Recognising the difference for family firms

Recognise is a partner of Family Business United, a global magazine and resource centre that brings together the family business community via news, insights, research and events. Paul Andrews, its founder and editor-in-chief, spoke to Recognise CEO, Jason Oakley, to understand more about the creation of the bank and its approach to finance for the family business and SME sectors.

What do you do?

I am the CEO of Recognise, a Lombard MBA Banker, who has spent his entire 35-year career in banking and has considerable SME and commercial banking experience. Most recently, I worked at Metro Bank where I was a member of the Executive Committee and a Managing Director of Commercial Banking and Mortgages.

Prior to this I worked for Close Premium Finance as their Head of Infrastructure and was responsible for IT, operations and credit control functions for circa one million loans per annum. In the past, I have also worked as Head of SME Banking at RBS and NatWest, serving over one million customers and supporting over 3,500 relationship managers. I founded Acorn to Oaks Financial Services Ltd, a ‘whole of market’ advisory business based in the West Midlands.

In these previous roles, I began to discover that SMEs had a chronic lack of support from their banks – that’s when Recognise was born. I wanted to establish a bank that recognises the immense value of SMEs to the UK economy and wider society, and the extraordinary potential of that community which remains unrealised due to this lack of support.

In 2017, I and two others, Bryce Glover and Adrian Golumbina decided enough was enough. To us the SME community had drawn the short straw in banking for too long, putting up with rigid, ‘tick-box’ products and faceless service that showed no real understanding of the vital contribution these businesses make. There had to be a better way.

With experience of running SMEs, as well as working for the big banks (who we felt often couldn’t think small enough), we believed we were well placed to create a bank that thinks and acts differently – so we set about obtaining a banking licence.

Nearly three years on, Recognise is now authorised as a bank and is growing quickly.

Our handpicked team of over 50 colleagues is united in a shared commitment to unlocking the full potential of UK SMEs, by providing a markedly different service – one designed for our customers, not for ourselves.

We use our collective skills and experiences to shape business finance to help business owners and entrepreneurs, rather than constrain them. And we deliver this not just with a personal touch, but a local one.

We are focused on lending now, though very shortly we will be providing personal and business savings accounts, bringing compelling offers and more choice to our customers. And, over time, we will look to offer other services relevant to busy entrepreneurs and business owners.

Our head office is located in the heart of the City at The Royal Exchange, but we are passionate about the economic importance of the regions, so we are already establishing our first offices in Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds.

What is your interest in the family business sector?

Watching my father build his business inspired me immensely. Whilst I have been a banker all my career, I like to think I am entrepreneurial too, founding four successful businesses and investing in 21 others.

Why do you like working with family businesses?

All SME businesses are fascinating – it’s all about their story around overcoming obstacles and achieving success. But I feel family businesses are particularly special as they are multi-generational, they have long-term thinking and a vested interest in protecting their legacy.

What differentiates you from your competitors?

Traditional bank products are often ‘one size fits all’, inflexible and don’t reflect specific business’s needs. Too often, SMEs are pushed through to online portals and call centres that automatically reject applications which don’t meet the banks’ rigid criteria. This has especially been the case since 2008 as cost cutting has gradually driven the removal of local relationship managers who had in-depth knowledge of the community and knew about local business.

SMEs need banks that understand and appreciate their needs. They need a bank where relationship managers can use their knowledge and experience to add real value. Recognise will focus on the business community and will provide a responsive, personalised service.

It is well known that business owners are today starved of an easy and simple way to access finance, they desperately need to be communicated with, effectively, and receive speedy decisions. They need flexibility in the solutions being offered by their bank. Recognise will combine the personal touch of experienced and dedicated relationship managers (RMs) with the latest technology, as well as understanding and appreciating inter-generational dynamics. Importantly, lending proposals will be structured to meet specific customer needs rather than focus on the interests of the lender alone.

We have a set of values at Recognise on the way we treat our clients; we treat others how we like to be treated. We honour business owners for their hard work, the value they bring to our communities and the economy. We are straightforward to work with, we keep things uncomplicated – from our single-minded focus on UK small business, to our pragmatic approach to lending. Our customers don’t have time to waste and neither do we.

What do you offer the family business community?

Recognise takes much that was good about business banking from the past – Experienced relationship managers who know and understand the businesses they work with, who are based in the local community and will be in situ to build relationships and provide accessibility. We pair this with the latest cloud-based technology to offer business customers speed (we appreciate time to cash is paramount for businesses) along with a human touch, that has been so lacking in mainstream banking in recent years.

We aim to listen and respond to family businesses. In many respects, it isn’t complicated. Our clarity of vision and purpose, combined with the best relationship managers working with customers on the ground, makes us confident that we can achieve what we’re setting out to do – give family businesses a banking experience that is truly useful, accessible and does what they really need it to do. Our ambition is to offer a ‘private bank’ experience to SMEs.

What does the future look like for you as an organisation and where do you see the business in ten years’ time?

For the lending business, we will target customers that are established businesses – they could be family businesses, partnerships or limited companies – with a viable business plan who have been trading successfully for at least two years and are run by experienced owners and entrepreneurs.

A typical Recognise business customer could borrow between £100k and £5 million.

Also, from Q2 2021, saving products will be available to personal customers, all covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme

In Q3, 2021, Recognise intends to offer businesses a savings facility which will help a segment of the SME savings market that is currently not well served.

We hope in ten years’ time we will be recognised as a business bank that really understands SMEs. This is in line with our vision for the bank – with the view that we want to build exceptional relationships with our customers and truly support them, championing their cause as being the undisputed backbone of the economy.

This article first appeared on Family Business United in April 2021.