By Nick Sellars, Group Managing Director
It is August, we are another month down the line and starting to see some real recovery through the eyes of our clients. Turnover generated by our construction clients increased three-fold during July and we were able to take on good new business in that sector. From a very depressed position in May, I believe that sector is getting used to working successfully once again. We have seen a similar recovery from clients across other sectors.
As financiers, we could have gone two ways during Covid:
Option number one and a ploy carried out by many (not us): Bolt down the hatches, cut costs because revenue is going to fall, furlough half your staff and don’t touch any new business because it is far too risky. Any new business or mandates you have issued to prospective clients rescind immediately and when all the dust has settled, put your head above the parapet and see whether you still have a business.
Option number two: Open your eyes, take advantage of the many opportunities to do great business with prospects that need cash because they have taken account of the situation. Keep your sales staff out there and tell your introducers that you are very much open for business. Work twice as hard in ensuring your existing staff have all the help they need. Come out of lockdown on the front foot ready and fully aware of the many more opportunities that are out there, but with the full confidence of your clients and introducers because you were a constant trusted partner in difficult times. It is how you react and prepare in difficult times, which makes you more successful when the sun starts to shine.
Needless to say, we took the second option. There was a big dip in April, but a better May, an even better June and a greater July and that has put us in a great position to push through the rest of 2020. Whatever happens, we will be positive and a force that can be relied upon.
It is now 12th August as I write. Whilst not back to pre-Covid levels, we are very much getting back to normality (or a new normality) and by and large our clients have managed their businesses superbly and face a positive future. Of course, we all hope that we can avoid wide scale lockdowns and a potential downing off tools again. I would go as far as saying we cannot afford for that to happen on the same scale again.
From a secured lending perspective, we have assisted a number of our clients by deferring payments during lockdown. It is very pleasing to note that 90% of those business have now recommenced servicing their facility. That combination of close and regular client contact and pragmatic lending has enabled cash to flow and business to continue in a confident way.
It strengthens our belief that there is no reasonable algorithm or lenders’ questionnaire that exists that can compare with hands-on human interaction with qualified people. It is important that clients can lift the phone and speak in detail to a person that understands their business and has the ability to solve problems quickly with minimum fuss. Businesses exist in a grey world where there aren’t necessarily black or white answers. Sometimes the answer is “it depends” and then you want to discuss with a person the variables. This is why SME clients don’t want tick box relationships. They want to feel the human touch. We are social animals and we need interaction. Surely that isn’t too much of an old-fashioned statement in today’s technical world. Tech is important and numbers are important to demonstrate past performance, but human relationships are the most important.
Like many businesses we were forced to work remotely during lockdown. We picked up the phone, we had Zoom meetings (other platforms are available!), we communicated. We did really well and our staff rose to the challenge and were magnificent. But at the beginning of July we mostly returned to the office. And that was when we realised how much we had missed that interaction. There has been a tangible buzz in the office since then and I believe that performance and productivity has taken a leap forward. That is not to say our way of working may have changed forever. We will now permit more remote working on occasions and provide greater flexibility to our workforce and we will strive for a greater work/life balance for all.
So embrace change for all the good it does, but remain human at the same time. I think we will all benefit if we take that onboard.
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