Introducing Esme Loans

By Richard Kerton, managing director at Esme Loans

Esme Loans was born out of NatWest Innovation Cell, a new product development programme, just over a year ago. The original management team – Richard Kerton, Veronika Lovett and Lucy Hasson – identified a need in the business loans category for a product that was both simple and fair.

With years of experience dealing with finance for small businesses, the three founders were confident that they could use this expertise and entrepreneurial endeavour to create something that really works for entrepreneurs and their businesses. The team set out to build a product that could, with the right technology, deliver a secure loan in the time it takes to make a cup of tea.

They’re not your typical bankers and Esme is very much not your typical business loan. Having seen friends avoid business loans at all costs because of the assumptions they had about them, Esme Loans’ focus is to make the process of applying for a loan as simple and hassle-free as possible.

“People shouldn’t need to be nervous or scared about borrowing for business needs, especially given how comfortable many people are to borrow for personal ones,” explained Veronika, Esme’s marketing director.

Lucy added: “The reality is that most business lenders still make people go through a very long and at times, difficult process to borrow money. They still ask lots of questions and involve multiple people – making it a really drawn-out process. We’ve kept our criteria simple, so businesses know for sure if they can apply. You need to be a director of a UK limited company which has been trading for over 18 months and has an annual turnover of more than £15,000, and you’ll need to be over 18 too.”

While ‘not your typical business loan’ means a number of things to Esme, not taking away control of a business from the entrepreneur is a fundamental element, as Lucy explained: “People go into business because they want control. So, we tried to launch a product that allows them to have the utmost control over it. They’re in charge of their finances and of their business. That was one of the fundamental drivers behind the product proposition.”

As a result, Esme offers a simple, hassle-free application that can be completed in 10 minutes and once approved, the money can be in your account within the hour. It also introduced flexible payment options with customers being able to pay more one month, less the rest at no extra cost.

What makes Esme different, as Richard explained, is “the way in which you can access the finance, the way that we talk about the finance, the way the product works and allows greater flexibility than some other methods. It’s something we want to continue to evolve and adapt. We want to use the SME customers to refine the product and make it as flexible as we can to support them in different ways.”

It’s not just Esme’s offering that is flexible and varied. There is a huge range in the type and size of businesses borrowing from the platform. Turnovers range from £25,000 to over £20m, while ages range from those in their early 20s to founders in their 70s, 80s and even 90s. The types range from large corporates, manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers, lifestyle businesses and owner-managed businesses.

Entrepreneurial ambitions

Long-running ambitions to start a business existed for both Richard and Lucy. Lucy was inspired by her parents, and later her husband and sister, who have gone on to start their own businesses. Richard’s ambitions were born from a 20+ year career working with SMEs on a daily basis.

He said: “I’d gained a lot of knowledge and appetite to want to go out and do it myself, having been around entrepreneurs, small business owners and large business owners. So, when this opportunity came along, it was too good to pass up.”

For Veronika, however, her entrepreneurial ambitions are fresh in comparison to her two co-founders. Having admittedly been focused on the corporate world until she left to launch Esme, it was her time spent with small businesses that gave her the inspiration and confidence that she could do it herself.

“Through my time working for the bank I came across a lot of very successful businesses that have flourished from a good idea and then grew to scale.”

She added: “It made me realise, ‘if they can do it, why can’t I?’ And when this opportunity came up, it was a fantastic opportunity to start something from scratch, designing every aspect of the business, proposition and process around what business want and need.”

Esme is ultimately part of the NatWest group, though it is a stand-alone digital lender. The trio of founders say they’ve learnt how to combine the rigour and diligence of major high street banks with the agility and flexibility of an alternative lender.

Over the last year, Esme has gone from strength to strength. It has launched a new brand look and feel and is advertising nationwide. They’ve also partnered with the likes of the Evening Standard and the Great British Entrepreneur Awards.