Spearheading Bank of Ireland’s efforts to accommodate businesses as KBC and Ulster Bank exit the market, Sean Buckley talks about how firms can best manage the practicalities.
With the departure of Ulster Bank and KBC from the Irish market, the move of their customers to other banks is continuing at pace. The latest account opening figures published today by Banking & Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI) show 68,000 personal current accounts (PCAs) were opened by the main retails banks, post offices and credit unions in the four weeks ending 5 August.
As challenging as it might be for an individual to switch their banking including direct debits, standing orders, loans and credit cards to an alternative service provider, it could be infinitely more complex for a business customer who needs to think about the need to maintain relationships with suppliers and creditors, not to mention managing the payroll needs of employees, making international payments and more.
“The priority is getting customers onboarded and transactional”
Challenging, yes, but not necessarily complex if it is done right, says Sean Buckley, head of Operations Distribution, Digital & Operations at Bank of Ireland’s Retail Ireland division. Buckley is spearheading the bank’s efforts to accommodate the influx of new business banking customers.
Breaking up shouldn’t be hard to do
Buckley manages the team that streamlines the process for a potential new business banking customer from the initial appointment to onboarding the business.
The key, he stresses is preparedness. “While this is no doubt a market opportunity for the bank, what we wanted to do for businesses is avoid a sense of panic. When you think of what is involved, managing payroll and supplier systems, it’s stressful for customers. So what we started with was making the appointment process seamless.
“All the customer has to do is go on the website, tell us the name of their company, nominate a branch for their appointment and they would then get a phone call from our team which consists of experienced people who have worked in branches and in business before.”
Buckley uses the word “triage” to describe the work of the team who will assess whether the business owners needs to meet with the bank or manage the process digitally. “If you’re a sole trader, we would encourage you to take the digital journey because it’s better for your needs. We confirm the Business type they are and if they need to come in for a meeting with our business advisors, prepare them for that meeting, advise on the documents they need to bring and what ID they will need. For Limited Companies, it should be the director and the secretary of the company that should attend the meeting.”
Once an application is received from a business looking to move to Bank of Ireland, Buckley explained that a centralised case management team is on the case to gather and confirm relevant information such as CRO filings and shareholding structure and if anything is unclear will contact the business owner.
“The process could take at least two days but in some cases it could be nine or 10 days depending on the complexity involved.”
Buckley said a lot of thought went into making sure businesses were being prepared and not just being put into a queue. “For example, if they have lending requirements they need to know what additional documents they will be required to bring. In general, they need to show a set of recent accounts and bank statements. But there are also other elements such as business credit cards and more. What we try to do is find a way of packaging all of that up in the best way possible so that a customer has full access to the services they need to start.
“The priority is getting customers onboarded and transactional.”
The digital aspect is critical, Buckley explains, to avoid a litany of form-filling. “The meeting with the business advisors could be as short or as long as you want, depending on what needs to happen. Generally we don’t require a huge amount of information.
“Once we have all the information that is required we will send them a DocuSign document and our Central Support team will guide the customer through the KYC (know your customer) journey.
“Every customer of any bank in Ireland, regardless of product type, has to go through the KYC assessment process. The purpose of this is to understand exactly who you are, what type of business you are in and, depending on the risk, for example if it is a cash-type business, we may require more information.”
Start off on the right foot
Fundamentally, Buckley said that the onus is on helping the business to establish its relationship with the bank on the right footing. “We want to develop a really strong relationship with these customers, especially for customers that may have complex needs in the future such as lending requirement for exporting or importing from a non-Euro country and needing Trade Finance services.
“My advice is don’t put it on the long finger, make the initial call or inquiry. Because once you do that you’re on a path to resolution”
“Most customers will assess their future relationship with us based upon their onboarding experience. So it has to be absolutely perfect. It’s about making sure the customer feels they are dealing with a partner who will support them and bring them on board and hit the ground running.
“These businesses need to get it right from the start, redirecting invoice payments and making sure that they can issue the correct bank details to creditors and suppliers.”
Time, Buckley said, is of the essence and businesses need to move fast to move their banking before it is too late. “It’s about more than just opening a bank account, it’s actually about getting your whole infrastructure changed over in order to pay your staff’s salaries, pay your invoices, make international payments and getting your creditors and debtors aligned and making sure your salespeople have credit cards.”
“Businesses need to be proactive and be ready to move. The longer you leave it the more difficult it is going to be. Give yourself a good three months’ head start. If you don’t, there could be panic as you realise closer to Christmas, for example, that you don’t have your payroll set up.”
In general, businesses have a period of six months from the day they get a letter from their departing bank but there’s a high probability that by the New Year the departing banks may cease transactional activities, which could leave businesses in an awkward position indeed.
While the exiting banks are writing to customers on a staggered basis, Buckley advises businesses to pre-empt the inevitable letter and get the move underway. “You need to be prepared for the meeting with your business advisors, so work with your financial controller/accountant to make sure you have everything you need.
“We see from engagement with customers on the phone that there’s a bit of panic. But actually, once their appointment is confirmed and they feel like they are making progress with us they are a lot calmer.
“My advice is don’t put it on the long finger, make the initial call or inquiry. Because once you do that you’re on a path to resolution. Our TV ad campaign likens it to a relationship breaking up, but in practical terms it is also an opportunity for you to review how your own business operates. You could have a working capital requirement that our business advisors might be happy to help you with and you might have more breathing space than you had before, for example.
“Our business advisors are motivated to help you understand the next steps because we know a relationship is something that you can only develop over time. So it’s important we start you off on the right foot,” Buckley advised.