Mark Eastwood, recently appointed Natwest and RBS' new head of manufacturing for commercial banking, talks to James Pozzi about his new role and how the bank aims to help SMEs in 2014.
You have a background working with SME businesses from your time at RBS. What do you feel you will bring to the new role, in view of your past experience?
With 25 years’ experience within the SME space, it’s clear to me that in order to really understand businesses, we need to share customer ambitions. This is something delivered through business expertise. But there is also the importance of collaboration and working across the group in order to serve customers with the best solutions possible. It’s very much about being proactive but having a deep level of understanding towards the issues and challenges facing both SME businesses and the manufacturing industry as a whole.
In October last year, it was announced that non-bank lending was at a five-year high for UK SMEs, with methods such as leasing and asset finance increasing in popularity. Does a barrier still exist between banks and SMEs?
From the perspective of our ability and desire to lend money, we’re very much open for business. But that said, we do want to lend more in the sector and that is what our SME strategy aims to achieve in 2014, along with our corporate space dealing with larger businesses. What we’re looking to do around our strategy is continually looking to innovate, use new products and services aligned to the wider issues facing manufacturing. We’ve also got a strong working relationship with Lombard, which has also been doing strong stuff within the manufacturing space to support capital finance objectives.
Has the recession era mentality of risk aversion towards investment and innovation fully subsided yet?
There is a certainly a pattern forming. We’re very much encouraged by the recent EEF report of manufacturing customers, which forecast growth levels of 2.7%. That concurs with the insight we provide from our customer base, which is also showing confidence in terms of growth and optimism about the sector in 2014. So the two do correlate together. An extensive number of our SME manufacturers – around 60% – said they were looking to make capital investments within their manufacturing businesses in 2014. This builds on the EEF’s Innovation report last year, which said 96% of manufacturers had undertaken some form of innovation in the last three years. So that’s compounded through now to that optimism and ultimately showing businesses are prepared to invest.
What are some of the initiatives you are looking forward to helping oversee in 2014?
We’re looking to focus our energies on five aspects under our start strategy: supply chain, exports, apprenticeships, renewables and technology and innovation. The EEF will also be offering additional expertise and understanding of the sector to ensure we continue to extend sufficient knowledge. Businesses are continuously innovating and moving forward so we need to ensure that extended knowledge is passed through by way of a manufacturing formal qualification. While this is in the pilot stage, we’re currently training our relationship managers for this and we’re excited about the number of people who could benefit from the qualification. 2014 will very much be a year with lots for SME businesses to be optimistic about.
Natwest is sponsoring this year’s EEF National Manufacturing Conference, which takes place in London at March 4. For more details on the event, please visit the website.