Barclays Corporate managing director planning on growth
THE new office may lack some of the opulence associated with the worst excesses of the banking crisis.
For the Scottish corporate finance division at Barclays Bank there are no pieces of art littering the walls or private jets on standby at a moment's notice.
Instead its open plan space on the outskirts of Edinburgh's finance district feels fit for purpose rather than flashy.
Ally Scott, managing director of the division, is aware in corporate banking terms Barclays is a relative latecomer.
Despite having been in Scotland for more than three decades it only set up a structured finance arm in Scotland in 2005.
But having witnessed at first hand the carnage created by the failures of Royal Bank of Scotland and HBOS he believe the strangehold the pair had on business lending north of the border is loosening.
While the two giants still control upwards of 70 per cent of Scottish business lending Barclays and other players are trying to take advantage of the changed landscape which has emerged over the past few years.
Scott said: "It is clearly difficult to enter any market where there is a duopoly as there was and to some extent still is in the Scottish banking market.
"But if you believe you have a strong brand and if you can attract really good people - which I believe we have in the last few years - then you can compete and offer something which is perhaps differentiated from others in the market.
"It has been a great success for us. Barclays has been around the Scottish market for 30 or more years now, but it has only been in the last five or six years now we have really invested in a material way.
"That is now visible to our clients in the market. The physical infrastructure - like this office, our other in Glasgow, the new offices in Aberdeen and in Inverness - are a classic example of success breeding success."
Barclays has also seen its staff numbers treble since Scott jumped ship from Royal Bank of Scotland to open up the structured finance operation.
Its offering has also widened from just businesses with more than £5 million in turnover and an average of £3 million of borrowing requirement to encompass a much wider spectrum of Scottish companies.
The growth rate of the corporate side of the business has consistently topped 20 per cent, year-on-year.
Scott said: "Our success to date has given us the confidence to invest. We have also built full service capability in terms of corporate banking with real expertise in Scotland.
"Looking back say 10-years that would never have been a consideration for Barclays as it was very much a tertiary player in the banking market in Scotland."
Even during the darkest months of the financial crisis Scott says Barclays was still seeing growth.
He said: "The common theme which should be remembered is it is not cost of funding which is the issue for business but the breakdown of relationships between lender and client over a period of time.
"That is the most common reason for clients coming over to Barclays.
"There is a lack of visibility and lack of transparency with the banks they are currently doing business with and the desire for a more senior dialogue, which is how we present ourselves to the market.
"A by-product of our investment in Scotland is we are now positioned in such a way to be able to address and cover a lot of markets such as oil and gas, real estate, corporate finance and merger and acquisitions.
"More clients are approaching Barclays every month looking for alternatives to existing banking arrangements."
However Scott is realistic enough to know the competition is still fierce.
And he doesn't believe splitting banks up will do anything to improve lending prospects.
He said: "You could argue Scotland is over provided in terms of financial services.
"We have seen banks like Barclays, and others, emerging and competing in the corporate banking market and I think the outlook for corporate clients is very positive.
"So there are enough strong banks in the market but I think the issue is more the relative market share of those banks.
"We are very committed to the Scottish small to mid-sized enterprise (SME) market but we need to be realistic about our ambitions and about our size and presence in the Scottish market.
"We have 22 branches in Scotland and have local business managers in many of these outlets.
"But a realistic assessment of the situation on the ground is we haven't grown with these businesses in the communities in which they operate.
"That goes way back to local branch banking for clients which evolved to larger operations primarily focused on managing those relationships.
"We are trying to come into that market in reverse where other banks have built up a long history in Scotland.
"It's a different challenge, but we have to be realistic given our limited fixed infrastructure presence to date."
Of course, it is not only a limited presence hampering Barclays expansion plans.
As the economy emerges from one of the worst recessions in living memory many businesses are still cautious rather than bullish.
Scott believes many firms are focusing on paying off debts which has meant a lot of merger activity has been put on hold.
He said: "We are seeing de-leverage right across our corporate book from the big plcs down to the very small companies.
"Our overdraft book - which is always a good barometer of leverage, growth and economic activity - has shown a year-on-year reduction.
"That is always a sign of de-leverage and cost cutting. However our analysis is that confidence is slowly coming back into the market.
"We are starting to see some signs of recovery in acquisition activity and companies are now looking to implement growth strategies."
Scott believes meeting regularly with clients is a crucial part of what bankers should do.
For him the personal contact is the foundation on which strong relationships are built.
And he is quick to deflect accusing fingers blaming banks for the number of companies going out of business.
He said: "Clearly there are inflationary pressures which we see manifesting in commodity prices for example or basic costs that corporates are finding challenging on a consistent basis.
"Interest rates are only one dynamic and the cost of doing business has shot up in recent years.
"We routinely have to discuss hedging with our clients as they look to plan their raw material and commodity costs for the year.
"The cost of funding is also a topic which is widely debated, but it is important to know the overall cost of funding, inclusive of libor or base rate, is still very modest.
"I have been in corporate banking now for 20-years and I have never known a business to fail because of the cost of its borrowing.
"But I have known a lot of businesses to fail because they are badly managed, over leveraged, have weak business models or they haven't taken cost out of their business.
"I think the cost of borrowing is a dynamic which is being overplayed right now.
"The real issue, certainly among our client base and those who come and speak to us, is the availability of funding rather than the cost.
"We don't see the lack of liquidity in banking as the culprit here, as bank financing is only one of many funding methods open to businesses."
As an experienced pragmatist Scott isn't going to just hide in the corner and hope for the best.
He adds: "We are ambitious and we are achieving growth. There will be selective new branch openings going forward and there are plans to open a flagship branch in Edinburgh as we have in Glasgow.
"Barclays is looking to grow all of its divisions in Scotland - retail and commercial services - and we see great opportunity."
Ally Scott has spent more than 20 years in the Scottish banking sector.
Having joined Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) straight from school he rose through the ranks while completing his banking qualifications.
Moving into corporate and structured financing roles he spent 10-years making a name for himself as a dealmaker.
With Barclays keen to expand its corporate finance presence in Scotland it approached Ross.
He was persuaded to jump ship in 2005 to establish a deals transactional team in Scotland focusing on business and management buyouts.
The success of that venture encouraged the bank to expand into areas such as property and project finance.
Scott was promoted to managing director of Barclays Corporate in Scotland in 2009.
The role means he has to spend a lot of time away from his Edinburgh home so he tries to spend as much of his free time with his wife and three children as possible.
Apart from the occasional game of golf his main passion outside of work is football.
He is a qualified coach who spends time coaching a local youth team in south-east Edinburgh.