What types of businesses come under your remit?
We look after established SMEs in a territory which runs from Shoreham to Rye along the coast and up to towns such as Uckfield, Burgess Hill and Heathfield. In the north of the county, businesses are looked after by the team in our Gatwick office, and to the West by our Worthing office. Every 30 miles or so we’ve got a Commercial Banking team so that we’re close to our customers and we can understand the local environment. We’re committed to providing support and relationship management for our customers across the UK.
My marketplace is businesses with annual turnovers between £2 and £50 million, which is quite a wide spectrum. In the city, a lot of our business customers sit within the £2m - £15 million brackets, though we have customers that have grown beyond that level of revenue and are well known contributors to the local economy.
The make-up of businesses in Brighton includes long-established names that we will all be familiar with, growing leisure and service-related operators plus numerous professional practices. In addition there is the dynamic and fast paced world of the media and tech sector. It’s quite an eclectic mix of different types of business, which is makes our job very interesting.
The bank has gone through considerable changes since the Banking Crisis of 2008. Has your role changed as a result?
No, it hasn’t. A lot of things are changing around us but my role hasn’t really changed. We continue to work hard to look after our existing customers and to win new customers - that’s our mantra – delivering best in class service and support. We are very focused on being proactive and innovative and my role is to help and support my team to do that really well.
We have ten people in the team all with significant experience in the roles they undertake, and we’ve got an apprentice on board, which is good to see. It’s nice to see youth coming through as well.
Could you give us a snapshot of which sectors are strong in Brighton in 2018?
There are some strong and stable sectors where our team specialise due to the demand. Claire Jackman looks after the education sector and charities, Rupert Kirby looks after the professional practices such as lawyers, accountants, estate agents, valuers etc., and Doug Balaam specialises in the leisure sector. The leisure sector is a key element locally with plenty of hotels, B&Bs, pubs, clubs and restaurants. Then we have the media, tech and recruitment companies – a growing segment with some really exciting and vibrant companies based in the City.
Do you find Brighton has a large number of ‘lifestyle’ businesses i.e. company owners who are quite content to not grow too much to preserve their work/life balance?
There are certainly many micro businesses in Brighton, which are defined as sub-10 staff, sub-€2 million turnover. There are hundreds of businesses of that size and out of those some grow and are acquired and some continue to build their businesses to become established SMEs. We do see some that get to a certain size and they’re comfortable with that and they don’t want to grow further. They still make a valuable contribution to the UK economy whilst fulfilling their work/life balance preference. People love the environment here so the way of life is,perhaps, an influence.
However, there are plenty of businesses that have a growth strategy. Certainly we see ambitious businesses within our customer base and in our Entrepreneurial Accelerator programme with the hub based in Preston Road.
One of the reasons we have so many start-ups is because we have two great universities here. Many graduates take to the area and stay. Some go into employment, some evolve their entrepreneurial skills and develop their business ideas. The media and tech is very vibrant down here as mentioned.
As a bank, we’re committed to supporting our business customers of all shapes and sizes and that will continue. We continue to develop new technology to help our customers, so it’s going to be a good mix of face to face contact between customers and the bank staff with close working relationships, supported by some really top quality technology that helps to continuously improve the customer experience.
How hands-on is the commercial banking department?
In a word – ‘very’ . We work tirelessly to build mutually rewarding business relationships with our customers that really add value for them.
With regards to the businesses we look after (over £2m turnover), we sit down with the customer and go through a full business review with them which is an in-depth review to enable us to fully understand their business operations and strategy. What do they want to do with the business, where do they want to go, what’s on their agenda? We produce a summary of the discussion which we call a shared relationship plan, which includes the customer’s strategic summary and a synopsis on next steps and on how we can help them.
For instance if they seek bank funding then we review the various options and discuss what’s the right solution for them. That may be, for example, invoice finance, asset finance for a piece of equipment or a loan for equipment or premises. It’s just making sure we come up with the right solution for them and understand how we can help them with their current and future strategy.
How robust is the Brighton economy - and how will the city be affected by Brexit?
There have been hard times coming out of the recession in 2007/2008, but now it’s on a stable footing. Being a service/leisure led city, it suffers in a recession as disposable incomes are hit and that quickly impacts on the sector but they can bounce back quickly as well.
Everyone is going to be affected by Brexit, but from a Brighton perspective perhaps not quite as much as other areas of the country. There are a lot of SME businesses that are well established and not necessarily reliant on Europe. However, we all await clarity on the exact terms of the exit so as to fully understand the likely impact.
Why should somebody start or move their business to Brighton?
There is a very good infrastructure to help businesses. Brighton is a city with one of the highest business start up rates in the UK so that is a pretty good indicator of the benefits of choosing Brighton. The costs of your premises are probably going to be
higher and maybe the cost of employing
staff too because Brighton is a pretty vibrant area with strong demand for premises and high levels of employment. There are
excellent support networks in the city from Brighton & Hove Chamber of Commerce, Sussex Chamber of Commerce, Coast to Capital, and NatWest’s Entrepreneur Accelerator to name but a few.
What does the future hold for our city in the next five years?
I don’t see any dramatic change. I think the tech and the media sectors will keep growing as we are a centre of excellence. I can see the Brighton population growing further with new housing provided along the coast. People want to live here whether they have been here all their life or moved here for their education or job opportunities. A strong and vibrant SME base bodes well for the future economic wealth of the area. Personally, I enjoy working here. I’m from Sussex originally, so it’s always nice to be on home territory and there’s always a lot going on here.