Fraser Sime, Regional Director for SME Banking, explains how businesses can access traditional and alternative funding from the Bank of Scotland
Fraser Sime was appointed as Bank of Scotland’s Regional Director for SME Banking in Scotland in November 2016 after already clocking up a successful 20-year career with Lloyds Banking Group. He now leads a team of 90 banking professionals who support SME clients with a business turnover of between £1 million and £25 million.
He believes a strong and vibrant economy in Scotland is critical to the UK’s ongoing prosperity and that Bank of Scotland’s role in supporting clients and helping to fund their growth ambitions is now more important than ever – especially given the current, more challenging economic environment.
One of the businesses Bank of Scotland has helped is the Firm of MC Henderson, which received a £335,000 funding package to help build The Rings, an inclusive holiday complex for disabled people, on a portion of its 90-acre farm near Cupar.
The Rings is now Scotland’s largest group holiday accommodation catering for guests with disabilities and enabling families and organisations to plan residential breaks for groups of up to 16.
It’s accessible design features include wheelchair turning circles, wide corridors and doors, tracking hoists which take guests from the bedroom to the bathroom, height-adjustable bed and countertops, safe-step flooring, and pull-down clothes rails.
We caught up with Fraser to find out how other businesses can tap into similar funding packages to help realise their own growth ambitions.
Q&A with Fraser Sime
Q: What type of funding do you provide?
A: Bank of Scotland is committed to providing the right funding products to support the specific needs of a business, so we have a suite of options for everything, from improving cashflow to longer-term borrowing.
Of course, we also offer traditional business loans, overdrafts and commercial mortgages – and we approve eight out of 10 business loan and overdraft applications. But we also have flexible alternative sources of funding such as asset finance and invoice finance.
Q: Can anyone apply?
A: Bank of Scotland specialises in funding businesses with turnovers of between £1 million and £25 million, but we back businesses of all sizes, from micro-enterprises to mid-market firms and global corporations.
We’ve also developed products and services to meet the specific needs of businesses in a number of industries, from agriculture to real estate.
The common theme is that all our funding options are designed to help ambitious firms achieve their goals, take opportunities and overcome challenges.
Q: How does your business benefit?
A: Our performance is inextricably linked to the economic health of the UK, which is why we are so determined to help Scotland prosper.
That means providing the right funding support to help Scottish SMEs whose growth underpins the economy.
To that end, the group has grown its net lending to UK SMEs by 30% since 2011, while the market has contracted by 11%.
Q: What types of companies are the most lucrative for you?
A: We don’t make lending decisions based on the returns that they will generate for us.
As a responsible lender, our priority is to build long-term relationships with companies to understand their real needs, then find the right funding option for every business from our range of funding solutions.
Q: Why, in your opinion, are more companies looking to alternative finance/funding?
A: Products such as asset finance and invoice finance are flexible and help take the guesswork out of waiting for payments, giving greater certainly to cashflow and control over access to working capital.
They are bespoke products which can enable investment in growth while, at the same time, managing risk, which is so important in the current environment.
Q: What are the main challenges for businesses and in your industry?
A: Clearly, the UK’s decision to leave the European Union means the exact nature of our relationship with Europe going forward remains unclear and the economic outlook is therefore more uncertain.
However, the economy has proved far more resilient than the market expected post-referendum and the value of the pound is also creating opportunities for exporters.
We’re not complacent, but we remain well placed to continue helping Britain prosper.
Q: What do you look for in a company?
A: All lending is subject to a credit assessment and, in certain cases, relationship directors have local discretion. But our priority is to make sure that all clients have access to affordable finance on terms that are fair and clearly understood.
That can mean everything from mentoring start-ups, to working with customers whose businesses are in difficulty, helping bring them back to financial health.
Q: What types of companies are most suited to this type of investment/funding?
A: Our funding options can be tailored to the individual needs of just about any business, so whatever a business’s ambitions, we can find a funding solution to suit.
Q: How does it work/what’s the process?
A: Whether a business is applying for new borrowing or to re-finance existing borrowing, we’ll work to understand the background to their request, which allows us to assess the most appropriate product to meet their needs.
We’ll want to get to know the business and its management team.
By understanding a business and its ambitions, we’re in a much better position to provide the tailored support it needs.
Q: What advice would you give to businesses looking for funding?
A: One of our relationship managers will be happy to speak with you about your enquiry.
If it’s straightforward funding that’s required, then we will need to know how much you would like to borrow, what it’s for and what time period you would like to make the repayments over.
However, there may be other options that we will need to look at first. We’ll help you work out the most appropriate funding options for your circumstances.
Q: Any new products/services on the horizon?
A: We’ve just launched a really useful online tool to help businesses access new markets overseas.
The International Trade Portal enables them to identify the opportunities that have the most potential for their product or service and any potential pitfalls they may face.
They can search for trading partners, look for real-time public or private tender opportunities, access market reports and more.
It’s all part of our work to help businesses of all sizes to seize international opportunities and grow their business.