Exporting is great, and vital to the UK economy – as well as to British manufacturing. Santander’s Charles Garfit told Ruari McCallion why the bank has got involved.
The Q1 2016 didn’t look good for UK manufacturing. The collapsed oil price and the ongoing steel crisis appears to have led to further shrinkage in the country’s industrial base.
However, given the crises in the energy and steel industries, and their ongoing importance to Britain’s economy, the surprise is almost that the picture is not even bleaker.
“You can’t argue with the statistics, however large pockets of British industry seem to be doing very well,” said Charles Garfit, head of Manufacturing, Santander Corporate Banking.
The Manufacturer is collaborating with Santander in conducting a survey into companies’ attitudes to exporting, its challenges and opportunities.
“Automotive is one sector that is doing well; not just at OEM level but in the supply chain too. I recently attended an event at JLR and it was a pleasure to see their model range and capacity increasing.
“Companies in the aerospace sector report that their order books are extremely strong and even in the steel industry, it is the case that UK plc makes things that the world wants to buy.
“Even the steel and energy businesses are not all doom and gloom, in his view. “Steel, oil and gas are extremely cyclical. While the current situation is cause for concern, we expect it will right itself.”
That view may be unusual in the banking field – but Garfit is an unusual senior banking executive; his background isn’t in banking. He ran an SME consulting business himself, both in the UK and overseas.
This, perhaps, gives him a clearer perception of the opportunities available to businesses generally, the daily hurdles they face, and the real difficulties involved in seeking to expand into new markets, and into exporting in particular.
“I recognise that it is extremely frightening to take the step outside familiar markets. The next market, that next country, is a challenge,” he said.
His appointment is itself an indication that Santander is thinking differently; the survey is part of that. “At Santander we don’t pretend we know all the answers,” he explained.
“We have chosen to work with The Manufacturer on this survey deliberately, in order to help ourselves to identify the potential and to unlock the barriers. We know there are challenges to businesses engaged in exporting and we want to better understand what they are – and to better understand the opportunities.
“Obviously, Santander wishes to raise awareness of its own services and what it has to offer – which includes a global network extending to thousands of branches in dozens of countries across the world. The Group have an extensive global footprint in many diverse markets and regions either directly or through partner banks.
“Our intention is to build and strengthen our customer base, obviously. In doing so we want to identify customers who are ambitious and want to grow,” Garfit said – but he emphasised that the relationship must be two-way.
“One of the reasons Santander has chosen to focus on manufacturing, is that manufacturing and international business go hand in hand. We believe that our extensive international network represents a unique opportunity to help businesses grow.”
Among the means and resources he mentioned were the bank’s Trade Club and subsidised trade missions that are available to Santander Corporate and Commercial customers; he emphasised the point that Santander customers have the opportunity to travel overseas, into new markets and to be introduced to potential customers, suppliers, collaborators and partners who also bank with Santander.
He has taken customers on trade missions to South America; the US; Germany; Poland; China; UAE, and India. Before getting the taxi to the airport, they will have used the Santander’s online Trade Portal in order to undertake all the necessary research, prior to leaving the country.
“We already have extensive experience with our customers but we want to learn more,” Garfit said.
“We know what we already know, but we also know that there are things we don’t know, and which we need to find out. It’s all very well saying ‘manufacturers must export more’, but this is seeking to find out how to do it and how we can help.
“We want to share the uncertainty, so that respondents know they are not alone. Collectively, I believe we can come up with some exciting solutions.”