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Sunday, 14th April 2024
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Bringing enterprise to banking Back  
Vincent Fennelly, head of enterprise finance within Bank of Ireland’s Specialist Business Bank, keeps an eye out for opportunities in the venture capital market.
6.45 Time to rise and shine.

7.30 I hate time wasted in traffic, so I choose to commute by train whenever possible. Leaving Malahide at 7.30 I listen to Morning Ireland on the FM radio on my phone, then it’s a brisk walk from Grand Canal railway station to our offices in Percy Place.

8.30 I use the first half hour, when it’s available, to set tthings up for the rest of the day. Overnight I’ve been thinking about two particular situations. One is an equity deal and I email a colleague to suggest a couple of people she could usefully talk to about it. The other is trickier and I set up a meeting for tomorrow.

9.00 Today’s round of meetings starts with our internal Venture Capital Board. This is an area in which we’ve become increasingly active and part of today’s agenda is a review of how four investments made in the past 12 months are faring. Brendan Vaughan, head of Bank of Ireland Venture Capital, tells me all is looking good. I’m relieved to hear it, because some of the companies in which we have invested are in troubled sectors.

Also on today’s agenda are five new potential investments. We will not progress all of them, at least not at this stage, but we decide on three to bring to the next more detailed appraisal stage. Finally we look at one which has already been fully investigated and which has been brought to board for approval.

We spend the final 10 minutes reviewing the general climate for venture capital and what we see on the horizon. We know that there are still many good people with good ideas out there in both start up and development phases.

Obviously the challenge for us is to identify ones we feel have the best potential and that is every bit as much about our confidence in the people as it is the particular business proposition. In many respects the current climate is actually more conducive to sound decision-making - not just for investors but for promoters too.

10.00 Time to meet Jackie Regazzoli. She heads up our Accounting Services Department, which provides risk management services to our entire Business Banking network. As well as getting a general update on cases in hand, we discuss one in detail.

It is quite a complex equity/debt package, which means that Jackie’s team has to run a full assessment, covering everything from the corporate strategy, financial structure and management capability down to the nitty gritty of current trading performance. Bottom line, do we believe they can and will meet their impressive projected figures? More good news: Jackie tells me we do!

We also discuss a customer experiencing financial difficulty. Partly because of rapid expansion, it has run into cash flow difficulties. It is not the end of the world, but it needs to be addressed. Jackie tells me her team has already had detailed discussions with the company’s management, helped it to focus on the key issues and to implement corrective measures which should restore it to sounder financial health.

The company is by no means unique. We see a tightening of liquidity and higher costs as key challenges for Irish companies in this slowing economic climate. Companies which remember that ‘cash is king’ are the ones likely to do best in the next year or so.

10.35 Into a taxi with Andrew Graham, a manager in our Leveraged Finance Unit, and off to Finglas for an 11.00 meeting with Brian Nangle at MIL, the company formerly known as Munekata. We funded their MBO and this is an opportunity to hear about their expansion plans so that we can put our own thinking caps on about how we can help to realise them. The meeting goes well and on the way back Andrew and I discuss one or two options we think merit spending some time exploring.

12.20 Back at base and an all to infrequent window of opportunity to catch up with emails, phone calls and other messages. Nothing here to to put my blood pressure up. There are, however, some personal messages, including confirmation from a friend about a game of golf at the weekend.

12.40 Like most bankers I know, I find lunch is a good opportunity to keep in touch with people. Getting out there and listening is an important part of the job and I’m a firm believer in the saying. ‘it was no accident that God gave us two ears and one mouth’.

Today I lunch with Frank Kenny, managing partner of Delta Partners. It is Ireland’s third largest VC fund and we are its largest investor. I have a lot of time for Frank, he has a thorough understanding of the marketplace and an enthusiasm for ‘doing the deal’ which is positively infectious.

2.20 My next meeting is with Michael Gannon, who heads up our SME Support Unit and Dermot Nolan our business banking head of marketing.

It’s to discuss plans for new marketing initiatives in connection with the German Bank, Kredietanstalt fur Wiederaufbau (KfW). Earlier this year we drew down a •300m tranche of funding from KfW specifically for financing SME requirements - a critically important sector to BOI. Like us, KfW are SME specialists and our unashamed aim is to learn anything and everything from them to help us to refine our offering to our customers.

Indeed, this is one aspect of our business offering that we have put considerable time and effort into. We’ve developed a team of specialists in our Enterprise Support Unit and their impact in the start up business area in particular is bearing fruit.

3.30 My weekly meeting with Derek McDermott, who heads up our Leveraged Finance and Technology section. We start by looking at highly leveraged transactions, some of which I am directly involved in anyway. As a manager, I think it is important to keep in touch with what is happening at the coalface, to keep a ‘finger on the pulse’, as it were.

Derek’s team is extremely busy - but it is a strand of our business that comes in waves, so it tends to be either a feast or a famine for us. We fund MBOs and acquisitions of anywhere between •1 million and •40 million and, like VC, this is an area in which have deliberately strengthened our expertise. Right now we seem to be winning many more deals than we lose - long may it continue.

Our discussion today focuses on a complex •12.5m cashflow lending deal - the lack of any tangible security tends to focus the minds of most bankers! We consider a number of options, trying to identify ways which will meet both the client’s needs and our own, and agree a way forward.

4.40 Another short window to keep track of who has been looking for me, and a chance to ring my wife Erin. I mention the golf and she mentions my other commitments at the weekend to Ben and Sarah - having young teenagers brings serious chauffeuring responsibilities!

4.55 I leave the office headed for Limerick - and straight into Dublin rush hour traffic. Thankfully I’m not doing the driving.

8.05 We do well and check into Jurys in Limerick with just enough time to freshen up before dinner with Liam Woulfe of Grassland Fertilizers. We helped Liam and his colleagues complete an MBI of Grassland last year and this is a timely base touching exercise. The company is entering its busy time of the year and we discuss how things are going, particularly in terms of working capital.

11.30 It has been a useful and enjoyable evening and now it’s time to hit the bed. Not all working days are this long, of course, but somehow they do always seem to be this busy!

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