In The Spotlight with Neil Rudge, Shawbrook

We spoke to Neil Rudge, head of enterprise at Shawbrook, about current challenges in the SME lending space, how brokers can best support SMEs on their growth journeys, and Shawbrook's recently revamped asset based lending product.

Related topics:  In The Spotlight,  Commercial,  Commercial finance
Rozi Jones
12th June 2023
Neil Rudge, Head of Enterprise at Shawbrook
"SME owners are a remarkably adaptable and resilient group, and for those that are able to act with agility and think creatively there is plenty of opportunity to grow."

CR: Can you tell us about your role at Shawbrook?

I am responsible for Shawbrook’s enterprise business. Broadly this encompasses all of our SME and real estate finance business lines, which include a number of specialist markets including buy-to-let finance for the professional landlord, development finance, corporate loans, structured finance and asset finance to name just a few. It’s up to me to drive forward our best-of-both strategy which combines human ingenuity with cutting-edge technology to help our SME and real estate customers achieve their goals. The most important aspect of my role, however, is to give my teams the support, encouragement and environment they need to grow. I was 16 when I started my career in banking, working in a branch posting statements to clients, so I know first-hand there is more than one way to build a career in this industry! I care deeply about encouraging people from all walks of life to grab opportunities and realise their full potential.

CR: What challenges are you seeing in the SME lending space?

The overall economic landscape continues to prove challenging for SMEs that have navigated through Brexit and Covid and are now faced with persistent inflation, rising costs of debt, labour market challenges and supply chain constraints. Couple this with diminished financial support for SMEs as high street lenders retrench from this sort of exposure, and it can be a tough environment to trade in.

But, SME owners are a remarkably adaptable and resilient group, and for those that are able to act with agility and think creatively there is plenty of opportunity to grow. We’re capable of taking a flexible and tailored approach to the funding needs they may have, supporting them throughout the journey because we understand that there are always bumps in the road, and that’s when they need our support the most. After all, the reason Shawbrook exists is because we recognised we could fill the gap left in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis. We know our personalised and specialist funding support is exactly what SMEs need today.

CR: It’s often said that downturns produce more innovation and growth, particularly for SMEs. How can lenders and brokers best support SMEs on their growth journeys?

By listening and being human. Technology is incredible for processing information, replacing repetitive and non-value add administrative tasks. This can speed up applications and provide a near straight-through journey for the simple funding needs. This enables human expertise to add colour and context to what are often complex cases. Open banking is a fantastic example of how data can turbo-boost our understanding of the customer and speed up a transaction. But digital solutions also benefit from the ingenuity of a human to give us the full picture. By building meaningful relationships and taking the time to really understand what an SME is trying to achieve, we can not only put together a financing package that fits their needs, but also use our extensive experience and network of contacts to support other aspects of their business.

CR: Are there common characteristics among SMEs when their seeking finance?

The truth is, no two customers are alike, each with their unique needs and circumstances. A standardised approach simply won't cut it, especially for businesses that have already made significant progress in their journeys. They require personalised and tailored solutions, backed by a finance partner who excels in both cutting-edge technology and insightful human understanding. That's precisely why we offer a wide array of options.

For manufacturing businesses looking for working capital, for example, asset-based lending provides an excellent fit. And for service-based enterprises without readily available assets to use as security, leveraged cashflow solutions come into play when, for instance, facilitating a change of ownership or an acquisition.

CR: Shawbrook recently revamped its asset based lending product, what changes did you make, and why is this an important product for SMEs and their brokers to be aware of?

Asset based lending is a credible and excellent solution for SMEs, especially for manufacturing businesses that have more meaningful working capital requirements and a need to invest in physical infrastructure – both of which require more capital than perhaps exist in the service side economy. But asset based lending of old sometimes had a more negative perception, used more by struggling companies, and with heavy administrative burden. We’ve been working in this industry for some time now, and have continually evolved our offering while investing in technology to add significant flexibility to our solutions; making the interactions with us as simple as possible. For example, we’ve simplified the documentation process so that we can use a single suite to cover all asset classes, and you can use Open Banking to share information with us with one click, rather than bank statements.

CR: If you could see one headline about the commercial lending market in 2023, what would it be?

'SMEs weather the economic storm and thrive as normality returns'.

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