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Agriculture knowledge 'vital' for banking sector

With farmers wanting more practical agricultural knowledge from the people they work with in the banking sector, Alex Black visited a HSBC Banking for Farming course to see how they are training their staff to better understand the industry


Alex   Black

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Agriculture knowledge 'vital' for banking sector

Understanding farming is vital for agricultural bank staff looking to best serve their customers in the sector.

 

Farmers want banks to understand their businesses better and last week HSBC held a week-long Banking for Farming course for its staff to help tackle the issue.

 

Dairy farmer David Coulthurst, Lancashire, hosted one of the visits and said he relied on his bank manager so much he had become ‘almost like family’.

 

Visits

 

The staff were given an overview of each sector and taken on farm visits. They were advised they needed to really understand the different models of farms to answer farmers’ questions.

 

The bank’s head of agriculture, Neil Wilson, said it was vital for managers to receive this training as farming was a different sector to many others.


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“The more we understand, the more we can do as a bank,” he said.

 

“You learn something new every day but if we understand the basics, we are in a better position. It is difficult to be an expert but it is about knowing enough to ask the right questions.”

 

There was a huge range of previous knowledge, with some managers from agricultural backgrounds while others had little to no knowledge at all.

 

“If every bank manager was in agriculture as well it would be great but it is not going to happen. This way we can start to add value to the relationships with farmers.”

 

Experience

 

He added it was important for them to visit farms as there may be things they saw there which they could suggest as options for other farmers. The training included visiting arable, dairy and beef units.

 

With warnings earlier this month over the levels of debt on Scottish farms, NFU Scotland said it was ‘bad news’ for farms showing a concerning lack of profitability in the sector.

 

But Mr Wilson said they were looking to support the industry.

 

“This is why we have an agricultural team. We are keen to support innovation and help farms grow,” he said.

 

“We want them to understand how long-term farming is generational.”

 

Staff were also advised to make sure they kept a finger on the pulse and stayed up to date with the latest news round the industry as it would help them understand issues on prices, contracts and the weather which farmers would want to speak about.

 

Questions

 

Mr Coulthurst gave a tour of his farm and answered questions on topics from calving to costs.

 

He said it made him proud to be asked to speak to people about what he was doing and thought it was important the staff had this base of knowledge so they could help other farms.

 

“You need a bank manager which comes and gets involved,” he said.

 

“It is no good sitting behind a desk and saying you are doing this wrong and you are doing that wrong. He has to be involved.”

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