Recent years have seen exceptional damage caused by flooding as the UK endured some of the highest rainfall on record. The conditions caused serious disruption for householders as well as damage to businesses and infrastructure. A study by the Federation of Small Businesses estimated that £831 million had been lost because of last winter’s floods.

This year help was at hand for RBS and NatWest customers affected by the bad weather, thanks to the work of Margaret Johnston and her colleagues at RBS.

Back in 2012 they began to discuss how severe weather might affect customers in agriculture. “We wondered if - under our policies at the time - we were going to face problems lending to customers who’d been severely affected by the weather,” explains Johnston, a Credit Manager at Business and Commercial Credit Edinburgh.

“Our ability to lend is determined by benchmarking against key industry standards. Damage from severe wet weather and flooding can put the finances of farms and other businesses under serious pressure, which in turn reduces our ability to lend to them.”

Long-term view

A new safeguard was clearly needed to protect clients from the increasingly volatile weather. “It’s not right that long-term business customers might lose support due to something beyond their control,” agrees Roddy McLean, Agricultural Support Manager for Commercial Banking. “It was a problem we really wanted to address.”

With a shared desire to improve the bank’s policies for vulnerable customers, the Bad Weather Team came together from a variety of departments, including Credit, Commercial Banking and Specialist Sectors. They were supported by 150 frontline agricultural relationship managers.

The team reviewed 2,589 customers at risk of flooding – coming up with a customer-focused solution that allowed leeway for certain businesses disrupted by the adverse climate.

“This meant we were still able to lend to good farmers who’d just had a horrendous year,” says Johnston. Adjustments could be made for the loss of income and the cost of combatting it, giving farming customers a vital safety net against the rising waters.

Johnston says: “We’re always looking at ways we can help the customer and lend safely, and I’m proud we achieved this as a grassroots initiative.”

Turbulent times

  • The winter of 2013-2014 was the wettest on record in the UK - an estimated 487 millimetres of rain fell between 1 December and 19 February
  • Over £750 million has been pledged by the UK’s banks to support customers affected by the floods
  • RBS announced a range of support measures, including: a three month mortgage payment holiday for customers with flooded homes, a £250 million interest free loan fund for affected businesses and extensions to existing overdrafts

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