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‘People tell me I’ve made their dreams come true’

Written by David Ryan on Wednesday, 10 November 2021. Posted in Interviews

HSBC UK’s Anita Roberts knows the UK franchise industry inside-out – which makes her an ideal judge for the Elite Franchise 100.

‘People tell me I’ve made their dreams come true’

HSBC UK’s Anita Roberts knows the UK franchise industry inside-out – which makes her an ideal judge for the Elite Franchise 100. 

Good things come in threes, as the saying goes. But at HSBC UK – whose proud involvement with the franchise industry stretches back more than 30 years – they’ve taken the notion a step further.

As franchise director Anita Roberts explains, the franchise team see themselves as one leg of a three-legged stool. In effect, they’re an indispensable support, holding up a vital – and growing – section of the economy.

“When franchisor, franchisee and we as a bank all work together in good times and bad, it helps preserve the status quo of the industry,” says Anita.

Right now, she’s taking on a new challenge as an Elite Franchise 100 judge. It’s a pivotal position, helping to compile the definitive league table of the UK’s 100 standout franchises, and she’s relishing the chance to scrutinise the entries.

Discovering how brands have supported their franchisees during a year of exceptional challenges will be a particular point of interest, she says – as will learning about the adaptations that some have had to make to their businesses to provide that support.

It makes sense that Elite Franchise would draw on HSBC UK’s expertise, as it’s one of the few banks to employ specialist franchise teams. In fact, UK head of franchising Andrew Brattesani was Anita’s predecessor on the six-strong judging panel.

“Over the years, HSBC UK has had a very positive experience of the franchise market, which represents a relatively low-risk market sector,” says Anita, whose day-to-day role includes supporting franchisees with their banking and financial needs. 

“This has encouraged us to build our relationships with new brands as they step into the franchise arena and to confidently provide funding to a large number of brands’ franchisees.”

The franchisor is in a key position, of course – “helping to support us in difficult situations”, says Anita, “and ultimately protect and value the integrity of the brand”. At the same time, she is careful to add that “we all have our important role to play”.


Highly thought of

This brings us neatly to Anita’s own career, which began in 1987. “I joined Midland Bank straight from school as a fresh-faced 16-year-old at a branch in North London,” she says.

In the 20 years that followed, she progressed through various roles across two branches, witnessing the HSBC Group’s acquisition of Midland Bank in 1992. Then, with the encouragement of a colleague, she made her next major career move into the commercial banking world.

Becoming a relationship support officer to two relationship managers felt like a leap. During the subsequent eight years – in which time she achieved relationship manager status herself – she amassed a portfolio of roughly 120 business banking clients.

At this juncture, she joined HSBC UK’s franchise team in her current role, covering the South West region and London. She’d worked with Andrew Brattesani earlier in her career and was eager to do so again, “alongside a team of individuals that were highly thought of both internally and externally”.

Did the job live up to her expectations? “It’s actually better and more varied than I expected or anticipated,” she says. 

Her main responsibilities are “establishing new relationships with ethical brand owners, maintaining existing relationships and supporting franchise growth. This in turn grows HSBC UK’s customer base and market share within the franchise sector and strengthens our strong industry reputation.”

Ultimately, her aim is to provide strong support to her client base and their franchise network. That involves a good deal of networking and establishing relationships with contacts in the franchise industry.

In terms of job satisfaction, the pros vastly outweigh any cons, she says. And while she admits this may come across as a cliché, “I love feeling that I have made a difference to people’s lives.

“Being able to support a new franchisee on their journey is so rewarding. I’ve been told more than once that I have helped make someone’s dreams come true, which is a very powerful thing.

“When the pandemic hit, we saw many franchise businesses work tirelessly to support their franchise network,” says Anita. 

“As franchise directors we did the same, working through solutions to get the finance and support in place that many of their franchisees needed. 

“Whilst some of our conversations were tough, as business owners were rightly very concerned for their future, it was a privilege to be in a position to listen, show understanding and provide that much-needed support.”

Great resilience

HSBC UK works with about 200 of the UK’s 900 franchised brands. As a consequence, Anita is in a strong position to assess the current state of the industry. 

She has no doubt that the business model itself is sound. “Franchising really can be a great route to having a successful business and can take away some of the stresses and worries you may have going it alone,” she says. 

In addition, the level of support that HSBC UK’s clients provided to their networks during the pandemic impressed her tremendously. “Seeing competitor businesses sharing best practices with each other, and being open and honest about the challenges they have had, has been amazing. I think businesses in general could learn a lot in this respect.”

The lesson as far as she is concerned is that franchising will continue to grow year on year. “More and more individuals are getting to hear about it, understanding it and seeing it as a much safer route to getting into business than starting up alone. It has proven to be incredibly recession-proof and has shown great resilience during the pandemic, despite the economic challenges, which I feel will only increase its appeal.”

The anticipated success story won’t just include household-name brands. She predicts that newer, smaller franchises will contribute enormously to the UK franchise industry’s growth: “With a hybrid office/work-from-home model looking to be a thing for the future, I can see home-based franchising continuing to boom.”

Needless to say, hurdles may still lie ahead, not least when it comes to hiring strategies. “I think recruitment of quality staff will continue to have its challenges due to labour shortages,” she says, “and with the Covid-19 pandemic seeming to have had a long-lasting effect on jobseekers’ needs and priorities.”

And her overarching outlook is decidedly positive. “I feel strongly that if you have done your due diligence on the brand, believe in the business model and know you have the ability to follow it and be willing to give 100% commitment, you should then have confidence in the business ultimately being a success,” she says.

What, in that case, are the three most important qualities a franchise must possess?

First of all, says Anita, a business must have proven itself to be successful and profitable. It needs “an established base that can provide sufficient margins to ensure that both they and the franchise owner are able to make money, while remaining competitive”.

Next on the list is having the right infrastructure and support mechanisms in place, “to ensure that their franchisees feel supported throughout their franchise journey”.

And finally? “Being adaptable to change. The pandemic especially has shown us how important this is.” 

Treated like family

Speaking of the pandemic, it’s worthwhile recounting Anita’s most noteworthy success. “The one that resonates the most with me,” she says, “was a brand who I have worked closely with since joining the team.” 

Attending the company’s conference before Covid-19 plunged the world into chaos, she saw at first-hand how its leaders treated their franchise network as family. 

“During the pandemic, they closed down their business for a month or so whilst they refined their processes and ensured all government guidelines could be followed,” she continues. 

“Banking around half of their 70-plus network, who were clearly concerned about their futures, and with the majority being in need of financial support to get them through this difficult period, we joined forces, discussed and worked through cashflow forecasts. I spoke individually to the large majority of those banking with HSBC UK to ensure the right support was put in place. 

“As a network, they have ridden the storm exceptionally well and are rightly proud of where they are today. It was lovely to have feedback from the COO – that he felt that they were my only customer during this crucial time for them, and that I and our extended team had been party to them coming out of lockdowns as well as they did.”

About the Author

David Ryan

David Ryan

Elite Business journalist David Ryan has interviewed everyone from Boris Johnson to Ryan Gosling (albeit when they were much less famous). He is the author of an acclaimed book, George Orwell on Screen, and appears on the Criterion Collection’s DVD/Blu-ray of 1984.

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