The scheme, Working with You, sends staff to work with small and medium sized business customers on their premises to get first hand experience of how the customer’s business operates.
Since the launch of Working with You in 2011, RBS Group staff have made more than 10,000 visits to customers’ businesses, learning first hand what the business does by carrying out its normal work for at least two days a year.
Phil Derbyshire, relationship director for NatWest in Manchester, North West England, worked with small business owners Simon and Nick Mellin, who produce sustainable, free range pork and chicken on their Lancashire farm.
NatWest has lent the Mellins £380,000 through the government-backed Funding for Lending scheme to develop a farm shop and bistro which launched in September 2012. Their business, which includes a successful UK-wide online service Roaming Roosters is likely to achieve turnover in excess £1.2m in the 2012/13 financial year, far outstripping its previous predicted turnover of £433,000.
The Mellins are now looking to bring in produce from other farms in the Lancashire area, as their own farm and current local suppliers will soon struggle to meet the fast growing demand.
Derbyshire was put to work mucking out pigsties and capturing 30 chickens (“it took an hour!”) ready for dispatch in the morning, and butchering meat and serving customers in the shop in the afternoon.
“Working with customers really does help you understand them better,” he says.
“There is only so much you can learn in a one or two hour meeting. But if you are spending the whole day working alongside them, you have the opportunity to see the problems they face and what keeps them awake at night.”
Simon Mellin says he would be very willing to have Derbyshire or other NatWest staff involved with his account work with him again.
“It shows that they are interested in the business doing well, and it’s a very good way to develop the relationship with your banking manager. The better you know someone, the easier it is to talk to them about your business,” he says.
Derbyshire and Mellin are due to meet shortly to discuss how to improve cash flow – an issue identified while the relationship director was on the farm.
While Derbyshire performed well in the shop and showed considerable talent in cutting up meat, Mellin says his urban origins showed clearly while he was mucking out and trying to capture the hens. “He was good entertainment value though,” he says.
Read more about how we support UK SMEs in the 2012 Sustainability report.