The mental image of a bank manager in rain boots striding across a windswept field or sitting down and talking about cattle, dairy or sheep production is not easy to conjure up.
But that’s the colorful reality for NatWest’s team of specialist agricultural relations officers.
They have to look after a large and diverse farming community across the UK, with around 2,000 customers in the South West and Wales alone.
“It’s not everyone’s cup of tea in the banking world, but you have to have a passion for it,” says Jo Wingfield, agriculture relations manager for the region.
It covers the portfolio from the perspective of the commercial bank.
“We are all incredibly passionate about our sector and helping our farmers, many of whom face difficult times and constant challenges. And we’re right there on the patch for them, which is absolutely vital,” she said.
NatWest specializes in working with farmers and supporting them.
All account managers have agricultural qualifications and training on topics such as climate change, a critical issue for the sector.
Andrew Woodthorpe is director of corporate banking and co-director of agriculture for the South West and Wales. He said: “Individually and collectively, we have developed a huge amount of knowledge over the years.
“We have strength and depth in the industry and a lot of face-to-face relationships and that’s absolutely essential.”
The South West is a large area for the bank and includes Dorset, Devon, Cornwall, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Wales, Shropshire, Oxford and parts of Hampshire.
There are about 30 specialist agricultural relationship managers across the patch out of a total of about 120 nationally.
Andrew said: “You can see from these numbers how important agriculture is to our region in terms of livelihoods and food production.
“There is also a great diversity, ranging from dairy products to beef and lamb production, vegetable growing, arable crops. If it’s grown, you can guarantee we have it.
Agriculture has never been the easiest sector, as it depends on many variables such as weather and price volatility in the market.
This year, they have had to deal with soaring energy and diesel prices, as well as the price and availability of fertilizers, for example.
Jo said, “We have really encouraged our farmers to diversify over the past few years. Whether it’s an agricultural store, getting into renewable energy, renting accommodation or even installing vending machines in their communities.
“If you’ll pardon the pun, it’s more important than ever not to put all your eggs in one basket.”
She said part of the job is making dreams come true.
“The other day I helped one of our sharecroppers buy his farm and it was a fantastic feeling. After renting for 30 years, we were able to lend him the money to buy it,” she said.
But sometimes there are tougher conversations to have, such as reducing a farm’s carbon footprint, being more accountable to its customers, and making sure they’re compliant with the law. There are a lot of environmental regulations and it’s always a pure cost.
Jo added: “This is not an industry where you can deal with customers through a call centre. You need people on the ground and farmers really appreciate that support.
“Farming is pressured and stressful, there is constant juggling and it can be a lonely profession. Farmers may not see anyone from week to week unless they go to market, and they don’t always know what’s going on in the rest of the world. Being there for them is vital. »
NatWest was the first to launch its agricultural support packages in 2022 and has had in-depth conversations for many months about the outlook, forecast and planning for 2023 and beyond.
Jo and Andrew always urge farmers to have early conversations and not let problems pile up.
Andrew said: “There are big problems ahead. We are there for our farmers. The agricultural sector has improved to weather the storms and adapt, but there is a lot of uncertainty right now.
“We want to have those early conversations. We don’t have all the answers, but we’re here to help.”