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Building mutual trust in society

In advance of our event at the Bank of England on 21 March 2017, we asked interested parties to write on the theme: Worthy of trust? Law, ethics and culture in banking…

I have worked in the mutual financial services sector for all of my working life. Specifically, this career spanning some 37 years has been spent with UK building societies, who are often collectively cited as being the paragons of mutual financial services.

During my time in which I started as a graduate management trainee, continued through various departments and leadership roles in the UK’s largest building society, and now to leading the smallest building society, I have been struck by the high level of trust and loyalty which are so evident between providers and the members who are the recipients of our products and services. This has often made me seek to understand why that should be so.

The legal definition of a mutual, that it is owned and run for the benefit of its members rather than a separate group of shareholders who seek to derive a profit, is often given as the reason that mutuals gain so much trust from their member customers. Perhaps this ownership model is the main reason for that built-up trust. However, in survey after survey, it is also clear that members do not really understand the difference between shareholder-owned businesses and mutuals.

Perhaps then the answer to the question of trust lies in the people that are drawn to working for us. Building societies grew out of people’s desire to own their own homes and were local or community focused. The community pooled their savings and these savings were lent out in mortgages to borrowers to build or buy their own homes. The needs of savers and borrowers have diverged over time but the sense of community and looking after your own is very much still alive. I often remind my team that they are not engaged in ‘making widgets’. Instead, they are deeply entwined in the lives of the people they serve. Savings, homes, family and family protection – it doesn’t get much closer to life than that. It is clear then that the ownership structure and the desire of our people to help their fellow human beings in their communities promotes a culture of trust and great behaviour. This can be fostered and spread and the role of leadership in this process is incredibly important. A recent Banking Standards Board (BSB) staff culture survey in which our organisation took part saw us achieving the highest ratings for employee understanding and engagement with our corporate vision and values.

Being a member of the BSB gives me the opportunity to spread best practice as well as to learn from others. Regulation can go so far in promoting good ethics and culture in banking, but this is not enough to build a trust culture. Developing and engendering trust and values takes a very long time, but this can so easily be destroyed and so we must cherish and celebrate what mutual building societies have built up over nearly two centuries.

Amyn Fazal, Chief Executive, Penrith Building Society

Senior Managers and Certification Regime

Exploring how the SMCR - and especially Certification - can be implemented in the most effective way across the sector.

The Senior Managers and Certification Regime is a major regulatory change that will affect all banks and building societies. Responding to recommendations by the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, the government and regulators have together developed a comprehensive framework to ensure better accountability and responsibility for behaviour, competence and culture in banks and building societies. The new framework provides an opportunity for the industry to focus on and demonstrate a culture of professionalism. We are working with firms and regulators to facilitate this, including areas where a common approach across firms could support both the objectives of the regime and the skills and development of the people covered by it.

Professionalism

Evaluating whether a more 'professional' approach to banking would improve behaviour and competence across the industry.

The Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards found that 'banking culture has all too often been characterised by an absence of any sense of collective responsibility to uphold the reputation of the industry', and argued that a greater focus on professionalism could be an answer to this. Working with a leading team at the University of Leeds, we are researching the issues around professionalism in banking. In particular, we are reviewing how professional qualifications are currently used across the sector, and at whether a stronger role for professional bodies, along the lines seen in some other sectors, like medicine or law, would help raise standards. To inform this work and develop a rounded picture of 'professionalism' and what it means in banking, we are surveying banks and building societies, professional bodies and a wide range of other interested groups, including consumer bodies and investors.

Assessments

Providing an honest and impartial assessment to Boards of progress against objectives on behaviour, competence and culture.

The BSB assessment exercise presents Boards with an objective and impartial view of their firm's culture, identifying where things are working well and recommending areas for improvement. It draws on information not only from Boards and senior teams, but also from employees, investors (or members), trade unions, customer groups and other relevant bodies. In doing so, it will provide constructive challenge to each firm individually, while building a collective understanding of common issues across the industry, or sectors within it. We undertook our first annual assessment exercise in 2015 with ten firms (Barclays, Citi, HSBC Bank, Lloyds Banking Group, Metro Bank, Morgan Stanley International, Nationwide, RBS, Santander UK and Standard Chartered). The BSB itself will not publish individual assessment reports - each firm owns its own report - but key themes and messages will be set out in the BSB's annual report, the first of which will be published in Spring 2016. Given that Board engagement is central to the assessment work, only firms that have their headquarters in the UK are eligible for the full assessment exercise. All firms, including branches of firms headquartered overseas, will however be included in a focused membership-wide survey, which will allow each participating firm to benchmark itself against its peer group.

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HAS YOUR BANK FAILED TO RESPOND ADEQUATELY TO A COMPLAINT?

If your bank/building society has not responded adequately, or in time, to a complaint that you have already made, you can register your complaint with the Financial Ombudsman Service. Which offers a guide on consumer rights when taking a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

ARE YOU SEEKING GUIDANCE ON YOUR FINANCIAL AFFAIRS?

If you have a problem or query relating to your financial affairs, or are seeking personal finance advice or guidance, there is free, impartial information available from the following organisations:

ARE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT ACTIVITIES CONDUCTED IN YOUR INDUSTRY?

If you work in the financial services industry and are concerned about any activities conducted by your employer or any other firm or individual, you may find the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority's guidelines on whistleblowing helpful. It explains what constitutes whistleblowing, and what procedures are in place to respond to blow the whistle and how your anonymity would be protected. Public Concern at Work, the whistleblowing charity, also offers support and advice to individuals and employers about how to report concerns and how to establish whistleblowing frameworks.

ARE YOU SEEKING AN INDEPENDENT FINANCIAL ADVISER?

If you are seeking the services of an independent financial adviser, Unbiased may be able to help, or if you are looking for more general financial guidance, the Money Advice Service may be a useful place to start.