Ben Barbanel | OakNorth Bank
In a time of acute financial uncertainty for individuals and businesses, as we’ve seen over the last 18 months, banks need to be able to trust and rely on the person making the lending decisions. Ben Barbanel is that person. Despite the ongoing challenges being presented by Covid-19, Ben continued to lead OakNorth Bank’s debt finance team in supporting small and medium-sized businesses across the UK. Under Ben’s leadership and guidance, the team has approved over £1.87bn in new loans since 23rd March when the pandemic first hit, including over £620m via the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) and the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS). “As a lender we have a responsibility to continue supporting viable British businesses and ensuring they have access to the capital they need to survive and thrive through this crisis, despite the numerous unknowns that remain,” says Ben.
To make sure such huge sums only flowed to the right places, Ben has personally joined over 475 credit committees, attending the meetings at all hours of the day and night, as well as on bank holidays and weekends, so worried and stressed out business owners get access to the capital they need to survive and thrive in this environment. The loans Ben has approved have helped to not only provide emergency funding to hundreds of businesses, and in turn save thousands of jobs, but have also enabled countless other businesses to pursue their growth ambitions which will be vital post-pandemic as we look to repair the economy.
It takes the right combination of risk-taking and conservatism to be able to make judgments about lending decisions in the middle of a global pandemic – “It’s a mix between being a realist (so that you make smart credit decisions) and an optimist (so you’re willing to write cheques for businesses you believe in)”, says Ben – which, perhaps unsurprisingly, is exactly how Ben approached joining OakNorth in 2015. After a career at some of banking’s biggest names – RBS, Clydesdale, Santander – it was quite a leap to join a bank so new it didn’t even have its licence yet. “I think the biggest barrier I had to overcome was a mindset one – when Rishi and Joel, OakNorth’s co-founders, approached me about joining them,” he says, “as a father of three with a mortgage to pay, it was a big risk to jump ship from a secure role at an established institution like Santander, to join what was a start-up bank with no brand, no clients and not even a license yet”.
Six years later and he has transacted almost £5bn of loans with OakNorth to support hundreds of UK businesses. “The start-up life isn’t for everyone – it will require a lot of sacrifice, grit and you’re going to be doing a lot more than what the job title on your business card says,” Ben points out, but having tried the alternative, he definitely feels he made the right choice. What he loves most about his job is the shared, collective desire to support UK businesses and in doing so, have a positive impact on communities. He says: “At OakNorth, we really feel like we’re doing our part to help the British economy.”