Today I’m going to talk about banking.
I’ve lost you already, haven’t I?
I reckon it’s going to take the British public – heck the western world – a long time to want to read anything positive about this particular industry.
Allow me to ease you in.
I recently set up a limited company and was dreading choosing and opening an account. The short version is that I disregarded a mainstream bank and went with Tide (read the tale here) and had my eyes opened.
Banking can actually be straightforward. It can even be easy. Who knew?
My tale prompted an email from Stuart Brown at Barclays. As head of SMEs in Scotland and Northern Ireland, it’s his job to reach startups and scaleups – so he asked if I’d like to meet.
He invited me to the launch of Eagle Labs at Codebase this week and I was looking forward to it. Unfortunately I never made it – the blizzard turned the road into an ice rink and I had a crash. Both my kids were in the back and the whole thing was quite traumatic, though luckily no one was hurt.
We met on Wednesday instead and Stuart told me all about the Eagle Labs facility, with its 3D printers, co-working space and offices, as well as two full time Barclays staff – read the news piece here.
What intrigued me, talking to Stuart, was how nimble this huge institution actually was.
He was appointed to his role in October 2016 and has already employed six additional people, taking his team to 26. They are all focused on scaling companies – and giving them the extra personal attention they require.
Last year they grew customer numbers 15%, this year they’re aiming for 30% growth.
“It’s all about the connectivity,” he told me. “We need people to collaborate with, like Codebase, and we put the scaleups in touch with our corporate clients who are looking to innovate.”
Edinburgh is the 14th Eagle Lab to open in the UK – and the bank has realised the missing piece of the puzzle is connection with venture capitalists, so six months ago a dedicated team was set up in London.
Maybe I don’t spend enough time chatting to bankers, but I was really struck by his enthusiasm. I could see he was as excited by the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Scotland as I am.
“It’s different in different clusters,” he said. “Aberdeen is very different from Edinburgh and the capital is different again from Glasgow. There’s a strong can-do attitude and a collaborative spirit. Entrepreneurial Scotland and Scottish Enterprise really drive this approach to supporting scaleups, there’s a lot of buy in, which is maybe not as organised elsewhere. I think what Scottish Enterprise does is superior to [what happens in] England.”
I can see Barclays isn’t just paying lip service to entrepreneurs either – aside from the Eagle Labs and dedicated teams, including a recent full-time relationship manager based in Inverness – the bank offers specialist products like Innovation Finance, which is a form of funding to help scaleups without costing them huge chunks of equity.
However it was their Smart Business Dashboard which really piqued my interest, being a bit of a tech geek. I could do with one of those for my life – but I would settle for my banking to begin with.
It pulls together your bank account, accountancy software, social media channels, Google Analytics and apps like Shopify or MailChimp or Office365 all in one dashboard. Then it gives you reports.
I suddenly had a memory of Rowan Atkinson dancing around with his Barclaycard… Barclays has a huge share of the UK market’s payment systems, giving them massive amounts of data about spending habits. This can then be extrapolated for their customers’ own businesses. Pretty cool, huh?
The point is, Barclays has a product team thinking about the future requirements of customers, and they were smart enough to come up with the Dashboard. That leads me to believe they actually listen to their customers and understand what they need.
Every bank will claim this of course, especially after 2008, but who do you believe?
I may consider switching from Tide, but in the meantime I will be keeping close tabs on what’s going in the Eagle Labs calendar (50 events over the next year).
I might even pop in with my laptop.
Other articles by Kim McAllister
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Kim McAllister is a Journalist & Communications Consultant and director of Impact Online