Entrepreneur slams banks' 'hypocrisy' in offering advice

Our biggest banks have offered to mentor SMEs. But as Pimlico Plumbers' Charlie Mullins points out, they're not necessarily the most obvious source of business advice...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
Not content with fixing the stop-cocks of the rich and famous, Pimlico Plumbers founder Charlie Mullins (aka the one off the telly) now appears to be branching out into consultancy. The entrepreneur has invited board members from the ‘big five’ banks to come and visit his business, so he can give them ‘lessons in running a business and giving good customer service’. SME 101, if you will.

As you’ll probably have guessed, the invitation comes in response to news that the banks are offering to provide ‘advice and support’ to small businesses on everything from finance and marketing to HR. The new mentoring scheme is the brainchild of the business finance taskforce, which was set up by the banks last year in an effort to come up with better ways to serve their customers.

However, Mullins for one is distinctly unimpressed. ‘SME businesses should avoid advice from banks like the plague,’ he rages, dismissing the idea as ‘pure and simple hypocrisy’. And since two of those banks now offering to provide business advice – RBS and Lloyds – got themselves into such a parlous state that they only survived thanks to an injection of taxpayer funds (while the others relied to some extent on the implicit backing of the Treasury), you can kind of see his point.

In fact, according to Mullins, he should be offering them business advice, rather than the other way round. ‘I’m inviting board members down to Lambeth, to help them understand what a customer is, how they should be treated and give them a leg up in reconnecting with the UK.’ Touché.

To be fair to the banks, part of the point of this scheme is to help small businesses make a better case for loans. The banks keep insisting that they have money to lend, so if this scheme helps SMEs to understand the process better, and thus make more effective applications, it will be a valuable service. On the other hand, it does seem a bit rich for a sector that almost imploded a couple of years ago to be telling SMEs how to run their business. Entrepreneurs might be minded of the (albeit very unfair) old adage: those who can’t, teach…

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