Posted on Monday 5 November 2018 by Ulster Business

Danske cover

Danske Bank has taken another leap forward in its support for nurturing and helping to get businesses off the ground. Ulster Business chats to Danske Bank’s Vicky Davies and Richard Caldwell about the bank’s new Catalyst Belfast Fintech Hub and ‘Making more possible’ for Northern Ireland businesses

When you are already leading the technology and digital race in Northern Ireland banking, where do you go from there?

For Danske Bank, its sights were set on something hugely ambitious, and something philanthropic which it believes can help cultivate, boost and grow the next generation of technology and fintech business start-ups in Northern Ireland.

Catalyst Belfast Fintech Hub, run in partnership with Catalyst Inc, is a stunning, modern incubator and hub which will see dozens of entrepreneurs and start-up businesses shape and craft their ideas in the heart of Danske Bank’s own Belfast city centre headquarters.

The partnership with Catalyst Inc makes a lot of sense, as it already plays host to dozens of knowledge-based businesses across 24 acres in the Titanic Quarter, and the Innovation Centre in Londonderry.

Vicky Davies is managing director of strategy and corporate development at Danske Bank.

“We have a clear ambition to be the best bank in Northern Ireland, and we plan to do that by making more possible for our customers, employees, stakeholders and society”, she says.

It’s that message, ‘Making more possible’, that adorns the wall of one of the main meeting rooms in the Catalyst Belfast Fintech Hub.

“Banking is changing so fast. It’s relentless in terms of new entrants, innovation and the level of new fintech money coming into the industry.”

“We know we need to change at pace, or face being left behind.”

“We needed a partner in this venture, and we were looking for someone with reach and expertise,” she said.

Following an initial meeting last year with senior management at Catalyst Inc, Vicky says there was an immediate mutual connection, and they went from there.

“They have the expertise in running a space like this, and we have access to banking and business expertise – with both of us having great experience in helping businesses to grow. So, every dimension we looked at – it was a really good fit.”

The hub is an impressive space, awash with splashes of colour, connectivity, co-working spaces and meeting rooms – including a nod to Princess Leia with an image on a wall – and it is able to play host to around 60-70 entrepreneurs and business start-up professionals, with top end cable and fibre internet connections.

It’s further evidence of Danske Bank ensuring it’s well ahead of the pack and out in front. It’s about bringing a business from an embryonic start-up, to a thriving company, helping lead the way in its sector.

But for Danske, this isn’t all about the bottom line. It’s about creating a thriving hub for the future stars of Northern Ireland’s burgeoning tech sector. And it’s a two-way street – with the bank aiming to learn as much from the start-up businesses nestled in the top-end spacious ground-floor hub, as the other way around.

So, what does this mean for Danske Bank in terms of business banking and as an institution further bolstering its credentials in the digital space.

Richard Caldwell is managing director of personal banking and small business.

“We want to be part of the local fintech journey. We want to help influence and develop ideas,” he says.

“There are more than 70,000 businesses in Northern Ireland, and we want to continue to support start-ups in general – by putting expertise and support into this partnership, we will help this particular set of small businesses to grow in what is a burgeoning sector.”

“Ultimately, real success for us would be seeing products brought to market, and helping businesses grow from an embryonic idea, through to start-up, growth and expansion. With the business maybe ending up as one of our loyal corporate customers in the future.”

Richard says research showed that many of Danske Bank’s existing bigger business customers wanted the bank to provide “something more tangible” for start-ups, to grow companies for the future.

Although tenants in the new fintech space don’t necessarily have to bank with Danske, the Bank does offer banking support, including everything from a current account, to receiving assistance from a growth adviser to support them with their banking needs. >

“This is a major investment for us,” Richard says. “This is one of the most expensive ground-floor retail premises in Belfast, and we have devoted it to this hub. This is front and centre in the heart of Belfast.”

The location of the new hub couldn’t be better – with the new Glider bus linking the hub to Catalyst Inc headquarters in Titanic Quarter.

And, as modern tech businesses evolve and reach out to new markets and time zones across the globe, there is also 24 hour access to the Fintech Hub.

The hub has a team of four, two from Danske Bank and two newly recruited by Catalyst Inc.

Together Danske Bank and Catalyst Inc have also launched a new online platform to help the wider growing number of start-up businesses across Northern Ireland to connect with investors, peers and potential new recruits across Europe - thehub.io helps connect start-ups to relevant resources, such as talent, networks, financing, tools and advice from experts which will help them overcome some of the challenges of scaling up.

It is clear that strategically this is a big push by both organisations to play a key supporting role through the provision of both physical and online resources.

Digitalisation

Richard is keen to point out support for the hubs is just part of a bank-wide digital transformation agenda at Danske.

“For example, we want to change the nature of traditional relationship management at the Bank. In addition to managing traditional banking needs as we have always done so well, we are now moving into the added value space. As well as the human touch, customers increasingly want top notch digital solutions to make their lives easier, to give them ease of access and quicker credit decisions.”

The digitally-savvy way of thinking is giving Danske Bank competitive advantage, and that is from an already well-established position in the market. Last year they appointed a chief digital officer, who is a member of the Bank’s executive committee.

“Our people are still our best asset and will remain so,” Richard said. “We have great people. And customers still highly value that human touch and expert advice. But what the journey looks like for transactions, well we have digital solutions for everything. For your payments, wages, drawing direct debits or paying suppliers.

“Right now we are piloting and rolling out digital credit decisions for business customers. This is transforming the credit journey for both our customers and our business relationship managers. For example, one customer recently applied for an overdraft through the digital credit solution and got approval and the funds in their account in 26 minutes.”

Danske Bank was the first of the local Northern Ireland banks to bring in app banking, and solutions such as Samsung Pay, Fitbit Pay and Garmin Pay. And this new Fintech Hub is very much another stride forward.

The bank is also leading the pack when it comes to customer satisfaction, right across businesses of all shapes and sizes.

“For some time now we have been the market leader in business banking. Research continues to show that our customer satisfaction scores are first for large business, and first for small business,” Richard said.

Both Vicky and Richard are keen to see what they predict will be short and long-term benefits from the Catalyst Belfast Fintech Hub. There’s an organic osmosis, allowing ideas to flow freely between the Danske Bank people visiting from upstairs and those entrepreneurs which it hosts on the ground floor.

“The entrepreneurs in the hub bring a fresh mindset, one we can learn from as we continue our own digital journey throughout the bank,” Vicky says.

Richard added: “The fintech sector is seen in many quarters as a challenger to traditional banks, but we are embracing it and feel we can grow with it, to the benefit of our customers.”

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