Despite the challenges of the pandemic Ireland was able to deliver an outstanding performance when it came to winning foreign direct investment (FDI) and Bank of Ireland was there every step of the way, says the bank’s new head of FDI Kevin Elliott.
In what was a year of unprecedented challenges caused by the Covid-19 crisis IDA Ireland, the State agency whose task it is to bring in overseas investment to create jobs, reported a net increase of nearly 9,000 FDI jobs out of 20,000 overall jobs generated in 2020. Of the 246 investments landed by IDA Ireland in 2020, 95 of these were new name investments and 52pc were in regional locations.
This was against a backdrop of a global environment where FDI plunged 40pc in 2020.
“Investment flows dropped substantially around the world in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. But if you look at what took place in Ireland in 2020, the flow of companies continued throughout the pandemic largely on a par with what was achieved in 2019”
For Kevin Elliott, recently appointed head of Global FDI at the bank, it was a ‘Team Ireland’ effort that demonstrated the resilience of the country as a performer on the global FDI stage.
From the perspective of Bank of Ireland, he said it also demonstrated the agility of new digital relationship banking systems that enabled new overseas business customers to set up banking services remotely.
Right place, right time
Being in the right place at the right time is a crucial aspect of the bank and FDI company’s relationship once the decision to invest in Ireland is taken.
“A lot of times the CEO or CFO are very actively involved in every little detail about setting up in Ireland. While banking is not on their radar initially, once they start to think about getting operational in Ireland or scaling up the team on the ground, banking becomes very much front-of-mind. They are starting to think about paying staff, suppliers and receiving payments from customers across Europe.
“But it’s a very narrow window of time for us as a bank to do that and ensure we are relevant at the right time for the customer.”
A changing investment landscape
This is no small task when you consider the lifetime of investment decisions can take anything from a few months to a few years depending on the size and nature of the investment. But once the decision is made it is action stations.
“It is important to recognise that Ireland has developed such a standing in the global investment community that is seen as a solid, established and successful location for those companies to choose to set up in”
“If it is a small, young company you could be liaising directly with the CFO and if you’re dealing with a larger, more established company you could be working with the VP of Finance or head of Treasury who would have very specific needs around the management of cash and operations. They are very much focused on the needs that our products can meet.
“The decision around investing in Ireland will already have been taken as well as decisions around tax and hiring talent as well as the physical footprint. The finance person we deal with is tasked with making it all happen in real terms.”
Elliott observes there is a trend for US companies, particularly in areas like tech or life sciences, to go international at a much earlier stage. “This means that the flow of companies is increasing but also that some of them are not yet profitable but could yet experience significant growth in the future.
“As a result, Bank of Ireland needs to be very nimble to meet the needs of all of those different kinds of companies, from established global businesses to fast-emerging young companies. It has been an interesting change but also a welcome one because it means that Ireland is very much on the radar for any up-and-coming tech company from anywhere in the world.”
Backing Team Ireland
How Team Ireland, and Bank of Ireland’s role in it, rose to the challenges of the pandemic is a source of immense pride for Elliott and his colleagues.
“Investment flows dropped substantially around the world in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. But if you look at what took place in Ireland in 2020, the flow of companies continued throughout the pandemic largely on a par with what was achieved in 2019. This was in the face of Ireland being locked down for most of the year as well as the markets of the US, Europe and Asia.
“It was incredible to see the flow of companies that IDA Ireland was able to bring in. It is important to recognise that Ireland has developed such a standing in the global investment community that is seen as a solid, established and successful location for those companies to choose to set up in.”
The bank’s FDI team, says Elliott, responded with agility to the pandemic challenge and joined enthusiastically in and actively supported the IDA’s virtual itineraries.
“These companies were able to meet with the business community in Ireland remotely over Zoom and Teams and speak to peer companies about their experiences, talk to recruiters about attracting talent in Ireland and speak to Bank of Ireland and other banks in the market to understand the banking landscape as well as other professionals in area like law and accounting.
“This has carried into 2021. It was remarkable to see how Team Ireland was able to rally and adapt seamlessly to the remote working reality.”
Ensuring a premium banking experience
Elliott noted how the transition to digital banking was particularly relevant to the changing needs of the FDI community.
“IBOS is the leading global network of international banks that supports each other’s customers around the world. This means there are some very significant banks around the world that we are now partnered with”
“Bank of Ireland responded to the challenge in a very nimble, agile way to roll out digital account opening for our customers. This enhanced support for our customers, as a digital relationship bank, has really enabled and positioned us to support those companies looking to set up in Ireland in a really great way.
“This made it less challenging for companies from the US or Asia to set up in Ireland.”
Another feather in Bank of Ireland’s cap from an international banking perspective has been joining IBOS Association, an alliance of some of the largest banks in the world.
The Irish bank’s membership enriches IBOS’s strong geographic coverage in Europe and provides specialist local knowledge to help companies thrive in Ireland, generating compelling global opportunities for all IBOS member banks.
“This is a very exciting development for Bank of Ireland. IBOS is the leading global network of international banks that supports each other’s customers around the world. This means there are some very significant banks around the world that we are now partnered with.
“The benefit for Bank of Ireland is we are gaining a new group of customers through these relationships. We feel it is a good way for us to continue to meet the needs of the companies that come through the IBOS network and help ensure the smooth onboarding and scaling up of their Irish operations.”
In conclusion, Elliott said that Ireland offers an inclusive and supportive ecosystem for FDI companies.
“The Team Ireland approach of everyone pulling in the same direction is key. The banking ecosystem for FDI companies is strong and supportive and we’ve been able to help hundreds of overseas companies locate in Ireland and get operational.
“That Team Ireland approach works extremely well and it’s one of the things that sets Ireland apart as an investment location decision. It’s one of the contributing factors behind the incredible success of Ireland’s FDI community over the past 30 years.”