Bank of Ireland’s partnership with WebPort Global is sparking an export revolution in the regions, Michelle Goodwin tells John Kennedy.
It is the 17th National Enterprise Week and, from Bank of Ireland’s new fintech Startlab on Camden Street, head of enterprise development, Michelle Goodwin, explains the rationale behind many of the major changes the bank has made in recent years.
“The big change is the bank is a partner to the local community,” Goodwin explained. “It is about bringing businesses, the community and start-ups together. Our Workbenches are about creating a place where businesses can gather and work, and our Startlabs are integral to giving start-ups the best place to start and the right way to start.”
‘We see the challenges that people have and it is usually people’s time, resources and knowledge’
– MICHELLE GOODWIN
Goodwin explained that 26 events are taking place across the country as part of National Enterprise Week, for SMEs interested in growing their business.
Particular events are targeted at specific regions and sectors. For example, there will be events held in areas such as manufacturing, tourism, hospitality, agriculture, finance, fisheries and export markets.
Back to the grassroots
As well as industry experts and representatives from Fáilte Ireland, the IDA, Enterprise Ireland, Bord Iascaigh Mhara and many others, there will be engagement from entrepreneurs, Bank of Ireland domain experts and WebPort Global, a major digital portal that is enabling Irish SMEs to sell globally.
“One of the key trends we are seeing is the need for helping businesses to connect with each other locally. Often when we bring businesses together from a certain district they don’t realise that a potential supplier exists nearby.
“We are going back to the grassroots. It’s about bringing that all-inclusive wider community together and bridging the information flow.”
It is all part of a major culture and innovation shift that is spreading through Bank of Ireland, a shift largely driven by technology.
The banking world is changing. Fintech platforms are becoming, in many cases, the initial touchpoint for services on the go, while banks facilitate and consult SMEs and entrepreneurs and help foster a sense of community.
“The bank has appointed a head of county to each county and their whole role is to get in and understand the county and its demographics. The guys on the ground are enterprise and community managers, they are not branch managers any more, and it is their job to get out into the community.”
The shift from simply being tellers to helping businesses to articulate their offering and embark on a global trade journey is part of this new reality for banks.
Bridging the knowledge gap
The key, Goodwin said, is knowledge. “We see the challenges that people have and it is usually people’s time, resources and knowledge.”
A crucial resource cultivated by Bank of Ireland in bridging the information gap and the ability to connect globally has been the establishment of a partnership between the bank and WebPort Global.
WebPort Global boasts a global online network to help SMEs connect with international partners, access critical information on foreign trade, and introduce them to purchasing and selling opportunities globally.
“Bank of Ireland is sparking the global trade journey. This is powered by the World Trade Centre, and WebPort connects Irish companies to 323 World Trade Centres in 80 countries and some 715,000 businesses around the world. It also provides access to 4m pages of trade research, white papers and other essential documents.”
Another unique aspect of the WebPort Global online platform is the provision of a dedicated trade manager to SMEs for the first six months.
“WebPort Global is mostly a digital offering, but over those six months the trade manager will teach and coach that business in how to maximise their online profile and ensure they are efficient. They will also do a full assessment of their business. This is key because when people in business in Ireland try to embark on the global trade journey often they get discouraged because the amount of resources and money required to do it is daunting.
“WebPort Global takes them through the whole process, assesses their business and helps them source what they need in terms of suppliers, partners and customers. This is key. The trade journey for a start-up or small business is very different from that of a medium enterprise or corporate. Identifying capacity requirements and potential buyers is critical.”
Goodwin cited a Waterford-based firm, The Little Milk Company, that had been very reliant on the UK but, with Brexit looming, had to establish new overseas customers and markets. Now it is looking at supporting additional customers in Germany and France.
“That has turned the business around and has taken the risk out of solely trading in the UK. Now they have potential customers that are hugely vetted in other overseas markets.”
A key aspect of WebPort Global, Goodwin said, is the tools that are available. “There is a tool called Data Mine, for example, that is a research tool that would cost several thousand euros for a business to access on its own, but we offer that free of charge.”
Crucially, for Irish firms to trade globally on a digital basis, it is about overcoming the information gap and, by doing so, gaining the confidence to start selling.
“These are the challenges that businesses have: we want to grow, we want to export, we want to market, but we don’t actually know how to do it,” Goodwin concluded.
“To have that trade manager dedicated to them for six months is turning businesses on their heads. Since April this year, we have seen Bank of Ireland customers generate 911 leads around the world.”