A Breakthrough programme with its eyes on Scottish SMEs

A Breakthrough programme with its eyes on Scottish SMEs

Graham Silcock outlines Santander’s innovative offering as it builds its business clients. He talks to Kenny Kemp

If your finance director is looking at the company’s banking options, and not looking at Santander, then they aren’t doing their job properly. That’s the view of Graham Silcock, Regional Director of Santander Corporate & Commercial, Scotland and you would expect him to say this. But there is strong evidence that Santander is making traction in the Scottish market.

Graham Silcock, a chartered accountant who spent ten years with Coopers Lybrand before joining Bank of Scotland, working in various roles including corporate and structured finance over his 16 years there, is one of several veteran bankers who moved over to Santander in 2012.

Silcock says his feet have not touched the ground since – nor have those of anyone else who has joined the Santander team. There is a genuine buzz about the bank with everyone making their contribution.

“We’ve been able to recruit some great people from other banks and as such have established a first-rate team of nearly 90 in Scotland. My team have a great back story, working at senior levels in other banks, so they know their business and have massive experience. We’ve been able to handpick the best practitioners from across the banking world.”

“We want to be the SME bank of choice, regardless of the sector.  Hospitality is one of about half a dozen sectors that we now have a significant focus on. Others include manufacturing, professional services, education, renewables and agriculture.”
How has Santander set about engaging the SMEs when there has been a lot of turmoil in the commercial banking sector?


“At Santander we have a clear vision. We place a great emphasis on building a true relationship with a business. It is in all our interests for businesses to succeed so I challenge my team to take the time to get to know their customers - warts and all. I encourage them to be inquisitive and ask questions, but more importantly, to really listen so they can truly understand what it is that makes the business tick. This helps us appreciate the true picture so that we can find the best solution for each individual business.”

“We have been fortunate in that we don’t have some of the internally facing issues that our competitors have had. We haven’t been complacent about that, but it has been very refreshing for us to be working within a forward-looking, growth-based environment, which makes it an attractive place to work. However, we can’t forget that it is about lending money – and that’s what we want to do, but we will not compromise on our prudent risk management.”

“The only way to take banking away from being a commodity is to build relationships with our customers and be innovative.”

One way Santander is delivering on innovation is through their groundbreaking Breakthrough programme. This initiative is designed to nurture and support businesses in the early stages of their growth cycle, helping them accelerate their growth plans.

Qualifying businesses can receive funding and financial advice, as well as the chance to visit successful companies, learn from leading entrepreneurs and make contacts overseas through trade missions.

The programme has supported 30 SMEs with £27m of Growth Capital and £35m of other growth-related finance providing these companies with the opportunity and support to create over 1,200 jobs in the UK economy.

But Breakthrough goes beyond funding as Silcock explains, “We have created a comprehensive programme of relevant and practical experiences to help businesses advance their high-growth trajectory.

We believe the most valuable lessons business leaders learn are not from business gurus or sales pitches but from like-minded people who have themselves pushed their companies to the next level. So the programme includes a number of live events where business owners can learn from one another’s experiences and from those who are one or two steps further up the growth curve.

Continuing in this vein, we run ‘Masterclasses’ to established companies such as Google, McLaren, Love Film, and in Scotland this year have been into Linn Products and Crieff Hydro. These events allow business leaders to have first-hand, money-can’t-buy access to top executives to discuss issues from expanding the management team to delivering transformational change programmes.

Another key part of the programme are Trade Missions to key overseas destinations where business owners can learn how to break into new markets in order to sustain growth.

We’re also hearing that Santander is also playing an ace card with its international connections, and the Group has more branches in the world than any other bank, can you tell us a bit more about that? “Most definitely, the Santander Group is in a very strong position to support SMEs and corporate businesses that are looking to expand internationally. We are growing really quickly and have ten main market territories around the world.  We’re the largest financial group in the Euro-zone and Latin America, and Santander UK’s contribution is presently bigger than Spain and Portugal combined.

A bank is viewed as a significant international player if it has a market share of over 8% in any region. Santander has this presence in more markets around the globe than any of
its competitors.

“For Scottish businesses looking at international markets, we have an incredible network available. Our unique Trade Portal is a database of businesses around the world, where we can identify connections in a new market for someone exporting. This can help companies look at specific growth markets, for example, oil and gas companies in Aberdeen looking at the emerging opportunities in Brazil. We can supply a list of business contacts and addresses in each of these territories, and contact details and names of people that we already know.”

“However, it is more than just names and addresses. We can talk about the legal system, and shipping details and documentation to places such as Brazil. It’s all about helping first-time exporters take these early steps.”

Allied to this is the Santander Trade Club which has 5,000 SME members around the world. Companies are given a Santander Passport, which gives firms pre-vetted VIP credentials when moving and operating in new markets.

“In each territory, we have an international desk that will help you make the right connections. We have guys who know the Brazilian market inside out and are able to help Scottish companies looking at opportunities there, and how they can set up bank accounts and find key contacts. It’s about easing the process, while pointing out the pitfalls and challenges as well. We are not saying we are the answer to all of this, but we can play a big part because of the presence we’ve got overseas.”

It is clear that Santander are maximising their connections across the globe for the benefit of their customers and have another innovative product in supply-chain finance for SME businesses.

“Others offer this at the top end of the market,” Silcock says “but we’ve had this at the heart of business in Spain and we have been able to bring it to the UK market for the benefit of our SME customers.”

It is often described as ‘invoice finance in reverse’, allowing a supplier access to funds from Santander ahead of agreed payment terms. This is essentially a cost free service to our customers with the supplier meeting the cost of the facility depending on how quickly they wish to receive their payment. This innovative solution helps both customer and supplier manage their cashflow better.

There is definitely a lot for Santander to be proud of but if you had one final message for Scottish businesses what would that be?

“I’d like to challenge business owners to consider whether they are getting real value from their banking partner. In Scotland where so many businesses are family enterprises often started by a previous generation and with the same bank since inception we often encounter a misplaced sense of loyalty.

For me, there is a perception that switching your banking business can be difficult. It is far easier for companies to switch banking than people think.  It isn’t hard for a simple account, and for more complex transfers we have a dedicated team of Customer Implementation Managers who manage the process from beginning to end often running accounts in parallel to ensure nothing falls between the cracks.

So if your finance director hasn’t been thinking about Santander, then perhaps they need to pick up the phone for a chat to Graham Silcock.