RBS spreads entrepreneurial spirit

McEWAN planning to export Scottish success throughout the UK, finds Martin Hannan.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon makes her announcement at RBS's Gogarburn headquarters.First Minister Nicola Sturgeon makes her announcement at RBS's Gogarburn headquarters.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon makes her announcement at RBS's Gogarburn headquarters.

Since he arrived as chief ex­ecutive of RBS in October, 2013, Ross McEwan has frequently pledged to make the group a stronger, simpler, fairer bank that is, above all, focussed on its customers.

He could have sat in the executive wing of the RBS headquarters just to the west of Edinburgh and issued order after order as to how the bank should be achieving his ideals.

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Those orders have been issued, and plenty of them, and the evidence is that RBS is indeed changing.

For example, last week, in a move that has already been seen as symbolic of the whole change of culture in RBS, Ross McEwan, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon sitting alongside him, announced that the self-same executive wing would be turned over to a new entrepreneurial centre that will put RBS at the core of creating and building new businesses across the UK.

It is no empty gesture. The aim is to make the centre for entrepreneurs and innovation nothing less than the beating heart of Scotland’s fast developing entrepreneurial culture, and then export that Scottish success across the UK. RBS is already a key supporter of Scottish enterprise, providing banking services to over 10,000 start-up businesses in 2014 alone. The RBS group has also recently appointed the greatly respected Gordon Merrylees as head of entrepreneurship RBS and NatWest, and is launching eight new Business Accelerator Hubs with Entrepreneurial Spark in the UK, the first of which opened in Birmingham last month.

These latest developments build on the success of RBS Inspiring Enterprise, which has supported the UK’s entrepreneurial ecosystem for the last two and a half years, encouraging and enabling more than 88,000 potential entrepreneurs across the UK.

In the centre at Gogarburn, RBS and its partner organisations will work collaboratively to bring together Scotland’s enterprise ecosystem and enable the sharing of knowledge and expertise as well as encourage collaboration to support fledgling businesses.

The centre will house staff from business organisations that work with entrepreneurs and will be home to an Entrepreneurial Spark Business Accelerator Hub, including a hatchery for early stage start-ups and a nest for high-growth, high-impact businesses.

For the New Zealand-born McEwan, 57, the commitment to the new centre is total – that executive wing was designed for himself and senior directors and managers, yet he has happily given it up for the cause of promoting and developing a new way of working within RBS.

Speaking exclusively to Scotland on Sunday following the launch of the new centre, McEwan succinctly summed up the position of RBS now, a year on from the launch of his customer-focused strategy.

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He said: “We now have a stronger capital position, we have the management in place, and we also have a structure in our organisation that can take us to our final destination a lot faster than we could have done last year.

“The pace at which we are moving is being enabled by our success in achieving our aims in 2014.”

McEwan’s concept of a customer-focused, business-encouraging bank comes from his long experience of working with financial institutions. Between August 2012 and September 2013, McEwan was chief executive officer for RBS UK Retail, joining from Commonwealth Bank of Australia where he was group executive for Retail Banking Services for five years.

Prior to this he was executive general manager at Commonwealth Bank of Australia where he was responsible for the branch network, contact centres and third party mortgage brokers; managing director of stockbroking business First NZ Capital Securities; and chief executive of National Mutual Life Association of Australasia Ltd/AXA New Zealand Ltd.

In all, McEwan has more than 25 years of experience in the finance, insurance and investment industries, and with that solid background he has not baulked as the task of modernising and changing RBS. Hence his commitment to the new centre.

McEwan said: “It is not just start-up businesses that need to be innovative and forward thinking to thrive and grow. RBS needs to be as well. That is why we are opening up our headquarters so that we can support Scottish businesses of tomorrow, not just with infrastructure, but through the chance to collaborate with experts and other like-minded business owners. This marks a step change in how we can work with partners to support our local economy.”

We profile that process in detail overleaf, but suffice to say it is an exciting initiative for RBS and for entrepreneurs, existing or would-be, across the UK as the bank and its partner organisations, principally Entrepreneurial Spark, prepare to spread the message that the Scottish “ecosytem” for nurturing new businesses really does work.

McEwan explained why the Gogarburn entrepreneurial hub is so important to the process of refocusing RBS and encouraging new business growth.

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“We are looking at launching another seven of these hubs across the UK,” said McEwan. “We will be exporting this expertise and this way of working, and we are going to see Scotland’s entrepreneurial flair spreading to other parts of the UK.

“I think it is really important that if you are going to commit to help organisations and individual entrepreneurs, then you have to have those organisations and entrepreneurs hosted in our premises, and have our people working alongside them to help those businesses grow.

“We also want to have other entrepreneurial organisations housed in there as well so that they are all working together to help entrepreneurs.

“It’s a collaborative way of working, and that is what I want for RBS going forward.”

The very fact that headquarters staff flocked to the executive wing to see the announcements made by McEwan and the First Minister was proof to the chief executive that the bank’s employees are buying into the new collaborative culture at RBS

He said: “The staff were excited to be in a part of the building that has been very quiet for a long period of time, and they were pleased to hear what was said.”

McEwan is confident that the commitment to entrepreurialism will greatly benefit the bank in the long term. Nor is it just about hard cash or loans, though RBS will provide both when necessary, but about using the bank’s reach throughout the world of business and commerce.

“We have shown our ability to work with entrepreneurs,” said McEwan. “We don’t have any requirement for them to bank with us, but over a period of time, given the services we do provide, a number of them do.

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“We can also help them make connections. We have a lot of our own corporate connections because we are a big organisation throughout the UK, and that helps our suppliers as well as the entrepreneurs.

“It’s about that connectivity bringing people together and working to the benefit of many organisations.”

Ross McEwan’s vision for RBS will not be achieved overnight, but the new entrepreneurial centre at Gogarburn is surely proof that he and RBS are on the right track.