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Niall Devlin, Head of Business Banking NI, Bank of Ireland

Niall Devlin has been right at the front end of pandemic conversations with Bank of Ireland’s business clients for the past year. He kindly lent us some time recently to speak about what he’s seeing in the market.

“I joined the bank in 2002 from University, and it’s safe to say I’ve seen a couple of economic cycles and experienced firsthand the disruptive impact that uncertainty can have on businesses and the personal impact it can have on business owners.

The financial crisis was a very different type of challenge to today’s pandemic but it did create the bedrock of resilience and agility needed for later economic and business shocks. The learnings gained through that period have helped business owners prepare for the challenges they face today. Banks will be a big part of the recovery, helping to proactively support businesses, alongside Government, industry and providing individual, tailored support to businesses in order to deliver funding solutions that work.

“Many business owners and managers have prepared for the issues they could face down the line and this preparation has enabled them to react more quickly. But I also think that it may well take some time yet to get a clear picture of the challenges ahead and the pace of recovery.”

How important do you think staff retention and loyalty will be to aid the recovery?

It’s so important. You only have to look at the leaders of the most successful businesses here in NI – they are industry specialists and have often been with their employer a long time, working their way up through the organisation building invaluable knowledge and experience. Employers value loyalty given stability within a business will be key to allow recovery post-pandemic. Increasingly, we are seeing industry investing more in their people including continuous learning and development as well as health and wellbeing support which have become key to retaining and attracting talent.

But the fundamentals are here in NI – we have a well-educated work force with a great tremendous work ethic. That is a great foundation for business, and it is easy to see why both local and international businesses view NI as an attractive place for investment. This is something that is, and will continue to be, important to capitalise on as we emerge from the pandemic.

What successes have you seen that really stand out?

“Success in business doesn’t just happen. It is created by people with great vision, who innovate and build diverse teams who are empowered to deliver enhanced outcomes for their customers. I think as a region we’ve made tremendous strides forward, especially if you look at innovation and technology, new funding options including the angel investor scene and in particular the life sciences and cybersecurity sectors. A lot of that good work has come from the talent that sits within the Universities. Not only graduates, but also the professors and the collaboration between academia and industry. We have seen many examples recently where really good business ideas in those settings have been identifed, developed and brought to market.

In looking to the future and growing our economy, the NI Economic recovery plan emphasises the importance and need for businesses  to drive innovation and develop the skills and capability of their workforce. We need to continue to amplify the excellent standard of innovative talent and potential in Northern Ireland. That’s good for NI and everyone who lives here.”

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