Founder views: Martyn Dawson, Regional Director for Anglia, Santander



“Our desire is to become the SME bank of choice, and our aim is to give Santander clients in this region access to the capability of the Santander Group worldwide,” says Martyn Dawson, Regional Director for Anglia. Here he talks about how the bank aims to achieve that vision, and about some of the hurdles the sector faces.

What makes your business distinctive?

Our values centre around our people, our customers and also the communities in which we are represented. Santander launched its corporate and commercial business in 2009 and as a serious challenger bank coming into the market, we have been focused on developing a relationship banking model which differentiates us in the market. Relationships in the wider banking sector have been tested throughout the period of the financial crisis, and when we came into this market our focus was and remains very much on being consistent in the way we work with our clients. We take time to understand our clients’ businesses fully, the challenges they face, and work with them to identify and provide solutions.

Our desire is to be the SME bank of choice, and our aim is to provide Santander clients in this region access to the expertise and capability of the Santander Group worldwide.

Cambridge is renowned for its high technology and innovative businesses, many of which originate from the university. As a bank we too need to be equally innovative, and our Breakthrough programme – which seeks to identify fast growth businesses in the UK and help them achieve their full potential – is unique. We are the only bank that offers mezzanine growth funding in the SME space.

In doing so, unlike many other equity funded options, we do not dilute the owner’s share in the business by taking an equity stake, thereby preserving the owner’s aspirations for achieving future growth and business value.

A banking partnership is about more than just providing core operational and debt services, and through the Breakthrough scheme, we have also taken more than 100 companies to 10 Masterclasses, to companies including Google, LoveFilm, Innocent, and McLaren. Around 55 companies have so far attended seven trade missions to countries including Brazil, Mexico and the US.

We have also worked with our Santander Universities Network in the UK, which numbers around 69 currently, to help fund Internships in the SME market and are planning to support a further 1500 in 2014.

The main four clearing banks have had an estimated 90% of the market share for as long as most can remember. There have been a lot of banks that have dipped in and dipped out on a transactional basis. We believe we are the first credible operational competitor to the Big Four with the scale to challenge consistently and we are committed to helping UK businesses grow and prosper.

We’ve introduced a brand new Internet banking service and a global Trade Portal, providing clients with free access to a database of prospective importing and exporting clients worldwide. Santander is the largest bank by branch representation in the world, with around 14,000 branches, and with over 5 million SME and corporate relationships internationally we have also established a Trade Club, allowing our clients globally to interact directly between the territories in which we operate. 

What are the greatest challenges your business faces and how will you overcome them?

We inevitably face the challenge around inertia, as many businesses perhaps reluctantly choose to stick with what they know as an alternative  to changing their banking arrangements. That is why we have a team dedicated to helping businesses make that switch.

We know that many financial relationships have been challenged in the past few years. I think there is an opportunity for us as a scale challenger in the market to have open and honest discussions with potential clients, demonstrating that we are able to offer support in ways that extend much further than that which they may be currently experiencing. The Santander Group’s financial strength and its global diversification have enabled it to prosper throughout the financial crisis and in the UK we are in the fortunate position of being able to look forward, rather than having to keep looking in the rear view mirror.

We have to move with the times when it comes to relationship management. We want to embrace social media channels and new ways in which to interact with our clients, although meeting people face to face remains integral to our relationship building strategy.

I established Santander’s Corporate and Commercial business in Anglia in late 2009 and one of our biggest challenges in the early days was establishing our profile. In helping to build the Corporate and Commercial Bank from the business legacy comprising three former building societies, we have invested £500 million over three years on our IT systems in the UK, proving that we are investing for the future. This has allowed us to become operationally very competitive. Historically we have undertaken banking transactionally for many businesses, including asset and invoice finance, and our legacy businesses have shown that we are able to handle cash transactions very efficiently – Santander now transacts around £1 in every £5 of cash movements in the UK.

Our core objective however remains to become the Bank of Choice for UK business and we want to work with the relationships we already have to provide them with an even more comprehensive banking service, as well as continue to attract new clients.

What are the challenges Cambridge faces?

I think one of the biggest challenges in a market of innovation is taking the product or service from an idea to that of commercial reality. Not all are successful. However, those that don’t make it still provide a platform for learning and improving.

We are very lucky in this region to have many high profile, very experienced sponsors, many of whom are linked with or are members of the Cambridge Network. Cambridge is sometimes viewed as quite a closed, insular community; however, it has the ability to both attract and retain its high calibre people. 

The professional network that I joined back in 1998 is still here and that's a real strength in consistency and continuity. Therein also lies a challenge however – we need to constantly strive for fresh blood and new ideas.

Infrastructure has been an issue too over the years, but communication links continue to be improved. Having companies like Microsoft based here, and AstraZeneca coming into the city, will help the profile to continue to grow and attract further investment.  The demographics of the South East weigh in favour relative to some other parts of the UK, although whilst the close proximity to London can be an attraction, it can also result in a drain on commutable skills and services. 

What is the best thing about Cambridge?

It's a great place to live, a nice part of the country, has an affluent business base that attracts investment, and we're lucky that we can enjoy a good work/life balance. My original plan when I first moved to the area was to remain for four years or so, in line with what in 1998, were common timeframes for roles in the banking sector. Sixteeen years later, I am still here and many in the local network did tell me that would be the case!

Continuing investment needs to be sought to continue to sustain growth in the area, although much of the strength lies in the heritage and legacy of the city, renowned globally, and that will never change!

Martyn Dawson was in conversation with Judi Coe, Cambridge Network Editor

Coming soon!   Sign up now to hear a business lecture by Barry Naisbitt, Santander's Chief Economist, at Cambridge Network on Tuesday October 21st.