After the past couple of weeks looking at a few lenders in the intermediary commercial mortgage market, it's back to the mainstream, well mainstream-ish, for this week's two lenders: Allied Irish Bank and Alliance & Leicester Commercial Bank. Neither company distributes business finance through intermediaries but they make an interesting pair nonetheless. The impression that comes across from the material is that both lenders put people at the heart of their business – but different people. With Allied Irish, the focus is on its customers, with products and services tailored to meet their needs. At Alliance & Leicester Commercial Bank, it looks much more as though the products and services are already sitting on the shelves but it puts the focus on the specialist staff who deliver those products and services.
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Allied Irish Bank
When I spoke to someone at AIB they were at pains to point out that the lender doesn't promote commercial mortgage products as such. Yes, business finance is available on this basis but as part of its approach based on customer solutions. “We tailor our products and services to meet your specific needs at the time, adapting them as your requirements change,” it says in the business banking brochure . Fair gladdens the heart, doesn't it. I suspect that if you asked all the major business banks they'd probably say the same but at least AIB is upfront about it. It still produces some weighty brochures on high quality, thick paper, which, apart from the colour AIB logo on the cover, are all grey text on a white background. This may give a professional impression to start with but, my, is it dry, with just the occasional set of highlighted features to counter the snooze factor. There's more information on business finance products on the website (and a bit more colour too) but even here the details are kept to a minimum with more concern shown about matching lending and repayments to liquidity and cashflow. The website also has loads of practical help and advice including interactive planning tools.
Alliance & Leicester Commercial Bank
With A&L, my erstwhile employer, looking after my pension fund and A&L Commercial Bank managing my business banking I might have to be careful what I say here. But it's interesting to see how its approach differs from AIB and on the surface the differences are clear – no heavyweight brochures for A&L, just a simple full-colour leaflet in the house style. The leaflet is more product-led than customer-driven with short sections on overdrafts, small business loans, business development loans and commercial mortgages. But the difference is more subtle than that. A&L has spent a lot of time and money over the years on its brand, and I don't mean here its corporate styles and logos. The brand is what a company's customers perceive the company to be – what they think of when they see the company name. And the company's staff is the embodiment of that brand. Consequently, there's more focus in the A&L material on the people who deliver the services, encapsulated in the proposition “we will work in partnership with you”. This style is carried through the website (A& L gets the prize for longest web address) where product features are used as a means to get visitors to phone.