HSBC takes on rivals as lending to SMEs to grow

HSBC: Set to take on rivals on SME lending. Picture: Getty
HSBC: Set to take on rivals on SME lending. Picture: Getty
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BANKING giant HSBC is on track to grow its lending to small companies in Scotland to some £310 million this year as it muscles in on a market dominated by rivals Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland.

The lender, which employs more than 3,400 people north of the Border, is also pledging more support to help firms ramp up their exports as it prepares to open a “one-stop shop” offering advice and information in Poland, which is one of the top-ten markets for Scottish food producers.

Alison McGregor, HSBC’s chief executive for Scotland, said: “Because we have a presence in 80 countries, we’re always looking for ways to connect our customers in the UK with our offices overseas.

“Almost 50 per cent of our lending in Scotland goes to businesses that want to trade internationally, compared with 42 per cent for the rest of the UK. That tells me there is a strong desire in Scotland to globalise.”

HSBC grew its lending to Scottish small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) by 25 per cent to £248m, and McGregor said it was on course to deliver a similar increase this year, having approved £230m of growth lending in the first nine months.

She told Scotland on Sunday: “We’re in a strong position to support the domestic market as well as those businesses that want to grow internationally.

“It’s about developing the right relationships with customers and understanding their strategy.”

Glasgow-based McGregor replaced Doug Baikie as HSBC’s Scottish chief in July, having arrived at the lender just four months earlier from Clydesdale Bank, where she had been regional, then national, director for corporate, structured and acquisition finance. Prior to that she spent more than 20 years at Barclays.

Bank of Scotland-owner Lloyds and RBS control about 70 per cent of the SME lending market in Scotland.

Their presence on the high street far outweighs that of HSBC, which has more than 1,500 branches across the UK, but only ten north of the Border, along with call centre operations in Edinburgh and Hamilton and three commercial banking centres.

McGregor said an expansion of its network “is always on our radar, but at the moment we’re building our business quite nicely on the branches we have”.

As well as its planned export centre in Poland, the firm is working with Scottish Enterprise to help companies pushing into Turkey, and McGregor highlighted China – where exports from Scotland have almost doubled in the past five years – as another hotspot for overseas trade.

In 2012, HSBC launched a £4 billion fund to help SMEs from across the UK grow their overseas trade, and this year the size of the fund was raised to £5bn, while the group has also published a “manifesto for exports”, containing a number of policy recommendations aimed at boosting overseas trade.