A challenge to the Challengers: The Branch is the Bank

Oct 23, 2020 | Fintech Friday

In response to September’s Fintech Friday: ‘What are challenger banks doing differently?’, Phil Basten, Branch Manager at Handelsbanken Trafford offers a counter perspective from the other side of banking. Whilst his team are keeping abreast of the challenger bank market, they are proud of their renowned, traditional approach which enables them to deliver a very personal approach to banking, geared towards a very different type of customer. Are challenger banks really changing the game? In this guest blog, Phil argues that it depends on the game you wish to play.

As I sit at my desk at Handelsbanken Trafford branch on a wet Friday morning, I am contemplating the interesting article ‘what are challenger banks doing differently?’. It provides a fascinating insight into the emergence of new online banks and the evident demand for automated, commodity-based banking services seen in the market. However, it has left me thinking that it is the very opposite to the way we work at Handelsbanken. Allow me to explain…

Meaningful relationships

I had planned to start writing this blog a couple of days ago.  Each time I started to type, one of my customers rang to chat… the conversation started with their latest update on family but very quickly moved on to opportunities they were considering, implications of the local lockdown and how best to structure finances to trade through the challenges that we are all facing. Whilst many challenger banks aim to build meaningful relationships with customers through user communities, blogs, podcasts and webinars, these types of conversations help to illustrate the very different approach that we take at Handelsbanken. We have close, personal relationships with our customers and aim to be their trusted advisors.

Handelsbanken may not be the first bank that springs to mind when talking to most people in the UK. However, our customers often consider us their best kept secret. Founded in Stockholm in 1871, it is safe to say that we are not new to the market.  We opened our first branch in the UK in 1982 and have grown to a network of over 200 branches, serving personal and business customers with their banking and wealth management needs.

Local perspective

As a local relationship bank, we are built on satisfied customers, financial strength and sustainable values.  Long-term relationships are key to how we do business.  Local branches are operated by experienced bankers with roots in the communities they serve, working closely with local professionals, like Harold Sharp.  There is a saying in Handelsbanken, “The Branch is the Bank” and by that we mean that our branches are empowered to make the majority of banking decisions. Our customers have direct contact to everyone in the branch and they will be speaking to a decision maker, not a messenger. Their dedicated account manager will know them and understand their business and private affairs.

Handelsbanken is not a mass market bank. Drawing on local knowledge and experience enables us to make lending decisions in the branch, a far cry from the credit-scored, centralised model of challenger banks. We are also not afraid to turn customers away if they do not share our values. To maintain our long-term relationships, we look to work with customers that are financially prudent, responsible and likewise looking for a long-term relationship with their bank. As a result, it is expected that each account manager will only have a certain amount of customers to allow them time to focus on their individual needs and provide high levels of bespoke customer service. This is a much bolder approach than that of the challenger banks, many of which approve new customer applications within 10 minutes based on an ID match.

Long-term investment

Our approach to banking enables us to grow organically, through customer referrals rather than expensive advertising. We often provide banking services to businesses, the directors of those businesses, the owners and their families. Our relationships often span generations and focus on the long-term, rather than specific transactions. This is something we are immensely proud of. Whilst we appreciate that challenger banks are meeting a need, in no way do we perceive them to be a threat to our ethos.

How can Harold Sharp help?

As is made clear in Phil’s blog, there are clearly two very distinct sides of the banking spectrum and our job at Harold Sharp is to ensure your business needs are served by your bank of choice: there is no ‘one size fits all’. Whilst we have many clients benefiting from the perks of challenger banks, we likewise have clients who enjoy long-standing relationships with the likes of Handelsbanken.

To hear more about the Handelsbanken difference, click here to contact Phil Basten of Handelsbanken Trafford.

Alternatively, to discuss your banking options more broadly, speak to your relationship principal or contact Harold Sharp at intouch@haroldsharp.co.uk or on 0161 905 1616.