cafba PROFILE PIECE – Chris Thomas
The following responses can be attributed to NAB General Manager, Commercial Broker Chris Thomas.
You have a career in commercial lending spanning over two decades, how has the landscape changed over that time?
There has been plenty of change in the commercial landscape over the course of my career. Some notable ones include increased competition in the sector and greater digitisation, which has brought with it the potential for faster decisions on commercial deals.
However, as lending standards have become even more stringent, finding access to capital still remains a challenge for many small business owners.
In today’s dynamic environment, small businesses must respond and adapt quickly to market changes, and to do this, they need access to appropriate financing solutions. NAB recognises this and remains focused on designing loans and processes that make sense for both brokers and their small business customers.
What are the key trends influencing the small business space in Australia currently?
In the current environment, business owners want innovative solutions that can match their varying needs. They demand financing solutions that are well integrated. This could mean having their transactional banking digitally linked to working capital funding, so they can manage payments and invoices in a timelier way.
Indeed, many business customers have requirements that go beyond a single funding need or transaction. Therefore, business customers are looking to create a strong relationship with trusted advisers like commercial brokers who can not only help them understand their businesses better but stand with them through the opportunities and challenges they face.
NAB research shows around 30% of all business loans will be sourced through brokers by 2020. More business owners are valuing the experience and expertise of brokers when it comes to arranging their banking, and commercial brokers are really embracing the opportunity, which is terrific to see. As business owners themselves there is no doubt their empathetic approach resonates with their customers.
What do you see as the big challenges SMEs are currently facing?
For small businesses, accessing finance remains a key challenge in today’s landscape as they may not have property, or other major assets, to secure against.
NAB is committed to finding innovative ways to unlock new growth opportunities for our business customers that don’t purely rely on property security but rather the company’s cash flow. We know many commercial brokers are looking for financiers who have the credit expertise to assist them with these types of scenarios. NAB understands this and continues to invest significantly in building the skill set of our bankers with specific training on how to lend against balance sheets. Furthermore, NAB, Australia’s largest business bank, has many experienced bankers and leaders focused on working in partnership with brokers.
Our latest reporting shows in the last 12 months, NAB’s business lending has grown by 5.3% year-on-year, well ahead of our major bank peers. Currently, NAB lends around $3 billion a month to small-to-medium businesses in Australia and the broker channel is a very important component of this.
How is NAB helping finance brokers support SME clients?
NAB is committed to supporting brokers who play an essential role in providing strong customer outcomes. There are several ways we bring this long-standing commitment to life, particularly in the commercial space. One way is through our continual investment in digital enhancements to make things as streamlined and efficient as possible for brokers and their small business customers.
In response to strong demand for faster access to financing, we introduced QuickBiz, an instant online decisioning tool, which provides unsecured cash flow lending of up to $100,000, or $150,000 for plant and equipment. An instant success, QuickBiz is now assessing one third of NAB’s new small business loans.
Last year, NAB also introduced ApplyOnline into its digital repertoire. This is a market-leading capability which enables brokers to lodge both their residential and small business loans online on one application form through their aggregator software.
As Australia’s leading business bank, NAB also offers access to around 400 quality business bankers and BDMs. Our Bankers have strong credit capability and specialist expertise across a broad range of industries including health, aged care, agriculture and professional services. For brokers these dedicated resources give you the confidence that NAB has the capability to handle different types of customers with specific needs.
Finally, NAB is continually investing in new training and education initiatives to support brokers in the current environment and beyond. This year’s comprehensive program includes localised workshops held in our business banking centres, helping brokers better understand how they can leverage the support and expertise of NAB.
Brokers also can leverage various online calculators and research resources such as NAB Economics, a source for the latest business insights including CoreLogic RP data reports and NAB Property Reports.
What do you see in the future of SME lending?
The future of SME lending is looking bright with continued growth in this space. After a period of economic uncertainty and flat growth, recent sentiment shows small businesses are now starting to focus on investing and growth, which will ultimately mean greater demand for income-producing assets that will require solutions.
In the current environment, business credit growth is likely to exceed mortgage credit growth for the first time since at least the GFC. This growth is likely to be aligned to industries including health, professional services, government infrastructure projects and agriculture, which are trending upwards. Meanwhile, retail trade and some aspects of residential property development are experiencing lower demand.
It is also our view that lending to small and medium-sized businesses will be fully digitised within the next decade, although customers will still value trusted advisers like brokers, and dealing face-to-face with relationship bankers.
What are the opportunities for brokers in the commercial lending and equipment finance space?
Brokers not only drive choice and competition in the market but offer a valuable service to SME customers. NAB is the bank behind the broker and we will continue to partner with brokers to provide innovative solutions, beyond transactions.
In the equipment finance space, which often focuses on short term transactions, brokers can invest in a more holistic relationship and serve more of the needs of customers long-term. This also creates a more sustainable business model which isn’t heavily impacted by buying and selling trends.
We continue to invest in our broker channel as a measure of the value we place on this important partnership and this appears to be resonating among brokers. Our Net Promoter Score (NPS) data shows that end customers are ranking brokers and NAB solid scores of +60 and +27 respectively. These combined scores are indicative of the strength of our collective proposition to customers, and we believe there aren’t too many examples in financial services where a partnership is leading to such high levels of satisfaction.