It would be an understatement to say that the economy has been through a tough time over the last few years. Despite the recent internal challenges and macro shocks, the UK financial services sector has stayed resilient, using innovative ways to support our customers facing financial difficulty, as well as helping the wider recovery.
At Santander we are particularly passionate about restoring economic growth during this period of instability. One of the ways we do this is by proactively supporting businesses to prosper, especially internationally. We want to encourage businesses to make new connections as we believe business isn’t just about the people you know, but also the people you don’t.
The UK has several million small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and those that export globally play a disproportionally critical role in economic growth. We know that these companies grow much faster than purely domestic-focused companies and in difficult times are much less likely to fail. So we’ve spent time understanding what SMEs that want to export really need. Every six months we conduct the Santander Trade Barometer poll, going in-depth to understand UK businesses’ opportunities and concerns.
Our Spring Trade Barometer again confirmed that UK businesses trading internationally are outperforming those limited to domestic trading: 59 per cent of international companies report improved performance over the past year compared to 46 per cent that are solely domestic. International companies were also more confident of growth than their purely domestic counterparts.
The barometer tells us what businesses need to thrive internationally, too. They need access to new buyers; access to new and trusted suppliers; support understanding regulatory hurdles, which differ market to market; access to the cheapest and most sustainable logistics rates; and support on payments and financing trade. They also need help with finding new skilled staff and upskilling existing employees.
Last year we built a digital trade platform that aims to address these issues – Santander Navigator.
The platform brings together Santander’s expertise, our knowledge and our global network to allow UK businesses to identify international markets, understand the opportunities for growth, and overcome barriers. It is personalised to a company’s specific needs, providing end-to-end support across the entire international journey, covering the vast majority of UK trade corridors with all major partners. The platform is designed to help these crucial SMEs grow internationally, in the most cost-effective way but also to assist them in saving what is probably their most precious commodity as business owners – time. To do that, we can help customers identify which markets have the demand for their specific product or service and aid them in accessing that market.
In India, the increase in the number of whisky consumers each year is equal to the entire population of Australia. So, in February this year, we organised a unique opportunity for UK alcohol manufacturers to connect with both consumers and distributors in India. We took 14 businesses to Mumbai, New Delhi and Gurugram, where we organised a programme of activities to bring together UK spirit producers and discerning Indian buyers. Businesses got invaluable feedback and insights directly from the Indian market, as well as support in understanding the regulatory framework and what they should consider.
For the businesses involved, the programme has forged connections with India’s leading importers, retail trade, and influencers – opening doors to new opportunities. In fact, we expect the first contracts resulting from this trip to be signed imminently.
Europe continues to represent an opportunity for growth for specific UK sectors. For example, the e-commerce market in Poland is expecting to see double-digit annual growth for the next five years, as Polish consumers continue to move towards digital channels for their everyday needs.
That said, there are hurdles, and this is where we draw on our global support network. We recently supported UK companies by facilitating introductions to Poland’s largest e-commerce platform. As part of the programme, we provided a range of tailored solutions to support each company with their trade compliance requirements and logistics needs, including an introduction to the UK’s leading barcode provider and help with understanding the complexities of labelling requirements.
However, we haven’t forgotten that Santander is first and foremost a bank, and financing is core to how we support growth, especially via our market-leading growth capital proposition and our full suite of banking solutions. We’re working innovatively to drive growth, but government can also do more to support internationally growing companies.
There are three areas that we think government should focus on. Firstly, it needs to negotiate with foreign governments to help overcome the biggest obstacle for SMEs that want to trade internationally – bureaucracy. Yes, this should include new trade deals, but it should also work to reduce the barriers that are currently in place when trading with our biggest economic partner, the EU. Secondly, the government should continue to build on the excellent work done by UK Export Finance to come together with banks to finance new exporters and trade with countries with a complicated risk profile, as has been done through the Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme. Finally, it should continue its work on legislating for electronic transferable records to free up the 4 billion paper documents that are currently underpinning the international trade system, creating inefficiencies for SMEs looking to grow internationally.
So, although we’re going through a challenging time as a country, at Santander we’re working hard to ensure that our sector stays strong through innovation, leveraging our extensive global network to create leading products such as the Santander Navigator. The key to recovery is economic growth and, by working together, government and banks can deliver sustainable growth across the UK and build a resilient economy.
This advertorial first appeared in a Party Policy special Spotlight print issue. Read it here.