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Walking the talk

Rick Borges, Head of Assessment

This article originally features on the City of London, Responsible City blog

In our everyday lives we are guided by our personal values and beliefs. We use these both directly and subconsciously as a compass, to inform the way in which we behave. In our social circles we seek to establish trust and behave in a way to ensure we are deserving of trust. With an increased focus on culture and conduct in the workplace, the relationship between the way in which we live the values of the organisations we work for and the trust we instil in our customers, clients and colleagues is becoming more apparent.

In 2017, the Banking Standards Board (BSB) conducted the largest ever survey of behaviour, competence and culture in UK banking. More than 36,000 employees from 25 banks and building societies completed the Survey and a further 750 people participated in detailed focus groups. One of the key themes that emerged from our Assessment was that people are more likely to believe that their organisation lives its values if they observe their leaders doing the same, and where they see their firm acting in the interests of its customers or clients. Seemingly, it is what senior leaders do, and not just what they say, that makes a difference. In areas where employees observed close alignment between values and business practices, they said that their leaders not only spoke about their firms’s values, but did so without cynicism and that their day-to-day actions were guided by these values. They noted that their leaders’ communications were consistent, practical and relatable, and that they demonstrated a genuine desire to listen and respond to feedback. They also felt that their firm’s values were reflected in the products offered to customers. In contrast, in areas of greater perceived conflict, people said that their leaders did not clearly explain decisions or how they fitted with the firm’s overall strategy, and felt that the need to reduce costs or maximise short-term profits was prioritised over achieving good customer outcomes.¹

Leaders ‘walking the talk’ is fundamental; it is not only about what they say, but also – and perhaps even more importantly – what they do. To improve the trustworthiness of the UK’s financial and professional services sector and create a lasting legacy of better business trusted by society, the leaders of today and tomorrow must mean and live what they say.

“The focus of the Banking Standards Board’s work is on trustworthiness: not on whether trust is given, but on whether it is deserved. One of the main messages emerging from the BSB’s most recent work is the clear importance of leading by example. When it comes to the alignment between a firm’s stated values and the way that its own employees see the firm doing business, it is not what leaders in the organsiation say that makes a difference, but how they are seen to behave.” – Dame Colette Bowe, Chairman, Banking Standards Board.

 

¹ https://www.bankingstandardsboard.org.uk/annual-review-2017-2018/assessment-findings/theme1

70% of employees believed in 2017 that senior leaders in their organisation meant what they said, compared with 62% in 2016 – Question 1 of the BSB Employee survey; 65% thought that senior leaders took responsibility, especially when things went wrong, compared with 58% in 2016 – Question 16; and 69% saw no conflict between their firm’s values and the way that business was done, compared with 64% in 2016. The 11% that did see such a conflict was down from 14% the previous year – Question 36. Survey Question 1, ‘I believe senior leaders in my organisation mean what they say’ has the second highest correlation of any question with Question 36, ‘There is no conflict between my organisation’s values and how we do business’.

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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