News 9min(s)

SMEs are Shawbrook’s core focus

Stuart Doignie, MD SME Lending at Shawbrook, discusses technology, targets and teamwork in 2023.

I started my career at Barclaycard, where I spent fifteen years in credit and risk related roles. Initially starting in analytical roles, before taking on more senior positions and eventually becoming Chief Risk Officer of the commercial card business supporting large corporates. After fifteen years with a big bank I decided to join a fintech, leaping out of the corporate world to an Israeli-founded startup called ezbob, a UK-based software provider for banks and other financial institutions offering a digital end-to-end Lending-as-a-Service platform. I joined Shawbrook three years ago, starting out combining my knowledge of technology and risk to streamline digital processes, and since 2022 I’ve been responsible for the SME Lending team as Managing Director.

Brokers and intermediaries have always been an important channel for me, and I understand the broker market well. Shawbrook’s own emphasis on digital transformation has been about combining our deep understanding of credit risk with the best of technology, to speed up our processes and help our brokers deliver a better product and service to their customers. I’d like to think that my team and I bring the best of both to Shawbrook – a firm grasp of what our risk colleagues are looking for on the one hand, and a real drive to understand the needs of the SME at the other, all underpinned by a focus on technology to enable our people to spend time in the areas that deliver value for our brokers and their clients by connecting the two.

The risk element of my background is heavily embedded in how I think, so I understand the pain points of the broker market and the areas that can cause frustration for their customers. This really comes to the fore when we’re looking at deals other lenders’ risk departments might turn away as my team and I have a deep understanding of what our risk colleagues are looking for, and we can help guide our brokers to get the information they need from their customers.

I’ve been in the role for nearly a year now, since last May, and in that time Shawbrook have been finding more ways that we can bring together the best of our people and technology to enhance our support for our brokers. We’ve been building the Shawbrook Broker Portal to complement our large complex proposition which provides brokers with a place to submit their flow business, and benefit from the flexibility and expertise of our people that they’ve come to know and value us for. We’ve also made investments to grow our broker facing team to expand the expertise available across a range of sectors, ensuring we retain the very best talent in the industry to support our broker relationships.

Historically we’ve been known as a storybook lender, completely focused on more complicated transactions that other lenders don’t have the appetite to support. We’ve supported many successful businesses by applying a human touch, and using our expertise to support them where others would not. What we’re doing now is combining the best of storybook lending and more straightforward lending, so that both can be done in a quicker and smarter way.

For Shawbrook to scale up its support for more SMEs across the UK, we couldn’t do that by restricting ourselves to only the most complicated deal. If an SME wants to buy two trucks and knows where they want to buy them from, we can help with that, and we can help with the more complex deals too. Brokers are in tune with their customers’ circumstances and often understand the differentiating characteristics of the two. We’re often their first port of call for large complex deals. Now we’re using our technology to improve that service, and these investments in our platforms provide us with the ability to apply technology assisted decisions for the simpler deals to offer a straight through and near automated service.

SMEs remain the core focus at Shawbrook. At a time where we’re seeing lenders dip in and out of certain markets, we’ve been consistent in supporting SMEs, maintaining the capital base and the strategy to support them. This consistency should provide confidence that we’re a reliable partner, in it for the long term. We stand by the credit lines and decisions we make and we don’t subsequently retract them, which we hear from brokers is happening more frequently of late. 90pct of our business is broker-driven, and so brokers are a critical factor in our continued success. As we’ve continued to grow our offering and invest in technology, we’re evolving our proposition to meet more of their needs.

To further underscore our support for SMEs, we’ve been building on our digital capabilities and we now have true auto-decisioning where we can identify simple deals for stable SMEs with good cashflow who can afford the funding on the assets they want. But, we’ve also got what we would call auto-assisted decisioning. So we might say, we’ve checked 100 data points, 70 of them the system identifies as in policy, but 30 points need a little more investigation. That means we’re able to pinpoint the areas where we need to step in and make decisions and have our risk colleagues spend their time in the right places. We can quickly communicate to the broker what we may need further information about, without having to review every data point manually. We see in the near future the technology being able to handle increasingly complex deals, but we’re mindful of staying true to the human approach that we’ve become known for.

For simple transactions, of course, there’s a big drive for rapid turnarounds; inside of three hours for what a broker deems to be a simple transaction, which is where technology assisted decisioning is really useful. There is an expectation that complex cases however, take longer so I don’t think there’s an expectation that everything can or should be decided on by digital technology alone. Our technology says “yes” where it can, and when it can’t say “yes” right away it says “let’s hand this over to the human element, so we can look at the story.”

Let’s say you’ve got an army of underwriters ready and able to have a quick look and reach a quick decision on everything. The Shawbrook approach is to let the digital tech do the heavy lifting. We really want to scale up this business at Shawbrook, but we don’t want to lose the human aspect that SMEs and brokers have come to value us for. We don’t expect to be 100pct automated because we’re not really a yes/no type of operator. Our next area of focus is taking that digital capability and enhancing the flow of activity after decision, to speed up our approval to payout timelines.

As an example, take the SME who’s missed three direct debit payments in the past month. The machine will question whether this deal should go ahead, but if we step in we might see it’s because one of their suppliers failed to pay them in time, for the first time in five years. Then we’d go back to the broker and explain our concern and it might be that the broker can mitigate that in some way. We keep our ears open to what the broker is telling us, and we’ll explain to them why we’re thinking the way we are. We’re seeing examples of how brokers are putting extra work in, understanding why we might not be able to give a straightforward “yes” and working with their clients to answer the questions we have, and that is a really valuable differentiator that we want to retain.

We put a lot of effort into working with our brokers to help them understand what a Shawbrook deal looks like, what our credit appetite actually is, and with a large number of brokers that leads to a high acceptance rate. A broker can talk to an SME and get a deal in, look at it, and know straight away whether it’s a Shawbrook deal. That’s where we’d like to get to, the point where nearly everything that arrives on our doorstep is a Shawbrook deal, whilst being flexible enough to look at the borderline cases. That’ll save us time, and it will save the broker time as well. Strong service level agreements (“SLAs”) with brokers are critical; we explain to them ‘if you give us this sort of deal, this is how long it’s going to take us’ and then they can manage expectations with their customer. Good clear SLAs and up-front honesty about timescales all work to everyone’s benefit.

We’re very flexible in the ways that we can receive deals from the market. We allow brokers to integrate with us through the portal, or by e-mail, and we’ve launched a service recently that allows brokers to connect with us via API so they can connect their system straight into Shawbrook and send deals straight to us. Our brokers have differing levels of what we’d call digital maturity. Some are happy with their level of technology or don’t want to change their existing systems, and many don’t want to have to key in the same information three times to three different lenders’ portals. Crucially, we haven’t got a one size fits all credit model and approach as we understand how diverse the SME lending space is. We’re looking to support SMEs and to find ways to meet their funding needs across all of the different products that we receive applications for. To do that, we’re able to apply some flexibility in price, including risk-based pricing, which allows us to approve more deals at different price points, and the technology investment means that’s mostly an automated process now.

Once we receive a risk rating from the machine or from the underwriter, that allows us to take a holistic view of that deal augmenting a large amount of data points to get the clearest picture possible. Within our decisions, we’ll be bringing in data from multiple credit bureaus to get a complete overview of the business and the Directors behind the business, as well as Companies House data to compare that with what we see. More recently we’re investing in Open Banking data capabilities, so that gives us the ability to allow our customers to link their bank account with us digitally, which will help us make a faster decision and remove an often paper laden process that is arduous for all involved.

Within that environment, we also have our own internal data from customers past and present, which we augment with broader industry data to get a comprehensive view of the circumstances of each SME we’re looking to support. Not just our past performance in a given industry, but also what’s going on in the broader macro space. Some of those external data providers would tell us, for example, what’s happening in the catering industry in central London. And we believe there are only a limited number of lenders in the asset finance space taking all these steps. We’ve invested a lot into this kind of multiple source data acquisition to make sure we’re giving every SME a fair opportunity at accessing the critical funding they need and we’d like to place Shawbrook as one of the leading providers in this space.

We’re now looking to bring in ESG data into our decisioning. For credit decisions on non-flow larger deals, we are consciously looking at the assets through an ESG lens – are they helping customers move to a net zero position, for example. A lot of data providers are selling ESG scores to different lenders, but we’ve seen those providers coming and falling away again – we believe ESG will become an increasingly important aspect of credit decisions in the future, and as a result we’re developing our own approach to meet and lead the industry standard!

Myself, I’ve got a target to ensure a set proportion of the money we lend out goes to ESG-related initiatives. Only this week we’ve conducted a number of broker surveys to establish the appetite among SMEs to invest in ESG initiatives in their businesses. There aren’t that many enquiries reaching us from brokers just yet, so we need to understand how we can do more of it and what’s holding SMEs back. Shifts towards energy efficiency, we see those coming in, but we’d like to do more of them and we’d like brokers to start those conversations.

The SME Lending Team engage with our panel of 75+ brokers regularly, the more active ones we’ll meet with once a month. We arrange broker breakfasts, round table meetings, meet-the-lender events and take every opportunity to hear what they are finding challenging or what we could do better. Keeping them updated on what we’re doing only helps to push our partnership forward and enables us to support more SMEs. And we do monthly broker reviews tracking trends and we can track approval rates, and get other data from those reviews. A good lender-broker relationship, good communication, good dialogue, it all pays dividends.

How can we help you build your business?

Our team of experts across the UK are ready and waiting to speak to you about how we can help you realise your business aspirations. Use our enquiry form to get in touch, or contact the team directly through our contact page.