Team player

Paul Simon talks to banker Steve El­som about re­build­ing rep­u­ta­tions, back­ing busi­ness and Suf­folk’s fu­ture prospects

EADT Suffolk - - Inside -

Paul Simon talks to Steve El­som, of Lloyds Bank

WITH this month mark­ing the start of the fi­nan­cial year, it’s ap­pro­pri­ate that my in­ter­vie­wee is a banker. Al­though Steve El­som is a ‘lifer’, hav­ing been in the sec­tor for over three decades, he de­fies the two great stereo­types of his trade – Cap­tain Main­war­ing cau­tious, or ‘bar­row boy’ flash.

Given his back­ground as a tal­ented am­a­teur foot­baller – orig­i­nally from north Lon­don, he re­mains an avid Spurs sup­porter - for Steve El­som it’s all about team work, get­ting the best out of the players, and be­ing tac­ti­cally sound. Even his job ti­tle, re­gional direc­tor, SME Bank­ing, East of Eng­land, sounds like a solid mid­field line-up.

“There’s a huge dif­fer­ence be­tween man­age­ment and lead­er­ship. I con­tin­u­ally re­mind my direc­tors not to get too dis­tracted and em­broiled by the ‘man­age­ment’ tag. Lead­ers should pro­vide di­rec­tion, clar­ity and pur­pose.

“If lead­ers dis­play th­ese three traits con­sis­tently and with real en­thu­si­asm, in­sight and pas­sion, they will get what they need to get. Too many ‘lead­ers’ fall back into man­age­ment and start look­ing down at their desks, pa­per and lap­tops, as op­posed to look­ing up and out at the world around them.” A world very dif­fer­ent to the one he started out in.

“I came up through the Lloyds her­itage and was heav­ily in­flu­enced by a cou­ple of our es­teemed CEOs and chair­men of the time, like Sir Brian Pit­man and Sir Jeremy Morse. As young, aspir­ing bankers we would hang on to their every word - they were iconic lead­ers of their time, the early to mid-1980s, when Lloyds was looked upon as one of the most rev­ered brands on the High Street.” But surely the rep­u­ta­tion of all banks and bankers has been to­tally de­graded by the events lead­ing up to the fi­nan­cial cri­sis of 2008? Steve recog­nises that the sec­tor as a whole made mis­takes, but de­fends his own rep­u­ta­tion and that of Lloyds.

“I ac­cept that there is a per­cep­tion that banks were ’bad for busi­ness’ dur­ing that pe­riod and whilst per­son­ally I never had any­thing to apol­o­gise for, I can un­der­stand the frus­tra­tion that was be­ing felt in many parts. The sec­tor had got it­self into a mess glob­ally. I re­gret the way that it ended up be­ing re­ported through the me­dia and the hys­te­ria, the frus­tra­tion and the ten­sions that then hung off the back of that.

“I’m not go­ing to de­fend the in­de­fen­si­ble and I’m not go­ing to speak for any other bank. I can only speak for Lloyds. But it wasn’t a very nice time for many of us and in­deed some of my team ad­mit­ted that they were em­bar­rassed to say they worked for a bank be­cause of

the me­dia cam­paign that was be­ing waged. That was un­fair. The global is­sues that had con­trived to pro­vide a per­fect storm, weren’t ‘founded’ in the high streets of Suf­folk, but they had a mas­sive con­se­quence on con­fi­dence and cred­i­bil­ity right across the bank­ing sec­tor.”

What about the spe­cific claims that banks de­lib­er­ately closed down sound busi­nesses and as­set-stripped them? “I don’t be­lieve that was the case at all across the Lloyds’ land­scape, and we con­tin­ued to en­gage with and sup­port clients who were fac­ing fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties, and who may have been won­der­ing which way to turn.

“Our credit pol­icy didn’t change and we were proac­tive in be­ing there for our clients, through the cy­cle. We were ap­plauded for that by jour­nal­ists, po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tors and MPs alike, in terms of our con­sis­tency of ap­proach. I recog­nise that per­cep­tions can be pow­er­ful, per­sua­sive and po­ten­tially, di­vi­sive, so the banks are work­ing very hard at re-building the trust of clients.” Steve’s cur­rent role is to en­sure that strong work­ing re­la­tion­ships are in place be­tween the bank and its 25,000 clients across the six coun­ties in the East of Eng­land.

“Busi­nesses need more than just a ‘good old re­li­able Cap­tain Main­war­ing’ re­la­tion­ship man­ager. They de­mand some­one who can pro­vide quicker re­sponses, have an aware­ness of the busi­ness and of the sec­tor, who can sign­post op­por­tu­nity, iden­tify chal­lenge and who can add value to the busi­ness.

“Our Help­ing Bri­tain Pros­per man­i­festo is at the heart of what we do and I am con­stantly prob­ing and de­ter­min­ing whether we are de­liv­er­ing on that man­i­festo and what more we can do to sup­port our SMEs. I need to make sure our mes­sage means not just main­tain­ing a mo­men­tum in their busi­ness but help­ing them to sur­vive what are quite tough times for some sec­tors, such as re­tail.”

Steve has a real sense of em­pa­thy with the chal­lenges fac­ing lo­cal busi­ness folk. “Run­ning a busi­ness can be a lonely ex­is­tence. Own­ers of­ten need some­one to talk to and have that chance to look up and out and to see the ben­e­fits of work­ing ‘on’ the busi­ness not just ‘in’ the busi­ness.”

He also tries to en­gage with busi­nesses about the big­ger is­sues fac­ing them. “I spend a lot of my time out in the mar­ket­place taking the tem­per­a­ture. Busi­nesses tell me we could do with a bit more in­sight around what hap­pens, for ex­am­ple, with a hard or soft Brexit.

“That’s a part of the role that gives me in­tense sat­is­fac­tion. Banks have got to be vis­i­ble, ac­ces­si­ble and proac­tive when it comes to sup­port­ing busi­nesses. Many own­ers put a shift in, get home at 9.45pm to make them­selves a sand­wich and turn on the news, and could be for­given that we’re go­ing to hell in a hand­cart, be­cause it all sounds like doom and gloom.” Steve ac­cepts that the busi­ness fi­nanc­ing mar­ket is also more com­pet­i­tive, with new mar­ket en­trants such as crowd­fund­ing,

“Our Help­ing Bri­tain Pros­per man­i­festo is at the heart of what we do and I am con­stantly prob­ing and de­ter­min­ing whether we are de­liv­er­ing on that man­i­festo and what more we can do to sup­port our SMEs”

fund­ing cir­cles and pub­lic sec­tor grants com­pet­ing with tra­di­tional lenders.

“But a busi­ness with a strong bank­ing propo­si­tion and a strong re­la­tion­ship man­ager will al­ways be in pole po­si­tion, and I don’t see this dy­namic chang­ing dra­mat­i­cally dur­ing the next cy­cle.

“We work in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the lo­cal en­ter­prise part­ner­ships, and where some mez­za­nine fi­nance or seed cap­i­tal is re­quired, we point them to lo­cal growth fund op­por­tu­ni­ties and, for start-ups, to Foun­da­tion East.” Steve sug­gests that the per­ceived greater level of due dili­gence car­ried out by the bank into a prospec­tive client is to both par­ties’ ad­van­tage. “It’s not just about the amount of loan and the in­ter­est rate, it’s about un­der­stand­ing the busi­ness and its sec­tor.

When it comes to Suf­folk’s eco­nomic prospects, Steve feels that the cen­tre of grav­ity out of Lon­don is mov­ing east­wards, partly be­cause of the 2012 Olympics and partly be­cause of trans­port im­prove­ments on that side of the cap­i­tal.

“All the rail ter­mi­nuses now pro­vide bet­ter ser­vices to the most east­erly coun­ties of Eng­land, so this has opened up a whole myr­iad of op­por­tu­nity not just in com­merce but in Lon­don money com­ing into the re­gion.” But in or­der to lock in this mo­men­tum, Steve wants to see a much more co-or­di­nated se­ries of strikes to at­tract in­ward in­vest­ment – in­clud­ing im­prove­ments to our road and rail routes.

“I do think in terms of the vi­brancy and fu­ture pros­per­ity of the East of Eng­land, we need to keep beat­ing the drum about op­por­tu­nity, but by the same to­ken we need our fair share of in­ward in­vest­ment. We could all do with im­prove­ments to the re­gional in­fra­struc­ture, in­clud­ing the A14 and the rail net­work.”

If in some fan­tasy world, he was handed the job as head coach of Suf­folk, what par­tic­u­lar changes would he look to de­liver? “I think we need to be bet­ter at our brand man­age­ment. When­ever I go over­seas and talk about East of Eng­land few peo­ple know much about it out­side of Cam­bridge. So do you call Felixs­towe, East Cam­bridge? Do you call Peter­bor­ough, North Cam­bridge? If we did this, would we be flooded by in­ward in­vest­ment en­quiries and op­por­tu­ni­ties?

“The other thing we need to fix is east-west trans­porta­tion. In other words, I’d like to see bet­ter links be­tween Cam­bridge and Ip­swich.

“If I want to en­cour­age my players to move from Cam­bridge to Ip­swich and don’t want them to drive along the A14, they will have to use the train. But this takes too long as there aren’t enough ser­vices per hour. So there is a ques­tion about the in­vest­ment likely to be made into that par­tic­u­lar route, not least with the opening up of the Cam­bridge-Ox­ford line.”

Steve’s own com­mit­ment to the re­gion is un­wa­ver­ing. “We’ve lived in New­mar­ket for 15 years, a town where my par­ents moved to from Lon­don in the ‘80s. My dad was a butcher from the age of 15 and he rose to be­come re­gional man­ager for Anglia, so whilst it was a cul­ture shock for him and my mum at the time, they headed north to New­mar­ket. Our kids have been ed­u­cated here and I now feel part of the fab­ric that is the East of Eng­land.”

“We need to bet­ter at our brand man­age­ment. When­ever I go over­seas and talk about East of Eng­land, few peo­ple know much of it out­side of Cam­bridge”

The Port of Felixs­towe. Steve El­som wants Suf­folk ro bat the drum about what it has to of­fer. Photo: Mike Page / cour­tesy of the Port of Felixs­towe

The re­gion needs bet­ter east-west links be­tween Cam­bridge and Ip­swich

Steve El­som wants to see im­prove­ments to road and rail routes.

Steve El­som with Paul Donno at a Suf­folk Cham­ber of Com­merce Net­work­ing and Bank of Eng­land Up­date, at The Novotel Ip­swich

Steve El­som of Lloyds Bank.

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