Spanish bank Santander has unveiled plans to launch an investment fund worth up to £40m to help north west small businesses.
The institution will work with regional universities and newly-formed Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to identify firms with strong growth potential and offer them an alternative to traditional income streams.
Santander, which is currently in the process of acquiring more than 100 Royal Bank of Scotland high street branches across the region, has set aside £200m nationally over the next three years to the cash pot.
It will be divided between the regions, with individual fund managers for each area. The amount set to be allocated to the north west will be between £20m and £40m.
The plans were announced by new chief executive Ana Botin, who said: "SMEs are very important to us and we are comfortably exceeding the goals and targets we agreed with the government in this area.
"The idea behind setting up this fund is being able to offer something different to small business, which is also sustainable.
"We are saying to them, if you need some equity in your businesses, which is different from debt, we can offer you that.
"Often, these businesses are told 'no' by a bank because they don't have enough equity but the entrepreneur behind the business can't get that and is not in a position to ask a private equity fund.
"The people we deal with could be customers or they could be non-customers but we believe that this is the best approach to our corporate social responsibility."
Ms Botin, 50, the eldest daughter of the Santander's global chairman Emilio, was parachuted into the top job in the UK after predecessor António Horta-Osório's defected to Lloyds Banking Group four months ago.
Across the UK, the bank is taking over 318 RBS sites. It will employ 5,000 more people in the north west as a result of the move.
On top of branch staff, it employs around 120 people in its Manchester corporate banking centre, which is headed by regional director Chris Sharkey.
In 2010, it increased the number of business loans it issued by 28 per cent, with an acceptance rate of more than 75%. That represented new facilities worth £316m.
Lending to SME's rose by 26 per cent last year. The precise mechanics of how the bank's investment fund will be structured, and the ways in which the bank will work with universities and LEPs, are being finalised, with more detailed announcements due later in the year.
It is targeting firms with a turnover of between £1m to £5m. Speaking to the MEN's sister publication Greater Manchester Businesses Week, Ms Botin said improve the customer service record of Santander is another key priority.
She added: "At the moment, we are basically offering the same service to all of our customers but if we want to be the best at customer service, we need to differentiate between what they need.
"Our aim it to provide the best possible service and we know we are not there in terms of the retail side of things but we are doing better on the commercial side."