £1million into our vendor finance app HowApp, which enables vendors to set up tailor-made customer finance packages, simplify credit approval and cut transaction times, and with the personal feedback of our vendor finance customers to further hone, improve and innovate our online portal, HowApp is helping us win more clients. Our customers know that when we invest in technology for vendor finance, we do so with them in mind, with their recommendations ringing in our ears to help them achieve their business goals.
That investment in listening and people power, as well as securing a £100million asset finance facility from the British Business Bank (BBB), has allowed us to increase flexibility and adaptability. We can now not only lend from our own book, increasing the speed at which we can make funding decisions, but can also look at different options, using our panel of lenders to find the right deal to suit our clients.
This extension of our lending ability, as well as the great relationship with our lending panel and the hard work of our account managers, has put us in a great position to increase our share of SME funding solutions in the coming years.
Recent research from the British Business Bank found that net bank lending was stagnant in the past year, and smaller businesses were increasingly looking to alternative funders for financial solutions. We have also seen an increase in the number of clients coming to us for help in the past 18 months. The BBB’s research and our own experience demonstrate that, at Henry Howard Finance, we are meeting the needs of our customers as well as attracting new clients to our doors.
The great thing about what we do at Henry Howard Finance is that, as we meet the needs of our customers, we are also meeting the needs of our greatest asset, our employees. A cliché, we know, but realistically, without the hard work, dedication and passion they put in to their work we wouldn’t be helping as many businesses as we are – more than 7,000 in the past year, in fact – and we wouldn’t be achieving as much as we are as a business.
So, here’s to the human touch, and to continuing to listen to our customers to innovate in an increasingly digital financial world. People buy from people and the power of a personal relationship and a two-way conversation across all types of business relationships cannot be underestimated – even finance.
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