Speech from the Financial Services Forum Annual Dinner 2017

I was honoured to be asked to give the keynote speech at the Financial Services Forum Annual Dinner at the Guildhall in November.

My theme was innovation, disruption and trust building.

You can find the text of the speech following:

Thank you David, for your kind introduction and to the Forum for inviting me to speak here tonight.

The Financial Services Forum has always held a place in my heart since I remember joining in the early years of my career whilst at Deutsche Bank and, of course, I was humbled to win the Marketer of the Year Award in 2008.

I remember being very nervous that night and thinking that I would never win. The chat on my table was excited especially when one of the team came back from a loo break and said that they had overheard someone saying that they had voted for me! Then another person came back from a quick ciggie and she said that she too had found people who had voted for me. So my advice is if you are up for an award tonight, and want to know your chances then I’d hangout in the loo or go for a fag!

Anyone nominated for an award tonight – I wish you the very best of luck.

Tonight I earn my dinner by taking a few minutes of your time to talk about technology and financial services. Finance has been an early adopter of new technology – from the abacus to the mainframe computer and as an industry it has always been critical to our economy. We are blessed that the UK consumer is very open to trying new things. ClearScore, my company, has taken an approach to empowering people with their credit data and we have seen fast adoption, now our product is used by nearly 5.4m users in the UK and 250,000 in South Africa. We have delivered our fair share of disruption. But as I have built my career and operated in our industry I ask myself the question:

What are financial services really for?

Obviously at some level it’s about capital. Looking after money and assets, growing them, making them flow, managing risk. But I also think that at a very deep level, especially in the capitalist democracies in which we live and that are so under fire at the moment, finance is about managing and growing a very different form of capital and that’s social capital or to put it another way trust. In the delicate eco-system that is our economy and our industry, especially in the UK and Europe, trust is in danger of continuing to diminish.

This year’s Edelman Trust Barometer survey showed that still less than half of people trusted our industry. Financial services are the least trusted of all the business sectors and that is as true today as it was in 2007 before the financial crisis. You’ll be pleased to hear that in another survey from 2015 58% of people said all of us working in financial services were at best unprofessional and at worst dishonest.

The good news is it’s not just us. Almost every profession from politician, to journalist, to doctor, have seen decreases in trust over the past 20 years. The media is no longer respected, replaced with news of the royal wedding and Trump’s constant tweeting.

This collapse in trust is very significantly problematic for our economy. Every economy that has thrived has had embedded within it a complex mesh of bonds of trust that help to lower transaction costs. Whether it is the stock markets in the UK or US, or chaebol based families in South Korea, or the local SME business groups that are prevalent across Germany, all of these myriad structures help to make capital flow by creating trust between people.

Almost all change in financial services requires our system to work together at very many levels. We need to operate in an environment where the consumer, the regulator and the industry trusts each other. Now, of course, this mustn’t be blind trust but it also must assume a baseline of trustworthiness otherwise the barriers that we put up to working together, and winning the trust of the consumer, will become insurmountable.

Technology can help build both financial and social capital and it can do it fast. Look no further than Bitcoin. Just this week this new currency broke the $10,000 mark for the first time. The learnings from Bitcoin are numerous. The technology is opensource and transparent. The currency solves several major transaction issues for users in major industries. The system relies on multiple entities working together, competing to create coins but collaborating to innovate around use cases. I’m sure there will be lots of debate over your main course about the outlook for cryptocurrencies but what opensource distributed ledger technology has been able to do is build significant amounts of trust in a very short amount of time and captured increasing amounts of financial capital.

In the UK, for many reasons from Brexit to increasing inequality, I believe we are at a turning point for our economy. Historically we have enjoyed a particularly strong base of trust. From social norms, to our class structure and enduring entities from the Bank of England, to our courts, to the local pub, that have served us very well. And banking has contributed significantly to this system.

The profession of banker was always traditionally seen as solid and dependable. Banks were full of people who were part of our communities, working from buildings on every high street, who were known and were trustworthy and trusted. Products and decisions were simpler, and more transparent.

This reputation for trust across financial services didn’t happen by accident – it was hard won over centuries. We gather here today in the Guildhall at the heart of the City of London Corporation. The corporation is the oldest continuous democratic commune in the world – having existed for over 2000 years. From the Roman’s, to William the Conqueror, to the Stuart’s, the City has survived as a bulwark for the advantages of democracy and free trade, thriving through the rule of law and lots of social ties fostered through Freemen, and Councils, Courts, Halls and organisations like the Financial Services Forum, and of course, the very many bars and pubs that we enjoy to this very day.

But despite this history, our reputation has severely compromised. However, I strongly believe that we can use our collective will, our capital, our ingenuity and technology to redress the balance.

Today the Prime Minister, the Newspaper editor, the CEO are rarely very trusted. Much of the collapse in our reputation is connected with this lack of trust in authority. These authority figures have been replaced by “people like me”. Witness the power of TrustPilot or Glassdoor.

Technology can help bridge the divide between all of us and our customers. The social web, chatbots, artificial intelligence and machine learning fused with real conversations facilitated through video for example allow cost-efficient interactions with a more human feel. Experiences like Cleo which uses AI to chats to me on Facebook about my money every morning, or ClearScore’s financial education chatbots used by more than a million people – these interactions are involving, warm and funny. This can help bring back the human whilst leveraging the efficiency and convenience of a technology enabled bank in your pocket which has often removed human warmth and connection from financial services.

There is no doubt that much of our mind space whether we work for established institutions or small start-ups is dominated by the idea of disruption and disrupters. At one level this is a good thing. The regulator wants more competition, there are still very many under-served consumers, large institutions struggle with new technology, data is opening up all the time, and in many cases markets needs to be made more efficient.

But at another level disruption seem oppositional and aggressive – it creates tension – thoughts of the winners and the losers – it creates sides. And whilst we need to compete fiercely in the market for the good of the customer, dedicating ourselves to delivering better services, at lower cost, more efficiently. We also, if we are to re-establish trust in our industry and rebuild our collective reputation, need to actively support each other and collaborate more.

When I see disrupters attacking banks for over-charging on a foreign exchange transaction, or scandal after scandal from the investment banks, or the government using the regulator through PPI to redistribute money back into an ailing economy, or major financial institutions being reluctant to embrace open banking I wonder whether we are not putting short term commercial gain above longer-term maintenance of the trust that is fundamental to our success. We may win the individual battles, but lose the collective war.

What we create when we attack each other, either through our messaging or our business models, is a confused and untrusting consumer. That consumer is increasingly frustrated with the services with which they are being provided without any real understanding of why they feel this way. All they are left with is a vague sense that they are being ripped off by a system that they don’t understand and is full of bad people doing bad things.

Now whilst there are those in our industry who do the wrong things, most people I know who work for financial services companies are talented, committed people, like you and me, trying to do good things for our customers whilst operating in this sea of mistrust and confusion. Certainly the 160 people who work for ClearScore are some of the most committed and trustworthy people I have the pleasure to know – your teams will be the same.

So, we must continue to execute the obvious functions of our industry well – manage capital, be prudent with risk, help our customers make good financial decisions, create fair and balanced products. But our mission must be to work together to build back the social capital in our industry and our economy.

Tomorrow when we are back at our desks, as we think about our business and brand strategies, or develop our propositions, talk with colleagues and customers, or invent our next new innovation; whether we work for the largest of banks, or the smallest of start-ups, whether we are the disrupted or the disrupters we should take a moment to think back to this evening, to this wonderful room, and the history it represents.  We should dream big about the application of technology to solve real customer problems. But above all everyone of us should dedicate ourselves to continuing to win back the trust of our nation through hard work and our ingenuity collaborating to build a better, more trusted, more trustworthy financial services industry. To achieve this would be a true contribution of which we all can be rightly proud.

Thank you.


Business Vision: I was recently asked by a major corporation to prepare a talk on "Business vision" and how to create them. I told two stories one of Citigroup a massive bank and it's flawed vision and one about a much smaller clothing business Patagonia and it's inspirational leader. 

This screencast is a 20 minute version of the hour presentation buts gives you the key points of the stories. 

The key points illustrated by these compelling stories of success and failure around setting a business vision are: 

  • Business Vision requires leadership that listens and learns but can also lead from the front
  • Business Vision requires head and heart to be compelling
  • Business Vision needs to be creative but also pragmatic to be effective 

Here is a great article from inc.com about creating business vision that is well worth reading. 

What do you think of business vision?

What do you think about business and brand visions? Do they inspire you to feel great about the business you work in or run and it's business vision? Leave a comment!

If you want to see the full presentation including the videos then visit the presentation on Prezi.com.

You can also see me speaking here.

Want me to speak at your business or team event? I regularly speak about trust, business vision, brands, marketing or a wide range of topics tailored to your event – please get in touch.




This article was published first in the Financial Services Forum’s Argent Magazine – Autumn 2011.

What are Banks for, if not to feather their own nests?

If we truly want to address the trust issues in financial services, I believe we need to ask some deeper, more fundamental questions about the nature of trust and what we’re here to do, individually and collectively.


The first step, especially following the turbulence of the past few years, is to recognise how complex an entity trust is – easy to feel but difficult to understand. The brand and industry trackers show trust going up, down and sideways – there’s little consistency. In reality, while we haven’t seen people pulling their money en mass from banks or more switching from one brand to another, it feels as if the standing of financial services brands is at a low point.


To understand what’s going on means recognising the distinctive layers in the concept of trust:


Functional trust underscores how well an industry or product group works to deliver a functional benefit. Here, banking actually continues to score highly and trust levels have actually increased – even more so since the government proved it would stand behind the banks. We all trust that a bank will work to deliver core commodity functions reliably.


Affective trust is where financial services companies have a real problem. Very few people have affective trust in financial services brands and virtually no-one trusts the top bankers who serve as figureheads for our industry. They’re seen as defensive and self-serving. All the TV and newspaper advertising behind the message “We’re ordinary people working for you”, doesn’t move the needle, despite what a brand tracker might say. These messages are perceived to be superficial, actually creating more mistrust and frustration with our industry.


It’s galling for a consumer to hear these advertising messages while also hearing a CEO defend massive bonus payments or threaten to leave the country when taxes are discussed. People integrate these messages. In our hyper-connected and hyper-transparent age, consumers assess brands and business on a range of competing dimensions to get very near the truth.


The trust in business, and the banking industry especially, that people used to have and that gave a legitimacy to our commercial activities has been decreasing alarmingly in the West. Business leaders are now seen as “doing the right thing” by only 20% of the population.


And there’s now clear evidence that commanding deep trust is a hard business issue, not a soft, intangible matter to be addressed through superficial communications alone.  It’s already directly impacting balance sheets and business models – just look at the cost of compensating for this lack of trust through vastly increased capital requirements or the ring-fencing of retail operations suggested by the Vickers report. All because we as an industry are seen not to be worthy of trust.


Against that background, most “normal” people are asking: What are financial services and especially our banks here to do, if it’s not just to feather their own nests? This assumption of self-serving goes to the heart of our business – and we will continue to suffer as regulators become more aggressive, spurred on by an increasingly frustrated and angry public.


However, those brands that truly commit to both social and commercial good, that contribute to social capital through their activities and that mobilise their workforce locally and authentically to take this message out – for them, these are the most exciting of trust-building times. Authentic, real, connected trust has always been at the heart of the profitable customer-financial services relationship. That’s why it receives so much attention, and why building it continues to be the right thing to do.


Read more about creating a sustainably trusted and trustworthy business and brand in Why Should Anyone Buy From YOU? (FT-Prentice Hall) by Justin Basini. It’s Available on Amazon and in all good bookshops.


I spent a morning last week judging the Financial Services Forum Awards for Marketing Effectiveness at the offices of Metro Bank‘s first branch in Holborn.

This ambitious new player is the first new high street bank to launch in the UK for over 100 years. It is the brainchild of Anthony Thomson and Vernon Hill. Anthony brings a huge amount of experience from a career spent in advertising and communications and Vernon founded and built Commerce Bank in the US growing to over 500 retail branches. They have the pedigree to really challenge the UK market.

Here are some snaps of the offices and branch. What was great is a real sense of the challenger brand going against the lazy ways of the incumbents. The branch is open, fun and the staff were even smiling. Vernon and Anthony were “on the floor” with Vernon’s little dog following around the office.

It all looks great  but I think the thing that will make the real difference are the ways that Metro Bank is being set up. There are many advantages that completely new businesses have especially in banking. From the infrastructure:  no legacy systems to integrate with, all data on systems that can be scaled and are cutting edge; to the way that customer service staff work both on phone banking and in branch interchangeably. It’s these advantages that will make the real difference in delivering a truly better customer experience that might just get people to switch.

And from what Anthony tells me new customer numbers are exceeding all their expectations – maybe the UK customer isn’t so inert when presented with something genuinely new, different and better.

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I'm a Natwest customer of long standing, around 30 years in fact, ever since I took out my first bank account. Together with their stable mate, RBS, they have launched to much fanfare of posters and advertising their "Customer Charter – 14 commitments to make them Britain's most helpful bank". I blogged about it here.  Yesterday in a comedy of errors I spent 25 minutes in a Natwest branch in London. So let's see whether my experience and those of my fellow customers matches up to their commitments:

  • We will extend our opening hours in our busiest branches: well this branch on the Strand was busy but their closing time was 4.30pm so no change there. In fact this caused one of the situations which impacted my experience – see the friendly service point below.
  • We will aim to serve the majority of our customers within 5 minutes in our branches. I love this commitment because I can hear the meeting in my head when marketing took the Charter to the retail operations guys – you can bet the result of this meeting was the insertion of "aim" and "majority" in this commitment. Well yesterday Natwest might have taken aim but I was waiting in line for 18 minutes to pay in a cheque.
  • We will provide you with friendly, helpful, service whenever you deal with us. The teller who deposited my cheque wasn't exactly brimming with the joys of summer but he wasn't that bad. However the man next to me got a shocking service. He turned up queued his 10 or so minutes and then presented the Natwest employee sitting on the other side of the glass with piles of cash. Her response, "Why are you here so late?" whilst rolling her eyes to heaven. I thought to myself why do you close at 4.30pm when every other shop on the Strand won't close until at least 6pm? This is a classic example of bank attitude: apparently the bank was doing the customer a favour by dealing with the cash. When will banks understand they work for us, especially true in the case of Natwest/RBS, rather than the other way round?
  • We will actively seek your thoughts and suggestions on how we can become more helpful. Having depositing my cheque I thought I would seek to understand the Customer Charter a little more by asking the lady at the desk about these commitments. Perhaps she would actively seek my thoughts. So I asked "What is this customer charter all about then?" Given these commitments we might have expected her to engage enthusiastically with me about the journey the bank were on to provide helpful banking. Her response "Here's a leaflet". 
Any member of the Natwest/RBS team reading this, especially those responsible for the Customer Charter initiative, is likely fuming. Their anger will come from a sense of injustice that "this is a journey" and that the advertising is as much to their employees helping to set expectations, as it is to their customers. They will  be upset that the internal communications they so lovingly created haven't been filtered down as they would have liked. They might be frustrated that the operational leadership "don't get it". But overall it won't really matter: the data will  be made to look like service is getting better, the campaign is out there, and the initiative done. The next step on careers will have been made and if the commitments don't really make a difference then most likely the key people responsible will have moved on.

Don't get me wrong, we need better banks. We desperately need retail banks to deliver on their core function which is to take deposits, lend to businesses and individuals, do this courteously, and make a fair margin. I make the point in this presentation that the case for innovation in banking at the moment is weak. Conceptually much of the Customer Charter is to be applauded. What is unforgivable is falling into the classic trap of promising before you can deliver. The customer experience reality is far from meeting these commitments; and until it is Natwest/RBS should shout a little less externally and focus internally a little more. They need to build trust and that is not done by making promises you can't deliver.

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This week Natwest and Royal Bank of Scotland rolled out their Customer Charter and lots of marketing in support. Full page ads in papers up and down the country. According to these adverts they are now making 14 commitments to help them become "Britain's most helpful bank". If you haven't seen the adverts (and before you click on the links in this blog) guess what these commitments are?

In the main it is the typical shopping list of customer friendly platitudes – we will be helpful, we will help you make the right choices, we are a responsible lender, we will resolve customer complaints fairly etc. Much of it is complete table-stakes – we will keep you safe online, we will provide a 24/7 telephone banking service, for example. Some of it is complete marketing spin such as "we intend" to have 600 branches open on Saturday by end of 2010 – for perspective Natwest/RBS have over 2,200 branches; and that 9 out 10 customers will rate our service as "helpful" (whatever that means).

Without being too cynical there are one or two interesting new ideas such as the community commitments which include staying open if they have "the last branch in town" (although this might create a perverse incentive for them to close down struggling branches sooner rather than later) and 25,000 financial education lessons (which again for perspective is only 0.0026 per child given there are 9.5m school children in the UK). More interesting is what has been left out.

Given that RBS/Natwest collapsed and was forcibly nationalised with taxpayers money by the UK Government in 2008 then wouldn't a commitment to financial stability and prudence have been appropriate? Given that the business failed because the money that was deposited by normal retail customers was used to build a balance sheet of around £1trn that funded risky investment banking wouldn't a commitment to managing risk more tightly been right?

And given the massive resources of this nationalised bank are the commitments to financial education really big enough? However, as I have argued on this blog before, the focus on banks at the moment should be on delivering a good, reliable service well rather than marketing and innovation (see Just How Special and Different are Financial Services Brands), in the end that is how trust will be re-established. Therefore many of the commitments are well made if they can be delivered.

So I decided to visit a few Natwest branches and talk to staff about the Charter and what it means to them. Of the three central London branches I visited none had any literature about the Charter even though all the adverts say that you can pick up a leaflet in branch. Chatting with staff I was greeted with the following comments:

"Yeah they told us about this last week, it's how they will improve the service"

"It's about serving people in 5 minutes"


"Dunno about that"

Searching the Twitter-verse this morning revealed an interesting series of #fail tweets from frustrated Natwest customers which might indicate that Natwest have a significant way to go on delivering their commitments.

This doesn't bode well and perhaps indicates that the timings of the marketing calendar trumped the roll out internally. This is a classic financial services marketing mistake.

Financial brands are built through experience and people. An employee that completely understands the experience they are supposed to deliver, and is supported by management and aligned incentives, is how these commitments will reach you and me. This is the really hard work of re-orienting and aligning people – this is where the focus should be rather than working with the ad agency. Without this the millions of pounds being spent on advertising this charter (and remember it is our money!) is mis-spent and will be more marketing spin that will make the lack of trust worse.

I wish Natwest/RBS luck with their commitments if they are one of the very few financial services brands and businesses that realise that the way they will win the loyalty, respect, trust and share of wallet of their customers is through creating employee advocates and excellence in actually delivering on their commitments rather than by advertising and marketing the hot air of what they intend to deliver in the future.

What do you think? Do you think this is a good initiative by Natwest and RBS? Do you trust them more given the 14 commitments? Are you a Natwest or RBS employee – what's your view of this campaign and the commitments? Any view – please leave a comment below.

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I’ve talked frequently on this blog about banking and how financial services companies should be engaging with their specific customer groups rather than broadcasting to the masses (see Engaging with the Web 2.0 consumer or Just how special and different are financial services brands?).

We saw First Direct making a foray into the space when it started to externalise its social media commentary through First Direct Live. That was a confident move for a brand that knows it is good at service.

I also covered “A Crocodile for Billy” which was a children’s financial education initiative by LloydsTSB a while back. This was a positive first step but insignificant versus the scale of financial illiteracy in the UK.

Those in the industry (and most likely very few others) will also have seen the FSA‘s website MoneyMadeClear which was created from industry money by the FSA to give unbiased basic information about how money and financial products work and how to manage money, debt and personal finances.

Unfortunately the most striking aspect of MoneyMadeClear is that is it so unengaging and boring.

You can tell it has been developed by a branch of government. Given the opportunities to engage and bring to life complex information using rich media that the internet provides this was a massive missed opportunity.

Now (unfettered by my management!) the team at Capital One have launched an initiative to explain how credit cards work and should be used. Capital One over the past couple of years have been retrenching into products for those parts of the market that find it harder to get credit cards. Having listened and talked for many hours with these customers myself the lack of understanding of how finance and money works, even at the most basic level, is sometimes shocking. Perhaps the best (worst?) example of this was a respondent in a piece of research who was convinced that an interest rate of 40% was better than an interest rate of 20% “because it is higher”.

So given their focus on this part of the market financial education is an important responsibility for Capital One which is why they have launched an initiative called Credit Made Clearer. What I think is impressive is that they have made a genuine attempt to engage the audience. Simple explanations, engaging graphics, in short chunks of information; there is no product sell apart from the branding of Capital One. They have integrated a range of channels and approaches such as a YouTube channel.

No Brainers

Using your credit card

Of course they will expect an uplift in their brand perception and perhaps an uplift in applications so one could argue that this is a thinly veneered marketing campaign. However in my experience the intention and desire to get credit is rarely solely driven by a marketing offer and I would much rather have people taking cards when they understand the process more fully and think more carefully about it. So if this initiative from Capital One can help even a few people understand how credit and credit cards work more fully then it is making a valid contribution.

But all these activities lead to a bigger question for the financial services industry: how can we use this initiative, together with MoneyMadeClear and A Crocodile for Billy, to work together in coalition, using the considerable resources available of talent, time and money, perhaps linking with our new coalition government, to really make a massive, integrated, impact on financial education.

If you want to talk about this idea – then drop me a line or post a comment below – perhaps we could pull together and make a big difference.

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Yesterday I took part in the Institute of Economic Affairs Future of Consumer Finance Conference.

I gave a presentation in the afternoon about engaging with the Web 2.0 Consumer.

Here is the presentation.

If you have any views or thoughts please comment below and share the presentation if you think its useful.



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Yesterday I attended a talk at the RSA by John Lanchester who has recently written a book called Whoops! about the credit crunch.
The talk and subsequent questioning was mostly about the role of culture and regulation in banking; with the audience and speaker exploring how to develop a system that might be more sustainable.
I wrote a blog called Banking and the Common Good a while back which explored how the concept of common good could be placed as a central focus of a financial institution. Today’s blog picks up on some of these concepts.
The question is how we create a banking system that actually balances commercial objectives with social objectives that deliver benefit to the common good. I believe that a new language of responsibility needs to be imposed on the banks. Nearly all banks will tutor their leaders in Business Ethics; all banks have values statements that will include some version of “doing the right thing”.
But despite these words and intentions we still have a system that doesn’t in aggregate and from a macro-economic perspective deliver “the right thing” and act ethically in its impact. The frustration is that there are very few financial institutions that deliberately act in a clearly unethical way decision by decision, action by action, but in aggregate the effect is destructive.
The heart of the issue for me is one of what banks, especially investment banks, markets focused institutions and bank leadership more generally, value. And that is money, to this everything else is subservient. This is why banks are so successful, they have created extremely efficient systems for maximising profit to the exclusion of virtually all else. This creates inattentional blindness, which is the psychological phenomenon of being “blind” to anything apart from that which you are concentrating on, add hubris and you have a system that builds risk and is narrowly focused on one immediate outcome.
This valuing of one outcome only, with little assessment of second and third order effects and impacts, allows for a culture to become devoid of morals. And that moral bankruptcy turned into financial bankruptcy.
So what to do? Remembering that business ethics and values were taught and “on the wall” at our big financial institutions and offered no protection.
I would advocate a complete reversal of the incentive systems at our banks. We need an incentive system that puts most emphasis on demonstrating moral action and joined up thinking rather than seeking risk for greater return. This should be in an overtly, openly discussed moral framework. Leaders in these organisations need to become expert not just in maths and playing the markets, but seeing the impact of their business on different stakeholders and balancing this for commercial and social return.
Morality is at the very heart of our economic system. Adam Smith’s conception of markets was built on predictable outcomes between buyer and seller. The foundations of these predictable outcomes, in a time when regulation and rules of commerce were much less regimented and established than they are now, were moral action from individuals. I don’t think it is surprising that The Theory of Moral Sentiments, that Smith wrote 15 years prior to The Wealth of Nations and the majority of the books in The Wealth deal with how individuals living in society should conduct themselves. In order for the invisible hand, specialisation and the market dynamic to work as a value exchange there needs to be trust and in Smith’s conception this comes from morality.
This morality will need to be imposed. Major financial institutions have regressed back to the status quo, as John Lanchester said yesterday “the system is as risky as ever”. They will never voluntarily accept any balances to their earning power. So this will need to come from changed systems of regulation.
But this creates a paradox in that regulation, with its rule based approach, enables a moral vacuum by replacing human judgement with an attitude of “if we stay within the rules we are acting responsibly”. Ironically the FSA (the UK bank regulator) knew this. Over the past few years anyone working in a UK bank will be familiar with the pre-crash mantra of “principle based regulation”. No longer were we to work just within the “rules” but to their spirit. It didn’t work because it stayed at the surface, and people’s behaviour doesn’t change, in many cases the people need to change.
By changing what is valued in banks this will change who progresses within the organisations. This will be a key to unlock a new system. Let’s open up board positions on banks to a wider audience. What’s clear from the past two years is that having a career in banking behind you doesn’t give you any special insight or understanding so let’s have a more diverse group from environmentalists, to community leaders, to customers, having a real voice in the running of financial institutions.
It has been said that markets are amoral. That maybe true but they don’t work unless their participants act morally. Creating moral financial institutions working for commercial gain and the social common good is the challenge.

Please comment below and share using the social bookmark icons. Thanks as ever for reading.


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In his speech to the Financial Services Forum dinner in December Nigel Gilbert the outgoing Chief Marketing Officer of LloydsTSB talked about the role of marketing and the consumer in banking. He also talked about an initiative that LloydsTSB ran last year called “A Crocodile for Billy”. This is a book / ebook about saving and spending for parents to use with young kids.

His themes about the role of marketing and brands in financial services echo my own thoughts around the rights and responsibilities of marketing departments. I outlined some of these in my Battle of the Big Thinking presentation: Escaping The Matrix. Undoubtedly there is a massive need for more human understanding in business with its overfocus with quantitative analysis and comfort with people who are technically gifted but less comfortable with vision and working in our very human and emotional world.

When operating well marketing should be the “heart of an organisation” – and I mean that not to indicate its position but to capture its unique added value. Businesses and brands, the great ones anyway, are full of heart, vision, ambition and human understanding. They are often driven by a passionate leader who captures the heads and hearts of employees and customers alike. Marketing and the brands they develop have the ability to inspire and energise even when a charismatic founder or CEO isn’t available.

And there is something here that is at the core of why our big banks are not great businesses or brands. They have little heart, vision, ambition or human understanding. They can’t understand why people are appalled at billions sitting in bonus pools after the past two years of bailouts. They don’t have a vision for the role that banks and financial institutions need to play in our society. A senior executive at LloydsTSB recently said to me that their vision was “to become the UKs most recommended bank”. If that is the extent of their collective vision for a business that has been given near monopoly share levels and billions in state money (your money, my money) then my vote would be to break it up – they don’t deserve to exist with that little ambition or understanding of their responsibilities in society.

And Crocodile of Billy is a neat example of the practical impact of this lack of vision and “head beneath the parapet” attitude that most of our banks are operating in currently. Its cute, I like it, I’d like to get a copy (although I can’t see how? You can’t buy it anywhere?), and I’d like to read it to Luca and Daniel. There is no doubt that we need desperately need more financial education in our society. But Crocodile for Billy is a tiny, albeit positive, effort in this regard. Why doesn’t the financial services industry realise that they have a massive responsibility and the resources to fill this gap? They could work together, invest the hundreds of millions needed and ensure that every child gets the information they need to make informed decisions in their financial choices.

That would be a vision. That would be added value. That could be transformative to our view of financial services brands. Until they realise that we demand more as their customers and as members of our society, especially in the light of the last two years, financial brands will remain in the gutter, actively distrusted and disliked.

Get involved in the debate – comment below. Do you work for LloydsTSB or another UK bank – are you brave enough to share your view?

Happy New Year! I hope 2010 brings you all that you need.


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