Leading figure from Allica Bank praises the strength and diversity of Yorkshire's SMEs

A leading figure at a major British business bank praised the strength and diversity of Yorkshire’s SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) during a corporate event which attracted leaders from across the region.

Niv Subramanian, the chief lending officer of Allica Bank, made the comments during a roundtable in Leeds which analysed how an agile approach to delivering financial support can help SMEs unleash economic growth.

Ms Subramanian said that finding the right staff was a constant concern for many SMEs, with consumer services businesses in particular also being affected by changes in consumer behaviour since the pandemic. She said inflation had been the dominant issue for many businesses over the last year as they sought to grow during an uncertain time for the economy.

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She said the business landscape in Yorkshire was different from other parts of the country such as London adding: "It's an interesting collection of multiple diverse ecosystems.

Niv Subramanian of Allica Bank (Photo by Allan McKenzie/AMGP.co.uk)Niv Subramanian of Allica Bank (Photo by Allan McKenzie/AMGP.co.uk)
Niv Subramanian of Allica Bank (Photo by Allan McKenzie/AMGP.co.uk)

"Allica is a national brand and our objective is to mirror the UK's spread of businesses within our own customer base, so we prioritise our focus and resources accordingly."

Ms Subramanian said many businesses were also weighing up the pros and cons of remote working.

She added: "While remote working is a great way to employ diverse talent, building a sense of community within a business can be quite hard if the workforce is operating completely remotely."

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She said resources like AI (artificial intelligence) could help firms operate more efficiently but its impact would be sector and role dependent; it was more likely to place structured, standard process-oriented jobs at risk initially. She believed that it could help make people-based skills, like sales and relationship managers, more efficient.

(From left) Charlie Barker of Yorkshire Garden Centres is pictured with Ben Priestley of Mansfield Pollard and Andrew Pyle from 56 Degrees North.(Photo by Allan McKenzie/AMGP.co.uk)(From left) Charlie Barker of Yorkshire Garden Centres is pictured with Ben Priestley of Mansfield Pollard and Andrew Pyle from 56 Degrees North.(Photo by Allan McKenzie/AMGP.co.uk)
(From left) Charlie Barker of Yorkshire Garden Centres is pictured with Ben Priestley of Mansfield Pollard and Andrew Pyle from 56 Degrees North.(Photo by Allan McKenzie/AMGP.co.uk)

Andrew Pyle, the director at 56 Degrees North, told the roundtable that the primary issue facing all businesses remains uncertainty across the board. He said Brexit, the long standing impacts of the pandemic and subsequent economic pressures, including the cost of living, alongside governmental change, have all played their part in impacting long-term planning and confidence. He expressed concern that policymakers tended to listen to the loudest voice in the room, which is often big business. Commenting on Allica’s role in the region, he said that the bank can play a role in supporting those businesses that are underserved or forgotten, with the bigger banks often focusing on larger corporate businesses.

He also predicted that AI provided a huge opportunity for businesses to drive efficiencies and lead to better decision making, but it must to be used responsibly with regulation required to keep pace.

Alicia Collinson, senior associate solicitor at Thrive Law, said one of the biggest issues facing SMEs related to employee expectations, which in many cases had changed since the pandemic.

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"There can be intergenerational conflict with regards to expectations of behaviour in the workplace. It can range from employees wanting to work from home to what they wear to work. There is also increasing awareness of the importance of mental health and an awareness of neurodiversity."

"At Thrive Law, we can say to new staff members; join our firm and we grow with you. That might not be the case in larger firms. Employment law very much came to the fore during the pandemic and it continues to be important as people consider what the post-Covid office should look like.

"Although AI can be a great opportunity for businesses - it can for example provide live subtitles to meetings or sign language through virtual reality - there are also dangers to cyber security, such as new employees inputting huge amounts of data to ChatGPT, because it’s their go-to platform.

"There is also a danger that AI could make workers worry about something that is not really a direct threat to their jobs at least for the moment – so you should communicate with your employees about what you envision the future of AI to be."

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Allica was granted its licence in September 2019 and opened its doors to SME lending in March 2020. It was named the UK’s fastest-growing technology company in Deloitte’s 2023 UK Technology Fast 50. Headquartered in London, Allica employs more than 300 people, with offices in Milton Keynes and Manchester as well as a team of relationship managers across England, Scotland and Wales.

Ryan Lewis, the Business Development and Communications Manager at Green Building Renewables, told the roundtable that one of the big issues facing his sector related to training and filling the skills gap.

He added: "SMEs can be real game-changers by changing 'business-as-usual' mentalities, which is very important when they, in turn, might become the big businesses of the future.

"We don't use subcontractors, we use our own local installation teams. To attract a younger and more diverse workforce of engineers, we cannot just do business as usual. This is why we are setting up training and development centres across our company to offer more people training. And it's why we have established partnerships with colleges and employ apprentices to make the industry, and the opportunities, within it, better known."

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"Energy in our homes is such an emotive subject, and people often don't want to adopt a new system they don't know, this is why having the best people to install them really matters. "

He said problems were caused by the frequent changes in Government policy over renewables, which made it very hard for customers to know when the best time was to invest in the technology.

The roundtable was hosted by The Yorkshire Post and Allica Bank and held at the DoubleTree by Hilton hotel in Leeds. The debate was chaired by Greg Wright, the deputy business editor of The Yorkshire Post.

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