What have been the biggest challenges for your business over the past year, and what role did finance play in addressing them?
Mike Brierley, CFO, Metro Bank (MB): We’re a rapidly growing business, which means continually investing in our infrastructure, technology and people – this year alone we’ve opened four stores and we have another three stores due to open by the end of the year. This means we have to make decisions about when and where we invest; balancing short-term successes with long-term goals. Finance naturally has a crucial role to play in this, helping to decide where to invest now and where to invest in the future. It’s a delicate balance that must be preserved.
What are the key political and economic risks/opportunities you face in the year ahead?
MB: Despite the obvious uncertainties in the global economy, we’re pleased to see a strengthening UK environment that benefits our SME customers, many of which are looking to grow their businesses after a number of testing years.
At Metro Bank, we’re open for lending: We have funds available and we’re seeing countless small firms taking advantage of this improving climate by increasing their lending with us, and expanding their business.
Which capex projects will you be focusing on in 2015, and how will these be financed?
MB: Technology is extremely important to us. As a relatively new bank, we have the benefit of brand-new technology with no legacy systems to support, which naturally gives us an advantage. We offer customers the ability to bank with us whenever, wherever and however they want – whether that’s online, by mobile, by telephone or in store. Technological innovation is key to this and we need to continue to invest in our digital offering to ensure we are meeting the needs of our customers.
What business-friendly policies do we want the next government to undertake to improve the environment for UK corporates?
MB: We support the Competition and Market Authority’s recent announcement that it will be launching a full market investigation on SME banking, as well as the personal current account market. The UK banking sector is lacking in competition and, as a result, innovation and real choice for customers. We need a level playing field in banking to ensure that new entrants are given the same opportunities as incumbents.
Without this, innovation will be stifled and consumer choice will continue to be limited. We would welcome the next government to continue to create an environment that facilitates and promotes this level playing field.
Advice for other FDs for the coming year?
MB: I’m very much looking forward to 2015 – it certainly looks to be as exciting and eventful as the past. Finance directors often run the risk of concentrating on solving yesterday’s issues, rather than anticipating the next risk and what’s currently brewing. My advice would be to look ahead, stay vigilant and plan for the unexpected.