Interview with Lloyds Bank’s new regional director for London SME and mid-corporate.
As the capital starts to emerge from the disruption caused by Covid-19, what kind of financial shape are its businesses in?
“We’ve seen countless examples of firms showing incredible resilience and innovating in order to survive,” says Becci Wicks, in conversation with City AM to reflect on financing the economic recovery – and to mark her promotion to become Lloyds Bank’s Regional Director for London SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) and Mid-Corporate.
Wicks, who joined the bank in 2009, is taking up her new role at a time when London business confidence is the highest in the UK, according to Lloyds Bank’s Business Barometer for September. The bank’s monthly survey also revealed that nearly two-thirds (64%) of the capital’s firms expect to increase staff levels during the next year.
London’s businesses, of course, will need to continue to show resilience, with further bumps in the road expected, not least the ongoing labour shortages, along with recent concerns over fuel availability and pressure on supply chains, exacerbated by the lack of delivery drivers.
Wicks’ team, which is more than 60-strong, provides tailored finance and sector insight to around 15,000 companies (whose turnover is typically between £3m and £100m) within the M25. Lloyds Bank’s support includes helping with working capital requirements, for example through overdrafts, invoice discounting and asset finance, as well as international trade finance.
Companies in the capital supported by Lloyds Bank include CFES, a healthcare construction and engineering firm that worked with the NHS at the start of the pandemic to deliver additional hospital bed capacity; African food manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer Eko Food Market; and Judges Scientific, an AIM-quoted group that specialises in the acquisition and development of a portfolio of scientific instrument businesses.
CFES received a package of support, including additional invoice discount facilities and increased credit limits, in order to ‘mobilise quickly’ and meet heightened demand; Eko was provided with a six-figure asset finance package to revamp its supply-chain; and Lloyds Bank increased its support for Judges Scientific from £35m to £60m to support acquisitions. The latter company’s offices, near London Bridge, were among the first Wicks visited in person as Covid-related travel restrictions were relaxed earlier this year. “There is a different dynamic in seeing companies face-to-face”, she says.
Nationally, Lloyds Bank provided more than £31bn of business lending during 2020, including £13bn of government-backed loans to support customers through the pandemic.
“Mid-Corporate companies seem to have exited the worst of the pandemic more quickly, and with stronger balance-sheets, than small companies,” she says. “But we are now seeing that bounce back with SMEs, too.”
Manufacturing and construction, for example, have largely bounced back significantly earlier and more strongly, than, for example, leisure and hospitality. “For many companies the pandemic has been an unforeseen chance to ‘right-size’ – to cut excess costs, and get to a place they need to be,” she says.
Wicks, who lives in Tunbridge Wells and has two young children, joined Lloyds Bank 12 years ago, working her way up to lead its London mid-corporate manufacturing, wholesale and industrials team before her promotion. The capital is unique among Lloyds Bank’s regional structure in having sector-specific specialists, she says.
Beyond banking and financial support, Lloyds Banking Group’s own suite of products continues to evolve. For example, given the trend towards digital payments, its Cardnet mobile point-of-sale app now enables merchants to use QR codes; and its business car leasing company, Lex Autolease, has launched a ‘Green Salary Sacrifice’ for clients to make low-emission vehicles more accessible for their employees.
It all adds up to Lloyds Bank looking to power the capital – and country’s – economic fightback.
“We’ll be by the side of London businesses to support them to access the financial expertise and funding they require to fuel their ambitions for years to come,” says Wicks.