Danske: A focus on multi-channel banking

Richard Caldwell, Managing Director of Personal Banking and Small Business at Danske Bank, discusses ambition, growth and challenges one year after taking up his post.

Having spent over 20 years in various senior positions across Danske Bank, Richard Caldwell has embraced his latest challenge of heading up a unit that has brought together management of the personal banking and small business teams.

Danske Bank has over 400,000 personal customers, 30,000 small business
customers and 44 branches across Northern Ireland.

“We realised the likeness and synergies between the challenges and needs of our personal banking and small business customers, not to mention that many of our small business customers are also with us for their personal accounts, so it made sense. Bringing these areas together has allowed us to create detailed strategic plans, which are already making an impact,” he explains.

Caldwell outlines three key focus areas where he has sought change and improvement this year:

  • • improving the small business offering;
  • • the mortgage proposition; and
  • • enhancing overall customer experience.

Small business

“Listening to views and feedback about our service provision from our small business customers led us to focus on accessibility and autonomy. Customers want someone based locally who can make decisions, and this coupled with a better understanding of their banking requirements was a leading catalyst for a change in approach.

“Given the strength of our presence amongst larger businesses in Northern Ireland, we believed we needed to improve on our small business proposition. Unlike many other banks who are now centralising their small business teams to save costs, we have decentralised our offering to get closer to customers by getting our people back into branches across the communities that we serve.”

Danske Bank has introduced 18 small business advisors to 14 branches across Northern Ireland, meaning that their small business customers can now access an advisor from a place that is closer to their business.

“While the general perception might be that most banks are closing branches, we are investing in key locations and investing in putting the right people close to our customers.”

Another shift within the small business space has been changes around the bank’s credit policy. Previously many credit requests needed to be approved centrally in Belfast, however, the new local small business advisors have been given a higher level of autonomy, allowing them to make decisions in the frontline, increasing speed of response and customer satisfaction.

Caldwell says the new approach is already reaping rewards. Lending to small business customers is up 35 per cent in the year to date and the bank are opening around 37 new small business accounts every week, 10 more than they were this time last year.

Caldwell adds: “We have bucked the trend and gone against what other competitors are doing, but we are doing it in a sustainable way that will lay the foundations for long-term improvement.”


Over the past two years Danske Bank in Northern Ireland has dramatically grown its mortgage book, with Caldwell pointing out that the bank was very aware of the previous disparity between having a 20 per cent market share of current accounts compared with just 6 per cent of the mortgage market.

Outlining a variety of changes, Caldwell says: “We have significantly improved our mortgage market share by working with the independent broker network, including recently investing in a new digital system to make their online interactions with our products slicker, reducing their workload and in turn improving customer experience. We have also continued to grow our own mortgage consultant team, meaning the service is more readily available – face to face in our branch network, over the phone or via video link if our customers prefer.

“Another key improvement we have introduced, particularly to help first-time buyers, is the upskilling of branch staff to be able to deal with pre-appointment queries. This means informing and guiding customers on what they will need to consider when applying for their mortgage, things like a deposit estimate or developing a budget. Previously mortgage consultants would have been doing a lot of this and we found that it reduced their capacity.”

Other factors that have enabled strong mortgage growth, include Danske Bank’s strong cashback offering and heavyweight advertising campaigns.

“The Danske Bank Group allows us a strong and welcome level of autonomy when it comes to pricing here in Northern Ireland. This enables us to make our own pricing decisions locally in Belfast. We pride ourselves on being agile in the local mortgage market, ensuring we make the necessary changes to our offering at the right times. Our recent strong focus on helping customers to realise their ambitions in buying a home has been a real positive for Northern Ireland, and has undoubtedly driven increased competition between lenders locally.”

In 2016, Danske Bank saw a 96 per cent growth in mortgage drawdowns and in 2017 to date those drawdowns have increased by a further 22 per cent. Quarterly statistics have shown that whilst Danske Bank’s market share was 6 per cent five years ago, they are now reaching almost 20 per cent of the market.

“While the general perception might be that most banks are closing branches, we are investing in key locations and investing in putting the right people close to our customers.”

Customer experience

Caldwell describes ambitions to enhance overall customer experience and improve customer satisfaction as “more an art, than a science”. Appreciating that statistics do not always reflect personal experience, he believes there is now a renewed focus within the bank to ensure that customers are being engaged with in a way that makes them feel valued.

He believes greater customer education around the bank’s services will further improve customer experience.

“What we don’t want is to be seen as a bank that drives customers in one direction or another when it comes to our services. My ambition is for us to be known as a bank with a multi-channel approach. By that I mean we have many ways available for customers to bank with us, with the onus being on the customer to tell us how they wish to do so. That may be face to face, it may be online or it may be by telephone.

“Across every product and every channel, we aim to offer three main engagement options: self-service, assisted service and our service. We’re making progress in improving functionality across all of our services so that the customer experience is enhanced no matter what their preferred approach is.”


Caldwell knows that long-term strategic plans will face both known and unknown challenges going forward. Open Banking, for example, will undoubtedly transform the banking sector. He explains that Danske Bank aim to be an aggregator in that market and are already exploring opportunities to work with third parties to offer new products and services to customers. The bank has recently hired a Chief Digital Officer to aide with this development.

Digital developments, whilst offering great opportunities, also present great challenges. As customer expectation of what can be done digitally advances, so too does the need for banks to assess and counter any fraud risk or customer vulnerability.

The largest unknown amongst all sectors, including banking, is Brexit. Caldwell explains that while recognising the current and future impacts of Brexit on customers, Danske Bank has taken a pragmatic approach.

He explains: “Low interest rates have meant less income growth for banks, but rather than scaling back on staff and branches, we recognise that our customers are also facing this uncertainty and so our presence and interaction with them is more important than ever.

“Businesses, especially ones who rely on imports, are seeing cost increases already and any future trade tariffs could have a potential knock on effect in terms of business growth and profitability. We are assessing all of these areas in our scenario planning, which is an important strategy, but we are also presently dealing with the knowns. We are doing this through constant conversation and interaction with our business and personal customers to ensure that we are providing the services which best meet their needs.”

Caldwell concludes: “2018 will bring fresh challenges, but also fresh opportunities as we continue to ensure we are on hand to help our customers to fulfil their ambitions – whether they be to buy a home, get a new car, go to university or grow their business.”

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