Tees Business co-editor Dave Allan discovers the story behind the success of Handelsbanken…
As John Martinson explains the story behind the success of Handelsbanken on Teesside, behind him stands a pull-up banner that proudly states ‘Straightforward solutions in a complex world’.
It’s just one of the down-to-earth philosophies that have seen Handelsbanken branches at both Stockton and Middlesbrough, alongside neighbouring branches in Darlington and Northallerton, become major players in the local business and personal banking market in recent years,
Just 10 years ago, the nearest Handelsbanken branches to Teesside were in Newcastle and Leeds. The Stockton branch opened its doors for the first time in 2007, while its Middlesbrough counterpart has now been open for little more than four years. Both the Stockton and Middlesbrough branches have grown significantly, looking after a range of different types of businesses, and both branches have many successful individuals on their books.
Founded in Sweden in the 19th century, more than 200 of Handelsbanken’s worldwide network of 800 branches are now in the UK.
Despite its international outlook, the bank’s success has been built on a philosophy of providing an entirely local service, tailored to the needs of each individual customer.
Handelsbanken is a full-service bank with a decentralised way of working, its strong local presence and a long-term approach to customer relations in striking contrast to the direction many competitors continue to take.
It is perhaps no coincidence, therefore, that Handelsbanken has been ranked top for customer satisfaction amongst the business and personal customers of British banks for the last eight years (EPSI Rating, 2009-2016).
“We’re a decentralised organisation that empowers staff to make decisions for the customers they know and understand,” says Middlesbrough branch manager Martinson, who was part of Handelsbanken’s founding Teesside 10 years ago.
“The fact that the majority of all decisions, including those on borrowing, are made in your local branch by staff you know and who know you, means quicker decision-making for our customers.
“We practice relationship banking whereby the golden rule is about getting as close as we can to our customers and community.
“Over the last few years, we have been opening local branches, forging ever closer relationships with our community.
“Our motto is ‘The branch is the bank’. We’re a large international bank that offers every service you’d expect from a high-class bank but everything is done locally. That means we have the ability to be extremely nimble, responding directly to our customers’ requests.”
Martinson says the personalised service is something that strikes most new customers.
“Service is the big thing,” he explains. “None of our staff have short term incentives or bonus targets, which means they can focus on giving advice that’s right for the customer, not themselves or the bank.
“And when a customer calls us, they speak to someone they know and have actually met.”
Between them, the Stockton and Middlesbrough branches boast a list of customers that reads like a who’s who of the Tees business scene.
Active Chartered Financial Planners’ managing director Karl Pemberton is a personal customer of Handelsbanken. He says: “Some people feel like they ‘bank with a bank’, some ‘bank with a person’. I feel privileged to say that I bank with both!
“The working ethic of Handelsbanken fits extremely well with myself, my family and my business, and it truly does feel like banking used to do. Then add to that the personalities of the individual team members and you cannot help but feel valued, listened to and in safe hands.”