Having recently joined NatWest as the Regional Director for London West, Sussex and Surrey, could you give us some details of your journey to the role?
I joined NatWest Group 14 years ago as an HR consultant and I have done several roles over that time, supporting different parts of the bank and helping leaders with people-related processes and strategies. For the last few years, I have been an HR Business Partner for our Commercial bank, which enabled me to understand more about our commercial banking business and how important a good people strategy and execution of it is. When the opportunity to apply for the Regional Director position arose, I jumped at the chance to put some of the theory into practice with my own team and to support our customers to an even greater extent.
With such a long career within HR at the bank, was it a steep learning curve into your new role?
I was nervous about whether I could make the leap from one career to the other. Even though it was working for the same organisation I knew that the roles were very different. I was also scared about the fact that I had put so much effort into pursuing one career path and the idea of starting from scratch again felt daunting. NatWest supported me throughout and gave me the confidence to take this leap. Since starting in the role, I realised that I am not starting from scratch as there are so many shared skills from my previous experience. I also realised quite quickly that I could draw on the knowledge of colleagues who are experts in supporting businesses.
What advice would you give other women who want to make a career change?
I would advise women to take a risk. You will surprise yourself about how much you know already, even if it doesn’t tick all the boxes on the job description. When I initially looked at my new role description, I couldn’t do everything on that list, but that was ok because there were other things that I could do in abundance. A new job always seems scarier when you’re applying for it, particularly if it is a completely different role. However, when you get into the role it isn’t as scary as you think and before you know it you will be flying.
As a woman in such a high-profile position, what additional benefits do you feel that women can bring to the role?
I think diversity makes us stronger and therefore it’s vital to have diverse teams capable of bringing different ideas and thinking to work. Although there is still work to be done, it is encouraging to see more women progressing into positions of leadership. In our own organisation, Alison Rose, CEO of NatWest Group, is a fantastic example of this in action. Women can bring a different approach to leadership, and it is important to
have female role models in leadership positions to continue inspiring others to take that leap. In my own experience, I believe women can act as great mentors which is an important part of development in organisations.
After such a catastrophic few years with the pandemic, how have your business clients recovered and are you seeing shoots of recovery across the South East?
There have been many challenges for businesses in the past few years. But as the biggest supporter of the UK business sector – banking around one in four businesses across the UK – we understand the challenges that entrepreneurs have faced. According to the latest NatWest PMI data for March, businesses across the South East recorded a high degree of optimism about the next 12 months, relative to the rest of the UK. Businesses across the region have shown a tremendous amount of resilience over recent years and we are proud to continue supporting businesses to grow and succeed.
There has been praise for the bank from many of your customers over the speed the bank worked to assist those needing BB and CBIL loans – how was the bank able to react so quickly when many others did not?
We have worked hard to anticipate and respond to the needs of bus-inesses, whether through our support via government lending schemes, or increasing the number of our people ready to support our customers. During the Covid-19 pandemic the UK business sector faced unprecedented challenges and, as the largest supporter of UK businesses, it was essential to act as quickly as possible to support customers when they needed it most. We remain firmly committed to supporting businesses and business leaders at every stage of their journey.
Are there any new initiatives coming through in 2022 for the regions companies that we should look out for?
Climate change is one of the biggest challenges we face today, and SMEs in the South East and across the UK, have a critical role to play in the transition to net zero. Our Springboard to Sustainable Recovery report found that there is a £160+ billion revenue opportunity for SMEs as a result of the drive to tackle climate change. The reality is that while SMEs want to help by reducing emissions, they face many barriers such as limited access to information, funding and training. We’re working to remove those barriers by offering green loans and green asset finance to eligible businesses as part of our wider commitment to provide £100bn of climate and sustainable funding to customers by the end of 2025. We cannot underestimate the power of small changes to make a big impact.
As the largest supporter of UK businesses, we champion anyone start-ing or growing a business. Ways in which we support business include our newly expanded Business Builder platform which now includes climate and sustainability learning for SMEs and our award-winning Accelerator programmes to support entrepreneurs to scale up their business across the region. We remain committed to supporting the UN Sustainable Development goals on gender equalities and reduced inequalities. Women made up at least 60% of those we supported in 2021, and more than 26% were Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic.