Conister’s Pledge: We’re Standing Up and Standing Fast
Conister’s Pledge: We’re Standing Up and Standing Fast
As another year is chalked off the calendar and the focus turns to 2022, the continuing Covid saga is hard to ignore.
For the IOM business sector, it could be a tricky year. Yet, despite any nervousness about where the economy is heading, staff at Conister, the Island’s community bank, are prepared for what lies ahead.
Douglas Grant, Conister Bank’s Managing Director, outlined in a wide-ranging interview that, whilst there are likely to be “headwinds and challenges” over the next 12 months – especially from inflation, interest rate increases and rising energy costs - being resolute should lead to a much brighter outlook for 2023 and beyond.
“UK inflation could go as high as 6%, which will also generate wage inflation,” he says. “But when overall inflation drops, there will be an element of permanent inflation, wage inflation, which is hard for employers but great for employees. At this point, there should be light at the end of the tunnel for consumers.
“Also, in the short term, our fixed-rate loans will help customers mitigate against any rate rises, which should certainly help. Once things improve, there’s always the opportunity to refinance if you want to,” says Douglas, who is also CEO of the bank’s listed holding company, Manx Financial Group PLC.
A sustained and diverse offering to Island businesses and consumers.
One of Conister’s core lending markets on the Island is SMEs. The term, SME, sounded very impersonal to Douglas. “I’m not keen on the term as behind every company are people, not a number or an acronym.”
Given that Conister has been servicing the Island since 1935, the words “community” and “culture” are never far from Douglas’ thoughts; he is adamant that, although Conister continues to expand in the UK, it’s crucial to provide a sustained and diverse offering locally. “We will never ignore our local market and customers.
Backing for local businesses
“We made some important decisions at the back end of 2019. Whilst we didn’t foresee the pandemic, we did plan for a UK recession driven by Brexit,” reflects Douglas.
Whilst the Island’s Government moved quickly to support pandemic-affected businesses, Conister were already one step ahead. “We had put £10 million aside to help IOM companies before the Government announced its scheme. When they did, we quickly sought accreditation to offer additional support to local businesses.
“It did not matter to me whether we stood alone or with the Government. When you genuinely believe the right thing to do is to stand up, stand fast, and act – then that is what you do,” he asserts.
“The way I looked at it, by supporting the community, it meant supporting businesses through the pandemic. In the end, it was a symbiotic decision; a vibrant and prosperous community is an attractive place to live and lend to.”
Conister Bank launched its online portal in 2019 – just before Covid struck. With customers switching their attention online through a mixture of necessity and convenience, the bank has seen a huge upsurge in business. “Before people were working from home, we went online and paperless in the IOM consumer market – putting us a step ahead of all our competitors. We haven’t lost that position, and indeed, market share has only accumulated.
“We went from zero online transactions in 2019 to 65%” explains Douglas.
“There will always be customers who don’t want to be serviced online. For instance, a business that wants a loan to build a property, online transacting isn’t appropriate, whereas someone wanting credit to purchase a car is ideally suited to this method of accessing finance.”
He said the pandemic had forced businesses to change how and where people worked – including Conister’s own workforce.
The return to office working has been a positive step. “It’s where the bank’s culture exists.”
Douglas is also a firm believer in teamwork. “During the lockdown, I found that our teams were talking to each other, but not across departments. So, it was important we returned to the office, back into a company-wide community again.”
The bank lost a year and a half of mentoring, he revealed. “A lot of businesses have been working from home. It’s alright for some but not for everybody. A hybrid way of working is OK, but the office is a hub. Culture isn’t just about words on a wall. It’s about people, informal conversations at the water filter, and your actions; that is what builds a supportive workplace culture.”
Supporting a Sustainable future
In 2021, Douglas won the Isle of Man IoD’s Director of the Year for “Corporate Social Responsibility”. In part, this recognised his introduction of the Conister Bank Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) & Sustainability Plan. The idea is that the bank accounts for any impact its activities have on the environment and society.
He said that the award reflected the staff’s enthusiastic support. “They’ve all bought into ESG, which is now a big part of our culture. Its values are more engrained in younger people - they are driving the agenda.”
“When we started this journey, we engaged with a consultancy business to ensure we tackled this topic in a methodic and principle-led way, adopting best practices that could be third-party verified if necessary.
Conister continues to be at the forefront of the green economy, spearheaded by the success of its Green Finance Initiative, supporting projects like a retrofit, electric vehicles, and waste management.
Whilst Douglas said Conister would continue its major investment in the UK, above all, the focus was still very much on continuing to provide credit for the Island’s community – helping customers successfully navigate the year ahead.
“We serve a very broad church, offering products and services that customers want. Our long-term business plan is to stick around. We’ve been here for 86 years. We want to be here for another 86.”
Standing Up. Standing Fast.
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