What gets in the way of purpose?

  • Simon Thompson
  • 17 September 2019
  • Retail Banking | Professionalism and Ethics | Blog

What Gets In the Way of Purpose?

It was somewhat ironic that, as I prepared to host the second of our FCA roundtables investigating Purpose in Retail Banking, seeking to identify barriers that might get in the way of delivering the goal system developed during the first (see my blog of 28th June 2019), that the heat of Summer was creating its own barriers for those making their way to RBS Gogarburn, our hosts.

But we were not perturbed by the heat of the day, or the task in hand. As I had hoped, the mix of people around the table brought out new nuances to the question: what should be the purpose of retail banking? In particular, our conversations returned to issues of accessibility and inclusivity. And what made this discussion even more pertinent  is that  only the day before our meeting, and to not much fanfare, the FCA had published a consultation on guidance to firms on the fair treatment of vulnerable customers. I doubt many of my guests had time to read this in any great detail, so it was satisfying to note areas of common concern.

But as I reflect on what the FCA have termed the policy / practice gap – i.e. that policies to address issues of vulnerability may well exist at head office level, but these do not always feed down through the organisation in a way that allows frontline staff to implement them – I come back to the importance of banking professionalism.

In our deliberations we talked of the old-fashioned banker in the local branch, who knew their customers, and not in a formal KYC (know your customer) way, but in an understanding of who they were, really; aspects of their life, their family, their work. In this way, bankers would develop the skill to spot when things weren’t quite right, or that a customer might need additional support / could become vulnerable. Bankers were trusted advisers, and thought of as professional – and thought of themselves as professionals. Just because banking continues to migrate to digital and mobile channels, and relationships with customers may no longer be face to face, however, doesn’t mean these skills are no longer important.  In fact, I’d suggest they become even more important when banker/customer relationships are disintermediated by technology. Customer-focused, ethical professionalism in banking – a deep understanding that banking done well is fundamental to individual and collective prosperity and wellbeing – is essential when customers and their accounts are data points on a screen rather than on the other side of the counter.

Our next stop in these roundtables is the final session in London where I will ask participants to deliberate on the solutions to the barriers preventing retail banking from achieving its customer-focused goals.  Your thoughts and ideas on this are always welcome and can be sent to my colleague Matthew Ball [email protected]