With several hundred years of history behind it, the Royal Bank of Scotland has few problems in persuading businesses that it is a reputable and secure provider of their banking needs. The greater challenge is to demonstrate to customers that it is flexible and responsive enough to serve their 21st-century needs.
The way RBS Business Banking has met this challenge persuaded the judges that it should be Highly Commended, although it was pipped to the main financial services award.
Based in Edinburgh, RBS provides banking services to businesses throughout the UK via its branch network. Most customer contact is conducted through relationship managers based in individual branches, who receive the backing of central support staff at the Scottish HQ.
In this competitive and politically sensitive market, RBS has devised a number of approaches that are quite unique. For example, its mentor consulting service provides business customers with advice on employment law, health and safety issues and taxation, helping smaller enterprises in particular to cope with the ever-growing burden of red tape.
A priority for RBS has been to make it easy for business customers to do business with the bank. To this end, they can contact their relationship manager by direct line, mobile phone and e-mail; if a relationship manager is on holiday, the nearest colleague becomes his or her 'buddy' and deals with a customer during the manager's absence. The bank's research suggested that business customers like continuity, so RBS introduced a four-year tenure for managers.
RBS was also first to the market with internet banking for business; and there is a further alternative for those who want access to their bank at any time of night or day: a 24-hour phone-based service called Direct Banking for Business. To meet the needs of a faster-moving business world, it will turn around urgent lending applications within 24 hours and less urgent cases within 48 hours.
Together, these innovations have achieved excellent results. The customer base is growing fast, and last year the bank attracted 36,000 new business accounts.
The focus on customers has been a driving force in the way that RBS recruits and develops its own people. The bank's policy here is 'hire the smile, train the skill', believing that all employees should be developed beyond mere competency to a higher level. Newly inducted staff now go through a 'customer service review' to find out what it is like to be on the other side of the desk, asking to borrow money.
A further innovation is a diploma in customer relationship management (CRM), which the bank has instituted for relationship managers - believed to be a first in the industry.
RBS Business Banking impressed the judges with its internal communications, including a dedicated Business TV channel, and also showed willingness to learn from elsewhere, through its Service Masterclass benchmarking visits and talks from other organisations.
Commented Moira Clark, director of the CRM Research Forum at the Cranfield School of Management and one of the judges: 'Few banks manage to develop and maintain mutually trusting and profitable relationships with their business customers, and what impressed me at RBS was the sincerity in what they do. The way that they individually counselled farmers during the foot-and-mouth crisis, and have put managers in place for four years to establish continuity are both excellent examples of building lasting relationships.'