BUSINESSES have a huge amount on their plate with the pandemic and Brexit, so climate change may not be at the top of their priority list, the chief executive of NatWest has told the Daily Echo.

Alison Rose was taking part in a Zoom call with regional journalists from around the country to outline the bank’s green agenda, how it plans to tackle climate change and what a greener economy can deliver in terms of growth and prosperity.

She also said NatWest was “very firmly committed” to regional development and growth in the south west. “I think the opportunity to build back better is absolutely right and it is the chance to really support economic growth in the regions,” she said.

“The green economy gives us that opportunity to create new jobs and it’s a real chance to level up.”

Responding to a question from the Echo on the huge challenges facing many businesses from the pandemic and Brexit, she said: “These are very significant challenges and we are 100 per cent focussed on helping people through Covid and hopefully preparing for the economy re-opening and getting them the support they need.

“We are mindful that what’s on the agenda of small businesses and SMEs is huge – for a lot of companies it’s a question of whether they survive or don’t survive, for some it is an existential crisis, we recognise that. We also recognise that with Brexit they are dealing with new export regulations and challenges of red tape, delays and supply chain issues. We are very much into what is the practical help we can provide.

“Having said that, when we survey businesses as well, they say they recognise climate and sustainability is a really, really, important part of what they need to do in terms of their agenda, but they often ask, how do we do that?

“So again, my focus is trying to be very practical and saying how can we develop tools to help you do it, rather than you trying to figure it out yourself? We are really listening to our customers on this.”

For regional economies, she said some of the keys were partnership working, recognising the mix of businesses and putting the bank’s specialists on the ground.

“For me the regional model is so important because the economies are so different. Financial education capability, enterprise and climate are the three pillars we are focused on because we think they are the fundamental elements on a local level,” she said.

Ms Rose started her career as a graduate trainee with National Westminster Bank in 1992 In November 2018, she became deputy chief executive of NatWest Holdings and was appointed chief executive of the NatWest Group in 2020.

Last week, it was announced NatWest Group is to join forces with Microsoft to support businesses in cutting their carbon emissions using data.

Ms Rose said: “Tackling climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our time. As the leading bank in the UK for businesses, we have a significant responsibility, and the ability, to encourage, enable and to lead the way in the UK to transition to a net zero carbon economy.

“Cross-industry collaboration and powerful partnerships will help to accelerate the speed of the transition, and I am very pleased we are working with Microsoft to help Britain’s businesses to understand and tackle their carbon footprints.”

One eye-catching pledge is that the bank will stop lending and underwriting major oil and gas producers, unless they have a credible transition plan in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement by the end of 2021.

It has developed ways to assess the credibility of transition plans of customers in oil, gas and coal and have already reduced lending in those sectors.

NatWest Group is one of principal partners of the COP26 climate summit later this year.