Alison Rose, chief executive of commercial and private banking at NatWest, joined the bank in 1992. By the time of the RBS takeover of NatWest in 2000 she was working in the investment banking division before going on to lead the bank’s leveraged finance in the UK and Europe. After the financial crash of 2008 she played a key role in restructuring the bank’s balance sheet and ensuring its survival (as well as running the global balance sheet and the company’s EMEA business), before becoming chief executive of commercial and private banking in 2014, overseeing a division that accounts for nearly half of the bank’s assets.
Tell us about your business?
Put simply, NatWest / RBS supports more small businesses than any other bank in the UK. With specific
regards to Wales, we employ over 1,000 staff across the country, injecting almost £26m into the Welsh
economy through wages alone.
We also have 73 branches in Wales serving 635,000 personal customers and around 30,000 business banking customers (by ‘business banking’ we mean companies with a turnover of less that £2m). We are also the biggest supporter of Welsh corporate and commercial customers (ie businesses with a turnover above £2m), not to mention being the largest supporter of Welsh households, providing more than £3bn in mortgages.
What are your plans for the next five years, and where do you see your challenges and opportunities?
Right now I am focused on continuing our work building a better NatWest – a bank that is more efficient, easier to do business with and committed to supporting UK business. We want to be the best for British business and the best in terms of technology, while doing all we can to tackle the challenges faced by the banking sector in general, be it long-term low interest rates or challenger banks.
But perhaps one of the greatest opportunities is our support for entrepreneurs. We will be putting over 7000 of them through our Entrepreneurial Spark hubs across the UK over the next five years and they will have an integral role to play in providing the jobs and economic growth of the future.
What do you wish you had known when you started out in business?
You always expect challenges along the way but I think it’s the realisation that the unthinkable actually can happen. The 2008 crash was a once in a lifetime event that was a pretty traumatic period to go through for the industry, but when I began in banking I never countenanced that something like that could actually happen. It was an emotional experience watching everything that we had been working on change, and the terrible situation that NatWest/RBS and its clients found themselves in. That was a difficult experience but it taught me – and everyone else – that the unexpected is undoubtedly possible.
Looking back at your career, are there things you would have done differently?
It’s hard to say. Even when things haven’t gone well I have learnt something from it. I’ve been very fortunate that I love what I do.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of starting a business?
There are more obvious answers such as having a good product, a clear sense of the marketplace, tenacity and drive, but I think it’s important to remember just how much support is out there for small businesses. You really aren’t alone. For example, the Entrepreneurial Spark hubs we run across the UK (including Cardiff) with KPMG and Dell EMC provide financial support, premises, mentoring and access to networks. We are the only bank supporting a free business accelerator initiative on this scale and we are determined to help entrepreneurs by making available to them our reach, expertise, knowledge, buildings, finance, mentoring, connectivity and know-how – all vital ingredients to a start-up business.
The facts speak for themselves. Since Entrepreneurial Spark was founded in 2011, the 660 businesses it has supported have had an aggregate turnover of £85,891,661 (£40m, in 2014), attracted £45,167,348 of investment (£18 million in 2014) and created 1,816 jobs. A recent Impact Report also showed that 88% of start-ups and early stage entrepreneurs who have been through Entrepreneurial Spark’s unique enablement programme are still trading today.
What are your top three tips for success?
I think the key is to find something you really enjoy doing and to above all be yourself. Secondly I’d definitely advocate investing in yourself by developing your skills and learning new ones. Finally, it’s absolutely vital that you have a great support network. Your family, friends and colleagues will all have an integral role to play in providing extra inspiration and helping you to reach your goals.
What do you think Wales’ strengths and weaknesses are as a place to do business?
Inward investment is proving to be very successful and I think it’s important to commend the Welsh Government for what they’re doing in this regard. When you are attracting brands like Aston Martin then you are certainly doing something right and overall inward investment figures around the £660m* mark are impressive. It’s also important to remember that when large companies and large projects come to Wales, there’s a huge supply chain that springs up around them which provides more jobs and even more opportunities. In terms of weaknesses – or at least perceived weaknesses – then infrastructure is often flagged as an area where things could improve so it’s fantastic to see visionary projects like the Cardiff Metro and the M4 relief road moving forward.
What can Wales do to attract more inward investment?
Wales has worked hard to garner reputation as something of a hub for sectors such as technology and tourism so it’s a case playing to those strengths, while also spotting new opportunities and promoting the country as a place that is highly receptive to businesses.
Thank you to Alison for her time. If you would like to find out how you can take part in our ongoing series of interview or to arrange a chat to find our more about Business News Wales' additional features please contact [email protected]