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I’m proud of the transformation by RBS CEO Ross McEwan

This article is being published from the BSB by a guest writer, RBS CEO Ross McEwan. 

When I became CEO of RBS in October 2013 there was intense public, media and regulatory scrutiny of not only our bank, but the wider financial services sector. Banks had lost their way and forgotten their purpose – to serve customers. Unsurprisingly, Public trust in the industry was at an all-time low.

The culture had to change.

In that same year, recognising that the status quo was not sustainable, the major banks agreed to work together to tackle the problems in our industry and improve standards. But before setting out on that journey, we had to take stock of where we currently stood.

The idea of putting in place a consistent and independent way of measuring culture and behaviour in the industry was debated. I must admit that initially I was sceptical.

The banks each had a wealth of data and my view was that another tier of measurement could simply result in duplication and added bureaucracy. However, I can see now that I was wrong about that. To re-gain public trust it wasn’t enough just to say, ‘we promise to do better, we’ll monitor ourselves and let you know how we’re doing’. This was about taking collective responsibility and holding each other to account.

Establishing an independent organisation (the BSB) that wouldn’t shy away from providing a warts-and-all view of the banks, to the outside world, was the right thing to do. I am delighted RBS signed up as a founding member and was involved in the shaping of the assessment from the outset.

What the BSB has given us, which is incredibly useful, is a richness and outward view – the ability to see our positioning relative to the industry and a sense of perspective and context as to the challenges the industry is facing.

The bank holds the BSB survey findings in high regard, and they complement our own employee opinion survey findings – together providing a good assessment of our culture and our progress every year.

RBS is a very different organisation now than five or six years ago – simpler, safer, stronger, with a customer-first culture in every part of the business.

In 2014 we had 109,000 employees and operated in 38 countries – by 2018, this was 67,000 employees and 12 countries. In the same period our UK based revenue increased from 80% to 92% and we reduced our total assets by £356bn. We’re also supporting customers better (and starting to see customer satisfaction scores head in the right direction), have improved resilience and are delivering for shareholders.

I’m tremendously proud of the transformation we have achieved, particularly in the bank’s culture. Our people feel much better about working for RBS and our industry than they have at any time over the past 15 years. Engagement levels in the bank have improved to their highest levels since we started measuring them back in 2002, despite the significant changes made across the business.

It has not been an easy journey, but we have achieved what we set out to and I’d point to five things I believe have been key to our successful transformation:

1. Great leaders, developed through a robust and consistent leadership programme, who supported our people throughout.

2. A consistent strategy and set of objectives that provided a framework for the whole organisation.

3. Clarity around the behaviours we expected of our people.

4. Excellent development opportunities – to help colleagues develop the skills to succeed in their role.

5. Open and honest communication – perhaps the single most important factor in our people being positive and supportive of the changes we were making.

After 6 challenging, but remarkable years at RBS, I’ll soon being handing over the reins to my successor, Alison Rose. As I look ahead to my next role as CEO of National Australia Bank in Melbourne, I see a number of the same challenges we’ve been navigating in the UK.

I’m sure I will have plenty of opportunity to put the lessons we have collectively learned into practice, and I hope to find my counterparts ready and willing to take collective action, as we have done here, to improve.