We spoke to Mark Stokes, Managing Director - Commercial Banking at Metro Bank, about business confidence in 2017, and how to balance digital and physical aspects of business.
You recently pledged £1bn of ring-fenced funds for commercial lending in 2017, having lent £544m to business and commercial customers in 2015. Do you foresee a big increase in demand for commercial lending?
Every year, we're seeing more and more businesses join our banking revolution and our latest pledge is responding to that demand. This year alone, not only have we pledged the £1bn, but we've also announced that we'll be recruiting a further 500 colleagues and ramping up the number of business bankers in our high street stores by 30% - all testament to the popularity of our services. But it’s not just about new businesses moving to us. We continue to support existing customers as they expand and are pleased to see good levels of confidence and demand.
The financial services industry is undergoing a period of change, as firms and consumers explore the opportunities and differences between the digital and physical aspects of business. Why is this important, and how do you think these changes will inform the market going forward?
If you look at brands such as Deliveroo and Uber, the technology behind their apps is phenomenal, but in the end they're only as good as the bicycle or car turning up at the right time, at the right place. The physical and the technological must be integrated to provide customers with the best service. Going forward I envisage that customers will begin to demand more from companies, they'll want the ease and convenience of digital, alongside the comfort and reassurance of human, face-to-face contact. Customers won't want to be forced to choose one over the other.
How does Metro Bank balance these two aspects of business?
What we've found is customers value choice - it's not rocket science. So we ensure that we invest in all our channels, so whether they want to bank online, in store, or on the phone - the customer is king. We are not only investing our physical presence by hiring new colleagues and opening new stores, but we’re also investing with our new commercial online platform which launched in Q4 16, and new mobile app due Q1 17. Commercial customers tell us they value colleagues getting to know them and their businesses, and we think that’s best achieved by having our people and decision makers close to our customers and interacting with them.
What do you think will have the biggest effect on the lending landscape this year?
Business confidence is always the main driver of investment and lending demand. Despite the changes around us, we are seeing customers focused on taking opportunities and we are keen to support them.
And lastly - if you could see one headline about business funding, what would it be?
SME funding supports a strong growing economy whether it be around equity, bank debt, or other forms of lending. So my headline would be: “SME access to funding improves as banks like Metro Bank step up to meet demand”.