FStech meets: NatWest Rapid Cash managing director Julie Ashmore

Julie Ashmore is the managing director of NatWest Rapid Cash, a FinTech venture focused on giving businesses an overdraft alternative – something which has been of increasing relevance over the last few months of turmoil.

FStech editor Peter Walker had a conversation with her about its formation, development and future.

• Could you explain the development of Rapid Cash and what problem it's looking to solve?

Rapid Cash is one of the newer ventures, we’re only two years old from initial conception. The product launched last year, looking to be an alternative to the traditional overdraft.

It can be a real challenge for SMEs (small to medium-sized enterprises) accessing level of funds for working capital without providing additional security. So we give a limit of up to £500,000 and as the name suggests, we can provide it rapidly. This kind of thing could have taken up 90 days in the past, but now we can do it within a few hours – and we’re working on getting that down to a matter of minutes.

• Its creation clearly came before the pandemic, but has become all the more relevant now - how has the initial interest been?

Interest has been strong - to be clear we’ve taken a phased rollout, listening to customers as we continue to develop - but we’re on track as it continues to grow. The product can act as a standalone facility, whereas other lenders went to government-backed schemes for help. It can sit alongside as a working capital facility, to be used as and when needed – although about half of our customers did take additional funding support to give them flexibility.

There’s been a lot of talk in press around businesses losing turnover and needing cash to bridge the gap – but others have seen increased level of turnover, and we can increase limits quickly. We’ve got the information to approve things quickly, as our facility links directly into their accounting system, which releases the administration burden on the customer – we can see their need as they do.

• Can I ask about the tech behind the product – particularly in terms of using customer data and assessing lending risk?

We’re a part of NatWest, which is obviously established in the marketplace, and being part of the ventures family we are able to take a more innovative approach, but with the robust risk management controls, processes and security from a bank. This gives customers comfort in allowing access to their data to make quicker decisions.

• What's the strategy been in terms of setting up these FinTech ventures within the group?

I joined the group in January and was intrigued by the way it works. The customer is at the centre and it’s all about using tech to make things easier for the user. We try to identify pain-points and set up products to help solve them.

We take a venture capital approach, but with the backing of the bank it means rather than spending two years creating the product in full, testing it and taking to market, we’ve been able to working a very agile way, with feedback from customers along the way.

• What other areas is the ventures team looking to innovate in at the moment?

We’ve got Mettle, a current account for SMEs, loans through Esme, accounting software with FreeAgent, payment products Tyl and Payit – a whole basket of support in various stages of growth. Tyl for instance has innovated during COVID by waiving terminal fees. There’s no one-size-fits-all, but coming through very strongly from customers is how digital services have really helped.

• How is the bank preparing for the 'new normal', both internally and externally?

We had no delay from being office bound to going remote, our setup was such that it was almost seamless. We look after the team, so they can look after customers – so we provided additional screens, chairs, desks, etc. Obviously there have been some challenges in setup, but there was no disruption to service. And I was surprised how the wider bank were also able to switch fairly easily.

I feel like the message is getting out there that there is no new normal - this is it - and if you think that there’s some great solution in the future, you don’t actually address the issues you’re facing directly. The tough times continue for many, so access to cash is crucial.

Of course, we’re also beginning the conversation about repayments – helping customer to prepare. We continue to lend, and while some businesses have seen disruption to supply chains, we haven’t yet seen a significant extension in payment terms. There will be difficult times ahead, but we work with customers to anticipate problems and encourage them to embrace the new – rather than having to react.

Out of adversity comes opportunity, and there will be areas that thrive. We’re looking at increasing limits for customers actually, extending above £500,000.

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