by Richard Buckley, Editor, Business Eye

Hard and fast figures are hard to come by, but there are few who would argue against the statement that Danske Bank is the market leader when it comes to business banking here in Northern Ireland. Danske’s own figures put the bank ahead of the chasing pack, and it’s unlikely that any other surveys would produce a different result.


But complacency isn’t something that Managing Director of Corporate & Business Banking, Shaun McAnee, wants to see creeping in.

We’re not transfixed by being the biggest, so market share isn’t everything. But we do think that we have about a third of the market. What we do set out to be is the best bank. Not by an inch, but by as big a margin as we can.” he says.

How do we do that? We’ve done a huge amount of work around customer satisfaction, and our survey levels are looking really strong. We’re certainly ahead of our competitors on customer satisfaction ratings, and our aim is to stretch that gap.

Every business says that it puts the customer at the centre of what they do, but we try to bring that into everything we do. We work to find out the negatives from our customers and we work on those pain points. They become our priorities. The whole process means that we’ve had to re-see ourselves, and I think we’ve got our heads around it.

If we get this process right, everything else will follow.”

Within the Danske structure, Corporate & Business Banking looks after some 7,000 medium and large business customers. There are 70 relationship managers in the team and they’re supported by locally-based specialists. One of Danske’s USP’s is a dedicated dealing room offering FX management serviced to the bank’s customers. Danske also has specialist asset finance, invoice finance, trade and export finance operations.

That totals about 170 people and between us all we manage a balance sheet of about £2.7 billion, with 97% of that deployed within Northern Ireland. We would argue that there is no bigger business funder in this region.”

A direct result of the strong focus on customer satisfaction is the appointment of Lyndsay Adams as Head of Business Customer Journeys and a key member of the Danske business banking top team. She takes up the story of her innovative job title.

Historically, we would have focused on products for our customers. What we’re doing now is coming at banking from a different perspective. We’re bringing our customers in to the development of our solutions. We talk to them and understand what their pains are when it comes to working with the bank. Then we can design our solutions around what they tell us.

And we bring them in to work with us during the development of products,” Lyndsay explains in a second floor room at Danske’s Donegall Square West headquarters that is every inch in ‘ideas factory’….right down to the illustrations, thoughts and concepts written on every wall.

The key to what we’re doing is that we’re asking our customers the questions and we’re learning from what they tell us. Our services and products are built from here.

We know that we’re number one for customer satisfaction. But we also know that there is a tidal wave of change in banking and financial services. So focusing on customer satisfaction in itself isn’t enough in this landscape.

What does customer satisfaction mean? It means that expectations were met….but otherwise the experience might be forgettable. A great experience is one that they’ll remember. Feeling confident, feeling valued, feeling as though they’re in control. That’s what we’re aiming for.

As part of the process, we interviewed about 250 of our customers and we got a really wide range of views and opinions. Our customers are surveyed a lot, but our interviews were a bit different. From there, we designed personas based on different types of customers. When we’re designing solutions, we make sure that they’ll fit each different persona.

We do that by flipping things around and looking at banking from a customer perspective.”

Niall Harkin, Danske’s Head of Organisational Development, picks up on the theme. “There has even been a shift in how we measure our business performance. It’s not all about financial metrics and sales figures. Up to 50% of our KPI’s now are based around customer service metrics. If we look after customer satisfaction, in other words, the business will perform better as a whole.”

A chartered accountant as well as an experienced business banker and former head of Danske’s business acquisition team, Niall is the current chairman of the Ulster Society of Chartered Accountants.

My role is all about the change agenda and delivering the change agenda in the front line,” he says. “And a key part of that is delivering technology solutions that make a real difference to our customers.”

Danske’s very latest technological innovation is its Future Financing platform. The bank’s rationale is clear-cut.

We’ve seen a lot of change in the competitive banking arena. A lot of new entrants have come in, primarily to personal banking but some of them are making moves into business banking. That’s a challenge to us, but also an opportunity.

Future Financing is a new approach to delivering credit to our customers. This isn’t a small change….it’s a big leap forward. And it makes the whole credit process much easier for our customers, and for our relationship managers.”

Initially, the platform will be used by Danske’s relationship manager dealing with customers. But it has the potential, a little further down the line, to be used directly by those business customers.

Our customers should be able to go online and request an overdraft increase on a smartphone at home. It will be as easy as that.”

How does Future Financing work? It incorporates what Danske calls a ‘decision engine’, using customer data to make a decision on online credit applications.

The system makes that credit decision in seconds, and that’s the key strength of this piece of innovation,” adds Niall Harkin. “We’ve seen excesses being approved in 40 seconds and the money being in the customer’s account within eight minutes. For an overdraft, we’ve seen approvals in four minutes and access to money well within 24 hours.

At the moment, a facility letter is still issued automatically but we’re introducing digital signing later this year….allowing letters like this to be signed online. This is already live in Denmark and we’ve seen cases where the whole overdraft process takes ten minutes….from initial contact through to access to funds.

So, when we use the term ‘transformational’, that’s what we mean……”

Future Financing was launched in the bank’s Belfast Business Centre in January, and it’s now been extended to two other regions. “The advisers just love it,” says Niall Harkin. “I don’t think they thought it would be as good as it really is. And we’ll be working to improve its functionality over the coming months with a target that by next year almost all of our new money applications will be supported by this technology.”

Danske’s advisers, according to Shaun McAnee, have been getting a very positive reaction from business customers. “The customers can’t believe how quick and seamless the process is,” he says. “It is driving the customer experience to higher levels.”

And our goal is to take it to the next level. We’re planning to have a pilot up and running later in the year for small business customers, whereby they can go online, get a quote, review it and have access to funds in five or ten minutes. And, if you want to speak to an adviser, you can.”

Geoff Sharpe, as Head of Corporate, leads a team responsible for some 300 of Danske Bank’s largest customers…businesses with turnovers of £15 million and above across a diverse range of sectors as well as large-scale organisations like housing associations and others.

We have dedicated relationship managers specialising in key area such as commercial property, agri food and pharmaceuticals,” he adds. “And we have close relationships with key referral partners like lawyers and accountancy practices.”

Our customers don’t necessarily have more complex needs, but we have to be aware of their size and their specific needs in every case.”

It’s a competitive marketplace at the top end of the business space. “There’s no doubt that funding solutions are more readily available in the corporate sector,” says Geoff Sharpe. “As well as the pillar banks, private equity is a feature of this market and customers have a number of potential sources when it comes to funding.

We’re happy to work with equity funders. We don’t see them as a competitive threat. Whiterock Capital, for example, have provided funding packages to a number of our customers.

Our share of the top 100 companies here has grown from 25% to more than 60% in the last five years and it’s continuing to grow. 2017 was a record year for new lending and Q1 2018 has followed that trend. And our new lending activity is broadly split between two thirds existing customers and one third new customers.

The key reasons for that growth are the strength of the team, an agile approach, credit decisions made locally and a best in class technology platform. Future Finance is just one initiative. There is more to come.”

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From left to right:- Geoff Sharpe, Shaun McAnee, Niall Harkin & Lyndsay Adams

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