Wanting to deliver change by serving the real economy is a shared value of both SFRE (Sustainability | Finance | Real Economies) Fund and Unity Trust Bank in the UK. Unity Trust Bank is one of the financial institutions in a developed market in SFRE’s portfolio. 

Founded from the philosophy to serve the common good, Unity Trust Bank lends to a broad range of customers including housing and local community facilities, health and social care, and faith organisations. All of which are seeking to help to create a better society. 

Through the investment received by SFRE, alongside new capital from existing shareholders Unity has achieved ambitious growth. Margaret Willis is the CEO of Unity Trust Bank and she elaborates on the success of the bank and how it plans to continue its focus on delivering positive and lasting change.

In addition to its social mission, how does Unity Trust Bank stand out in the financial sector in the UK?
 
Everything we do is focused on the customer. Our proposition is strongly rooted in the provision of excellent service. We do not use interactive voice recognition or call routing in our UK-based customer contact centre, we know our customers value the personal, human touch and this is reflected in our high levels of customer satisfaction. 

From a technological perspective, we are investing in our IT architecture to enable us to scale, provide richer functionality for our customers and strengthen resilience.

Helping out at Fireside, a local homeless shelter supported by Unity Trust Bank

In lending, we empower our Relationship Managers, located regionally, to stay close to our customers. We work with customers to tailor proposals and structure loans in a way that works best for them. We see ourselves as an enabler, we enable colleagues to work with customers, help them to access professional advice, connect with other customers and the community at large. Most new business comes through customer recommendation, so excellent service and collaboration enables us to extend our reach and punch above our weight. 

You have been CEO since 2015 – what are the achievements you are most proud of?
 
There is much to be proud of. Yet I’m most proud of my colleagues for their commitment, loyalty and hard-work; together we have achieved a lot in the last four years. We have prospered and grown significantly as an independent bank. Increasing our capital base has enabled us to grow ‘safely’ and amplify our social impact through our lending: from GBP 187 million in lending in 2015 to GBP 477.6 million in 2019. 

Encouraging responsible working practices is vital. We were the first bank to be Real Living Wage-accredited and we seek to reward our people for their contribution, the value they create and to align the interests of our people with those of the bank through employee ownership.  

Colleagues donate time and personal effort through ‘Unity in the Community’. In 2019, 80% of colleagues volunteered 278 days of their time to community projects and charitable causes, a 60% increase on the previous year. 

Furthermore, the call to action around climate change and environmental issues is clear. There is a significant amount of focus on the Financial Services sector and the role it must play in the transition to a net zero carbon economy by 2050. We are making this a priority in 2020 and we will sharpen our focus aligning our impact metrics to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. This is not a material change but will facilitate a strengthening of our impact reporting consistent within a globally-recognised framework.

Overall, while we’ve made great progress, there is no room for complacency. Looking ahead, we intend to continue to pursue ‘safe growth’, amplify our social impact and make better use of technology to be more responsive to customer needs.

What are developments in the UK you are excited/worried about?

The banking industry is facing unprecedented change with an oversupply of finance and an undersupply of good service. Following the 2008 crisis this has been fueled by incumbent banks losing the trust of their customers and a rapid increase in the number of new entrants. Policymakers have encouraged competition and initiatives such as Open Banking have made it possible for new challenger banks and FinTechs to enter the market with digital offerings. 

It’s really important to keep pace and see the changes as opportunities. Open Banking has huge potential to improve competition, give customers more choice and access to financial products and services. For businesses, it means they can access tools to help them manage their accounts, assist with cash-flow management and compare interest rates and loan terms. Looking ahead Unity will expand its proposition while keeping customers safe and leaving them in control. 

Do you think Unity has the power to contribute to a systemic change in the financial sector?

The success of the banking industry is the sum of its parts, while Unity is small we have a unique opportunity to demonstrate how banking can be different. If we collaborate effectively, and its vital that we do, and ensure customers are central to our thinking, we can help to drive change and punch well-above our weight.
 

SFRE Fund has been a shareholder of Unity Trust Bank since 2015. The fund invests in financial institutions in both emerging and developed markets in order to close the gap in financing social change globally. Find out more about Unity Trust Bank’s social impact.

 

Explore our impact report ‘Creating an inclusive world’ to find out more about our role as investor in financial inclusion. The report presents our 2019 results in a context of number and stories and showcases our mission to make money work for positive change.