Supporting British SMEs throughout the pandemic
Ian Workman, Managing Director and Co-Head of SME UK at Barclays, details how the bank has provided vital support to its SME customers during this challenging period.
2020 has been an outstanding and significant year in which many financial institutions have shown compassion and provided fast first aid packages to their SME clients who were hit hardest by the pandemic. Through a series of articles in the coming months, Efma is highlighting some best practices from banks in different geographies to show how they are supporting SMEs in a time of crisis. Barclays is one such example. In this interview, we spoke with their Co-Head of Business Banking to better understand how they have met this unique challenge.
Recent reports show that SMEs are considerably weakened by the Covid-19 crisis. What has the situation been like in your country?
SMEs are the backbone of the UK economy and the Covid-19 crisis has undoubtedly presented significant challenges to many businesses across the UK, in every region and every sector. Our number one priority during this crisis has been to support our customers and provide them with the right help, whether that’s with finance, signposting government guidance, or working through any other support they may need.
What were the immediate first steps that you took as a bank internally to cope with the crisis and respond quicker to clients?
Our first step was to set up a free helpline for SMEs, and in addition to that, our team of over 1,000 relationship managers who are based across the UK proactively reached out to their clients, providing guidance and support as rapidly as they could. We also ran interactive online events on Facebook nationally and regional video calls to make sure our customers were getting the information they needed, and to answer their questions.
As we entered the first lockdown in March, we knew that helping our customers manage their cashflow was going to be a critical. We waived some bank charges, provided 12-month capital repayment holidays on existing loans over £25k, increased or provided new overdraft facilities, as well as other working capital solutions.
I’m extremely proud of how quickly our teams worked together to implement the launch of the Government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) and Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS) for our clients, helping our customers access the equivalent of three years of funding in just the first twelve weeks of the Government lending schemes going live. In total, we have now facilitated more than £26 billion into the economy through the various Government lending schemes, supporting more than 300,000 businesses up and down the country with access to funding.
How are you helping your SME customers face the impact of the Covid-19 crisis?
Many businesses have faced restrictions which have impacted their ability to operate and serve customers, and getting the right support to them is vital. Whether it’s through our products, or providing a listening ear and guidance, we’re here to support our over one million clients who are based across the UK. Outside of financial support, we explored how we could best support customers through this challenging time.
To help businesses grow their online presence, we teamed up with Nextdoor, the neighborhood hub, which offers all UK businesses two free business posts per month, allowing them to connect with local residents without the need for ‘likes’ or ‘followers’.
We also launched the Barclays Back to Business toolkit in partnership with Cambridge Judge Business School, designed to help SMEs create a business resilience plan. A top priority for us now is understanding how we can best help businesses through the recovery stage of this pandemic and build back better for the longer term.
How have your relationship managers served SME customers during the pandemic? Did you have to change your way of working and do more remote work? Has it been a smooth transition?
We have a network of over a thousand relationship managers based across the UK who have been proactively supporting SMEs up and down the country throughout the pandemic and have been doing so remotely due to Government guidelines. It was a smooth transition and we’re really grateful to our IT teams, as it’s allowed us to continue serving our clients from wherever our colleagues are based around the country. We’ve also continued to connect with our clients through virtual events, podcasts, and curated online content to ensure they are getting the support they need on a range of topics.
Did Covid-19 have an impact on your SME customers’ move towards digital banking? Do you have any figures that might demonstrate this?
Convenience is key for busy SMEs. Pre Covid-19, we saw that many business owners were already banking on the go from their mobile app or using online banking. However, the pandemic has accelerated this trend towards digital. We saw an uptick in customers registering for online banking, as they adapted to managing their finances remotely.
More and more banks are launching online tools to help their SME customers to manage their business, transform digitally, and grow. Where do you stand on this point?
We’re always looking for new ways that we can best serve our customers and evolve to meet their changing needs – and this absolutely includes innovating digital and online tools. Our Barclays app and online banking are loaded with features that enable businesses to securely manage their finances from home, managing invoices, or applying for funding. However, alongside digital banking we have the strength of our relationship management team, so our customers know we’re always here if they need to speak to us.