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Blog series – Gillian Guy

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…

In recent years there has been a lot of talk about how to rebuild trust in the banking industry. That this discussion is going on is a good thing. But there comes a point where there has been enough talk. There’s a risk that we keep agreeing with each other about how important it is to do something, while customers continue to struggle with a service that doesn’t give them a fair deal.

Last year Citizens Advice helped 2.7 million people face to face, over the phone and through webchat, on a whole range of issues. Over 350,0000 of our clients had issues with debts and financial services. And beyond that, countless numbers of the other issues we help with – from benefits and tax credits, to employment issues and consumer problems, will have involved interactions with financial services.

Day in, day out, we see the impact of banks’ behaviour on our clients’ lives. And we see the corrosion of trust with every failure – when the phones are busy, and branch staff ill informed; when services are difficult to navigate, and the small print impossible to understand; when customers are directed to products that aren’t right for them, and not signposted to the ones they need.

It is very welcome that the industry has taken the first steps to engage more closely with their customers. To better understand the complexity of vulnerability. To develop strategies for changing culture and building trust. But more needs to be done if we are to reduce the number of people coming to Citizens Advice who have been let down by poor service, mis-selling or bad practice in the financial services sector.

That isn’t something that can be put right with a vulnerability strategy or the launch of a new inclusive product. The industry will fail to win back the support of the public if it only adds these things around the edges. We need a wholesale change of mind and change of heart. This is why I welcome – and am pleased to play a part in – the BSB’s work to develop a better understanding of the culture of banking. To identify the areas where deep-rooted attitudes and behaviours are detrimental to the interests of customers.

My challenge to the banking industry is to make sure your actions speak as loud as your words – at all levels of your business. Customers will only feel the difference when changes in culture, conduct and ethics are displayed as proudly on the front line – whether that’s a branch, a call centre or online – as in carefully drafted strategy documents. When that has been achieved, we can start talking about banks being worthy of trust.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive, Citizens Advice