Rotosound, which sells its products via wholesalers, has enjoyed a long banking relationship with NatWest, part of the RBS Group. The bank is currently advising the Sevenoaks-based company on how to reorganise its share ownership arrangements.
The artists who have used Rotosound strings read like a rock music Who's Who, including Jimi Hendrix, Sting, Led Zeppelin, the Stranglers and Queen. The company collaborated with John Entwistle, bass guitarist of The Who, to develop strings to his specification and which he used for most of his career.
Hester also visited another Sevenoaks company, Premier Alarms, which installs and services intruder alarms, CCTV, automatic gates, external perimeter protection and safes, locks and grilles for residential and commercial use. Clients include Gatwick Airport.
L to R: Vincent Humphreys, Stephen Hester, Sarah Humphreys and Michael Fallon MP
The founders, Vince and Lynn Humphreys, are preparing and building the company to pass on to their three daughters. Last year they invested £100,000 in building a state of the art showroom, and revamped the company website and brochures.
Premier Alarms has banked with NatWest since 1999. Humphreys said: "As a company that has banked with NatWest since its inception over 25 years ago we feel the visit reflects a positive move for the RBS group to understand SMEs in greater depth."
The visit included a meeting with local MP Michael Fallon and a round table discussion giving the region's SMEs the chance to quiz the chief executive on local issues around business and finance.
"I met with a number of our business customers who are playing a vital role in the economy here. It is encouraging for me to see that our relationship managers are really building the rapport with these customers that is crucial to knowing the needs of individual SMEs and rebuilding the trust between businesses and our bank."
Hester said he was encouraged by the dedication he had witnessed in a local branch to customer service in dealing with the personal finance needs of the community.
"I have made it clear that RBS must now ensure that our culture is always focussed on our customers and, on todays evidence, we are well positioned to do that through the attitude and efforts of our frontline", he said.
Support for small business
RBS is the UK's biggest lender to small businesses, and has shown its commitment to the government's Funding for Lending scheme by launching a £2.5bn fund specifically to support local businesses. Loans from the fund are the cheapest ever offered by RBS to small and medium sized businesses, with interest rates cut by 1.7 per cent and no fees. Smaller businesses have received bigger discounts, with the cost of fixed rates falling below 3 per cent. This has enabled businesses to save about £3,000 on the average loan, and RBS is on track to have lent the full £2.5bn by the end of february 2013.
In the current financial year, RBS and NatWest have also made more Enterprise Finance Guarantee loans to SME businesses than the other major high street banks combined. These loans are 75% underwritten by the government, which means the borrower may have the possibility of securing a business loan even without collateral to back it up.
Ulster Bank, which is also part of the RBS Group, is encouraging its relationship managers and their leaders to spend time working in a customer's business during 2013 to enable them to understand better how to support SMEs. The "Working with you" campaign was introduced by RBS Business & Commercial Banking to promote the concept of thinking like a business first and a bank second by focusing on customers' ambitions and business challenges.