Santander- First stop for financial solutions for the wholesale sector

Part of Santander UK, Santander Corporate & Commercial operates through a network of nationwide regional business centres, providing dedicated relationship banking support to businesses of all kinds, including many wholesalers, from start-ups to large companies, who require a relationship managed service and help with their banking or lending needs.
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Sukhjeeven Nat, Head of Retail & Wholesale Sector at Santander Corporate & Commercial, spoke to Wholesale Manager.

Wholesale Manager – First of all Sukh, what does your role as UK Head of Retail & Wholesale Sector involve day to day? Do you personally work with any individual business customers in this sector?

My role involves building and driving a bespoke banking proposition for the retail and wholesale market by understanding its requirements. Our goal is to further support growth in the sector.

To be more specific, this involves aligning our specialist products, funding approach and various tools, from connections to key market insights, which will support the sector through Santander’s global footprint and our UK-wide network of Relationship Directors.

In the current economic climate Santander offers wholesalers and retailers an opportunity to gain a fresh perspective on how a banking partner can firmly align themselves with their growth aspirations and business goals.

WM – How is your specialist banking service team set up to serve the UK wholesale sector?

Our Corporate Banking team focuses on offering structured finance and tailored products and services to businesses with a turnover above £6.5 million. Small to medium sized start-up or established businesses with straightforward banking needs and up to two directors, owners or partners are supported by our Business Banking team and network of Local Business Managers

We seek to help wholesalers to grow and develop in this ever-changing environment so we are committed to understanding each business’s needs to support them in the right way. We have Relationship Directors across the UK who understand the opportunities and challenges in their own local market and can help with:

(i) Connecting businesses to peers, potential business partners and new markets

(ii) Supporting international trading ambitions. With five million business customers worldwide we use our expertise, technology and reach to enable businesses to grow internationally

(iii) We have the products and tools that directly address wholesalers’ requirements in the current climate, for example, enhanced stock funding, supply chain efficiency investment, and products that can lead to supporting profit margin enhancement.

WM – As a bank, how detailed is your knowledge of the issues the UK wholesaling sector faces? Can you tell us about Santander’s experience with customers in this sector?

Our teams work closely with wholesaling businesses, and listen to their issues to put in place solutions that can help. We deploy a ‘customer-led’ approach with our product development.

The key drivers facing the wholesale sector are that the ‘culture of expectancy’ among consumers has increased over the years; consumer trends have changed more quickly, and they require fresh or the latest products, on demand, seven days a week. Retailers are adapting to meet ever-growing consumer demands by working with flexible suppliers capable of delivering – this is leading to wholesalers having to hold more stock range and be more nimble. In addition great service remains paramount.

The more common themes of higher transportation costs are being combated by wholesalers investing in the latest vehicles, computer routing software to determine less costly delivery routes, and offering incentives to accept deliveries during less congested times.

‘New technologies’ are playing an increasing role in all sectors; in addition to wholesalers embracing multi-channel offering via ecommerce, other technologies, such as radio frequency identification tags (RFID) placed on transported products, allow wholesalers tighter control over their distribution activities.

Value added service is now very prevalent, with many retailers also wanting wholesalers to offer additional services such as employee sales technique training, and promotional support, i.e. financial and merchandising. This requires closer working relationships and communication with their customers.

Santander has supported a significant number of wholesalers to meet some of these challenges. For example, we have provided enhanced stock funding to allow wholesalers to hold more range and enhance their margins, we have funded capital investment to allow supply chain efficiency, and our day to day cash handling expertise and credit collection products offer great convenience and protection for clients.

WM – What’s changed in the UK wholesale sector in the last few years? What has the last year, specifically, been like from your point of view? What do you see as the biggest challenges that wholesalers face going forward?

The wholesale sector has seen a number of significant changes over the last few years, with UK consumer confidence fluctuating in view of key events.

You will not be surprised to hear that the hot topic at the moment is Brexit and its impact on wholesalers, with the weakening of the pound affecting importers. I would say whatever the details of the UK’s future trade relationships, there are fantastic trade opportunities for UK companies both in the EU and across the rest of the world. At Santander we are looking to harness our global network of 5 million business customers across 14 countries to support British companies break in to new overseas markets.

The last few years have seen an increase in brands and competition, where private label brands have grown significantly to compete against the more established brands. This does of course, present great opportunities for wholesalers in their product strategy, but I would also highlight that wholesalers are being expected to hold good availability of stock to meet increasing demands.

We also see a trend towards buying groups and wholesalers playing a prominent role for retailers to enhance their own margins. Subsequently, with increased delivery demands and distribution costs, investment in efficient supply chain and distribution is becoming paramount to enhance margins. Availability of good information around commodity/product prices and access to different global markets is playing an increasingly important role to allow smarter buying and sales opportunities, to trade at optimum pricing.

Finally, the impact of e-commerce potentially changes the market structure, and wholesalers are developing e-commerce activities alongside their distribution networks to keep up with this trend.

WM – Similarly, how have conditions been in the independent retail sector and catering sectors and the other sectors that wholesalers supply?

The independent retail sector is adapting to the changing consumer trends, certainly in the food and drink market. ‘Convenience’ is playing a key role with independent retailers, and their models are adapting as such to offer more range and demand for ‘chilled foods’ is increasing.

The independent retail sector is facing some challenging conditions, including increased competition, rising costs from rents and rates and the implementation of the national living wage. A close working relationship with their wholesale suppliers will be significantly important with increased expectations regarding support with promotion activities, inventory holding and more frequent deliveries.

As for the catering sector, this has shown growth over the last few years and benefitted from the latest dining out trends. Changing tastes have led to increased demand for a variety of foods, with the street food trend continuing to remain popular, and an increased interest in cooking from scratch, as well as event catering. Caterers are increasingly aligning with high-street food trends and differentiating themselves through branding.

I believe caterers have an opportunity to continue with the increased demand from consumers for high level of service and variety that they are willing to pay a premium for – this should transfer positively to wholesalers supplying caterers.

WM – How are you placed to help wholesalers deal with the challenges of business today?

Our ‘customer led’ approach is firmly aligned to support some of the trends and challenges the sector faces.

To support inventory management and margin enhancement, we appreciate bulk stock purchasing is playing an increasingly important role, and our bespoke stock funding solutions support this strategy.

The efficiency drive in the supply chain is becoming more paramount, and we support this through our capital investment funding. Payment cycles are changing, and our trade and invoice finance solutions, with credit protection, are supporting this.

Importantly, we appreciate today’s sterling rate is impacting importers’ cost of goods – conversely the weaker pound makes UK products cheaper for foreign customers. To aid businesses, and in addition to very competitive foreign exchange solutions, we are working on a series of events to connect buyers and sellers across our global network, and support British wholesalers in finding potential export markets.

Finally, our day to day banking and payment processing – domestically and across our international network – should provide confidence for our client’s credit controllers.

WM – What sets Santander apart from other banks? Why should UK wholesalers come to Santander for help?

Santander have a fantastic opportunity, to harness our international network and well capitalised position, to offer wholesalers a fresh perspective to their banking partner. Our relationship teams put customers at the heart of the journey, even with the design of our products – this is a great opportunity for the wholesale sector to attain significant value from a UK bank.

Supporting customers is our top priority. Relationship banking is at the heart of what we do, and we are working closely with wholesalers to understand their ongoing individual needs, support their future plans and identify opportunities.

WM – What do you see as the major trends and predictions for these sectors for next year?

There is a growing importance of brands in customer engagement and differentiators between competitors, not only in terms of the service offer, but also as a representation of what the business stands for. Brands should continue to leverage emotional and societal values to engage consumers. Independent retailers appear to be well versed to the trend in convenience and chilled foods.

Caterers are expected to see a continued drive for healthy dining options, a desire for honesty in food, from authenticity and local sourcing through to transparency and information at point of sale. We are likely to see an increasing diversity of food types and cuisines, with the street food trend expected to play a big part as well as hand-held, quick food that is expected to take a greater market share. These trends are promoting growth in Deli and Café style services.

Demands on wholesalers continue from expanding to offer products across multiple lines of trade, efficient supply chain and distribution, and keep aligned with ever changing consumer trends & technology.

Any margin pressure could be offset by various strategies, such as a robust foreign exchange strategy, smarter and volume buying, as well as working closely with customers on promotions and pricing strategies.

Maximising market insight information on seasonal price fluctuations, connections to support business growth, efficiencies in supply sourcing and changing payment terms will remain factors that can positively support margins and cash flow.

WM – It’s nearly Christmas, time for people to think about making New Year resolutions. What would you suggest to wholesalers by way of possible New Year’s resolutions, to help them make the most of their finances and improve their business performance in 2017 and beyond?

When making plans for 2017, I would recommend engaging your banking partner to discuss your future plans and see how they can support your business from not only funding, but also provide tools to directly support your ambitions.

In today’s economic climate, having strong relationships with your suppliers and advisors is becoming more crucial to help you deliver your plans and inevitably positively impact on your bottom line.

WM – Are there any tell-tale signs to look for in a wholesaler’s business, which show that they should be talking to you?

If a business is looking to grow, access international markets and seek support with enhancing their profit margins through banking solutions, please talk to one of our Relationship Directors, who will meet you with our specialist Product Directors to discuss how we can support wholesalers.

WM – What different financial solutions do you offer to customers in this sector to help them address these problems? What is involved in the process of arriving at a solution and who should wholesalers contact to find out more?

I have touched on some of these throughout the article, but to summarise: –

• Smarter stock buying – our stock funding solutions and trade finance products can help support buying strategies and positively impact margins.

• Credit control – our credit control funding solutions, with credit protection, can support collections in this economic climate.

• Payment support & e-commerce payment solutions – we are proud of our day to day banking processing, and our day + 1 card transaction processing, compared to the standard day + 3, for our customers who hold a Santander main trading current account.

• Foreign exchange – our foreign exchange solutions can help wholesalers protect against currency volatility, and support control of margins.

• Efficient supply chain – our capital funding products can support investment towards your supply chain efficiency programs.

• Connections – our International teams help in identifying the right markets, securing new & reliable trading partners, and helping you manage risk associated with international trade.

We have a genuine desire to support wholesalers. To discuss your plans further, you can contact my team by email at Sukhjeeven.nat@santander.co.uk All products are subject to eligibility and lending criteria.

SANTANDER

www.santander.co.uk

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