ESME Loans was borne out of NatWest Innovation Cell, a new product development programme, more than a year ago. The original management team — Richard Kerton, Veronika Lovett (pictured above, far right), and Lucy Hasson — identified a need for a business loan product that was simple and fair and could deliver in the time it takes to make a cup of tea. The founders have established corporate banking backgrounds with the twist of eager entrepreneurial mindsets. Esme, owned and 100 per cent backed by NatWest, is going from strength to strength.
What is Esme?
Richard: Esme is an online-only alternative lender providing unsecured business loans. Because we have no physical branches, we’re able to pass our savings on to our customers. We have no early repayment charges and no hidden costs. Because we’re underwritten by NatWest, we can combine our flexibility with the reassurance of an institutional high street bank.
Why did you start it?
Veronika: We saw friends use things like credit cards and overdrafts again and again because of the fear of business loans, which didn’t make sense to us. It shouldn’t be easier to get a credit card than a business loan. People shouldn’t need to be nervous or scared about borrowing for business needs.
Richard: We wanted to create something that really worked for small businesses. We’re not your typical bankers and Esme is very much not your typical business loan. NatWest is always looking to deliver new, innovative solutions and this seemed a perfect opportunity to address a clear need in the market.
How was it, going it alone?
Richard: Given Esme Loans was started as a project by NatWest, we had the advantage of the expertise and support of the wider bank, which we continue to use today.
Veronika: We faced the same day-to-day challenges as any new company, from making the idea a reality, getting it off the ground and working through the challenges that scaling up to market brings.
Any personal experience with small businesses?
Lucy: Watching my parents manage their department store business, I witnessed how some banks manage small businesses, and how much power small businesses lose in that relationship. Ironic as people get into business to be their own boss.
Why is Esme different?
Richard: People don’t need lots of different lending products. What the customer wants is simplicity. A simple product explained in simple terms.
Who can apply for a loan?
Lucy: You need to be a director of a UK limited company trading for over 18 months, with an annual turnover of more than £15k, and be over 18, too.
What questions are asked?
Richard: Three things: personal and business details, company registration number and the last three months’ bank statements, or five VAT returns.
What are the advantages of borrowing from Esme?
Richard: A customer can take less than ten minutes to fill out the application form, and the system has the ability to provide a rapid decision.
Veronika: Esme gives you flexibility, so you can repay more one month and less the next.
What are Esme’s values?
Lucy: Radical humility is one of our core values. It’s about making sure everyone is heard, and everyone has the customer’s needs at their heart.
What have been the most heartwarming moments?
Lucy: We’ve just lent to a high street fishmonger in his 60s who, by his own admission, wasn’t the most tech-savvy of people. Our team talked him through the process over the phone. In half an hour he had his loan.
Richard: We’ve lent to 19-year-olds and 93-year-olds: if the numbers add up, we’ll lend to them.
Veronika: From getting our first customer to the breadth of firms we have supported the short time we have been open — from a wholesale fruit and veg business, firms selling platform Wellington boots, and companies who offer luxury dog bags. It’s been a very exciting year of growth in our team and our customers.