Dame Colette Bowe, Chairman of the Banking Standards Board, commenting on the winner of the Chartered Banker of the Year Award Audience Prize said:
‘Our young banker finalists have been an inspiration and have highlighted just how powerful the combination of high ethical standards, innovation and the ability to see things through the customer’s eyes can be for customer service. Many congratulations to Liam Gover, whose personal commitment to raising standards of service in the industry was clear for all to see.’
Liam kindly wrote the below piece following the conclusion of his placement with the BSB in early 2017.
What idea would you implement in your own organisation to improve outcomes for some or all of the following groups: customers, colleagues, counterparties, communities and the organisation you work for?
That was the question I tried to answer that gave me the opportunity to spend two weeks working with the Banking Standards Board.
Quite a few of my friends and family have asked me what is the Banking Standards Board, or BSB? I would then explain forgetting that not everyone communicates in TLAs. The easiest way to explain it is to think of it like Ofsted but also nothing like Ofsted.
They both exist to raise the standards of their respective industries. One has regulatory powers and publishes league tables based on short-term observations where members demonstrate their best behaviours in an agreed period, with notice. The other wields no stick, but provides the information that allows firms and industry as whole to self-regulate and improve standards from within, ensuring that best behaviours are not demonstrated as an exception but become the norm.
Some people may ask why no league tables? How do you know who is winning if you can’t compare? League tables can encourage gaming of situations and short-term results. The BSB’s goal is for long-term results and to improve the industry.
This is reflected in the astounding team they have put together. I’ve met some incredibly talented and intelligent individuals and none of them are here for individual glory and fame. They are all here with the shared purpose to work together as a team and help the BSB to restore trust in the industry.
I believe as an industry we can often get too fixated with individual performances and targets. The industry has a plethora of skilled and competent individuals with different strengths and weaknesses and we should do more to utilise these. The more we work as a team, the more we learn, and the more we learn the higher our standards will become.
I firmly believe that this approach should not just be at a firm level, we need this at an industry level. From the early alchemists sharing their knowledge to Elon Musk open sourcing Tesla’s patents, the world is a better place when we work together. Banks need to work together to share best practices and consistently evolve as an industry to ensure that we are providing the best possible experience to our customers.
So, what did I do in my two weeks with the BSB? Rather than provide a minute by minute report I will summarise some of the activities I took part in and more importantly try to articulate what I’ve learnt about the BSB and the key areas that make up this very impressive organisation.
I was fortunate enough to attend several events and each of these had the common theme of restoring trust and the part that FinTech organisations will play. I think it is obvious that technology can be harnessed to provide customers with more choice, better access and transparency. The key is not to use this technology for cost cutting and a complete removal of the human touch. We need to get closer to our customers to better understand their needs, not set ourselves further apart.
My peers here at the BSB were not as fortunate as me to watch and listen to a number of fantastic presenters – with a special mention to David Maddan, whose talk on culture and delegation perfectly highlighted how important culture is in all industries and the part leaders have to play in implementing it. They had to spend an hour listening to myself. When told I would be presenting for an hour over a ‘lunch and learn’ session it didn’t feel like this was part of a prize! The presentation was a chance to explain to the BSB team BSB a little about myself, my career and my idea that earned me the two-week placement.
I think more firms should use the lunch and learn approach for initiating new staff into teams as it allowed my colleagues hopefully to understand a bit more about me, but also led me to reflect on my past experiences and how they’ve shaped me. I believe the part-time jobs I had as a waiter, barman and chef while studying shaped me for a career in banking.
My approach is still very similar – to try to meet customers’ needs and add some extra value and go the extra mile when possible. You definitely don’t tell them they can’t access the full menu, or try to sell only fillet steaks either, as one bank tried to do when I was setting up my student bank account.
Another project I was involved in during my time at the BSB was looking at consumer outcomes, especially in relation to SMEs. Clarity and transparency – these were the key words that kept coming up. Customers want products and services to be simple to understand and priced in a simple and straightforward format. Several banks are investing in this area making T&Cs easier to understand (eliminating the need for PhD often needed to understand them) and improving the delivery channel and approach.
We also looked at the competitiveness of the industry and the numbers of customers who switch – or rather who don’t. Due to a perception that ‘all banks are the same’ and ‘the process is too complicated and cumbersome’. Customers need to be able easily to compare different banks and their products so that they can ensure not only are they getting the best value but also the product that best meets their needs.
The above work led us on to thinking about the changing landscape of banking and where the role of Relationship Manager fits in. This drove two key questions for me.
- Would customers prefer to pay for an appointed face-to-face Relationship Manager or a free service that feeds them into a call centre? I can personally see merits in both and it goes back to ensuring that customers not only get the best value, but the product or platform that best meets their needs.
- How can banks add value? Obviously, there are bank products that are designed to help customers to grow and that support them on their particular journey. But we wanted to know more about added value in regards to education. Are there customers who now have a better understanding of applying for finance and the factors considered when evaluating a lending application? There’s nothing worse than applying for a job and then getting an automated rejection. I want to know what I need to do to ensure I’m successful in the future and as an industry we should provide our customers with the knowledge to ensure they will be successful in the future.
Other BSB work areas
Professionalism was one of the most interesting areas I got involved with at the BSB as I’m a huge advocate of professional qualifications in banking, but the BSB’s recent Annual Review suggests most staff believe themselves and their peers have the competencies to perform their job. So, if people have the skills, is it the decision making that needs looking at? Can exams improve things or is professionalism, or lack of it, more of a reflection of a firm’s culture? I believe both have a part to play and exams need not focus only on financial analysis competencies. Ethics and professionalism are equally important.
Certification Regime and the assessment of fitness and propriety. This was one of the BSB’s work areas that was less familiar to me. If a firm has the correct culture and level of professionalism it also needs to know that its staff are ‘fit and proper’ especially those in ‘significant harm functions’. Not all problems can be blamed on the company and individuals do need to take responsibility sometimes. It makes perfect sense for firms to ensure that their key people not only understand what is expected of them, but that they meet these standards on a day-to-day basis.
The Assessment team reinforced the message to me that the BSB is not here to act as a regulator, but exists to challenge and support the industry. This is reflected in the fact the BSB assessment framework is not predicated on what a good culture should look like. Instead it defines nine characteristics that you would expect to be associated with any good culture in a bank or building society that is focused on serving the needs of its customers, staff and broader society.
Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to look at the data, as I have several prejudgments and stereotypes in my head that I wanted to test in regards to certain companies and divisions. Don’t ever play poker against anyone at the BSB as their faces give nothing away!
If you have a few spare minutes I highly recommend visiting the BSB website and having a look at the blogs in the News section where there are some incredible blogs pieces that make you think about how important this industry is and how we all have a part to play in it.
Have you checked out the ever-growing membership list? If not, you should. As it shows how wide and diverse todays banking sector is and it also highlights how many companies want to help and improve the industry. If I was employed by a company in this sector that wasn’t a member I would ask what their reason is for not working with the BSB.
I wanted to end by saying thank you to everyone at the BSB for making me feel so welcome and how excited I am to be part of an industry that will use the information the BSB provides to raise standards and trustworthiness in the banking sector.