The first thing that strikes you about Giles Cross, recently appointed CMO at award-winning Peer-2-Peer lending platform FOLK2FOLK, is that he’s a man in a hurry. He’s just 3 months into the job.
‘Welcome to Cirencester’, I say politely when we meet at top Cirencester restaurant Made by Bob. ‘I live here!’ he abruptly responds. ‘I’ve got precisely one hour before my next meeting, so how can I help you?’.
We order small plates of charcuterie and thinly sliced pork with chicory. Giles favours water while I patriotically avail myself of the local craft beer, ‘Corinium Gold’, as it pairs excellently with charcuterie. Penny Dean, FOLK2FOLK’s Tewkesbury-based Manager, follows progress attentively.
Folkonomics: cutting to the chase
Our discussion gets off to a better start once we cut to the chase.
‘I want to set up a national network of local investors, those keen to become FOLK2FOLK Lenders to support the growth aspirations of local, rural and entrepreneurial businesses – the kind of businesses that knit the fabric of our society together. It’s essential for our post-Brexit success’, Giles says.
Then he adds: ‘I want everybody to understand the importance of Folkonomics’. Just what do you see ‘Folkonomics’ involving, I ask politely.
‘Folkonomics is all about people and their interaction. In becoming FOLK2FOLK Lenders, our investors support local business growth, create jobs and help build financially and socially successful communities. They get a great return on the investment, which is always secured against land or property, and they make a huge social impact. It’s ‘trickledown-economics’ working at a local level. And to be successful we need to attract more local investors.’
Attracting local investors key to success
Will this be a metric for success? I ask. It is. Penny, who has primarily been working with prospective borrowers, nods encouragingly.
‘We’ll be holding more Investor seminars to spread the word. At a 6½ % return, it’s an attractive proposition’. I agree with him, speechless in the middle of my very hot and spicy charcuterie, gesticulating to prompt him forward.
‘Local, rural and SME businesses are vital to the UK’s longterm success’, Giles pronounces. ‘And we exist to engage our Lenders with them, helping them access the finance they need to fund their business goals. Access to finance is a huge business driver.’
He leans forward intently. ‘Creating stakeholder value, not shareholder value, is the way forward’. Community focus is not something financial services providers are traditionally renowned for, I carefully observe.
‘CSR, corporate social responsibility, is in danger of becoming something that businesses simply pay lip service to, focusing more on occasional charity participation rather than invoking positive social change. Our success depends on how we address issues of social deprivation and need as well as making money’.
I say that without doing this, we don’t have a society. It’s certainly a new model and way of thinking. This comment goes down well.
Growing fast – but not too fast
‘We want to grow, but not too fast’, Giles firmly states. ‘We want to create a movement for local lending, something very new, and that requires balance’.
I suggest that Cotswold Taste is an organisation FOLK2FOLK can do business with – our wider values chime with what he has just outlined, and they have chosen to join Cotswold Taste as a business partner. I say that we can potentially effect introductions which will assist him in his mission.
And with that, after briefly agreeing to meet again, he’s off, and I am left to discuss the rapid-fire interview with Penny. ‘Giles certainly has plenty on his plate’, she says. ‘He has managed to get an overview in 8 weeks, and now he wants to see something happen’.
Giles, ex-Head of Marketing at Sanlam UK, part of global wealth management group Sanlam Ltd, is renowned for ‘doing magic’, and as his cv helpfully points out, he is ‘renowned for achieving what others think impossible’.
If he succeeds in creating his objective, a national community of local lenders and borrowers, he will have done just that.