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What does the future of financial services mean for employees?

For many in society the future of financial services centres around changing the culture of the industry. It has become common currency for the CEOs of banks to talk about this issue with many harking back to a halcyon age of banking with more emphasis on great customer service, and less about mis-selling.

In shorthand, more Henry Duncan, less Bob Diamond.

We have seen a vibrant and rich set of marketing initiatives ranging from the re-introduction of famous old brands like TSB as well as investments in CSR programmes from the likes of Santander and Nationwide.

In PR-speak there are lots of core messages around “community focus”, “customer centricity” and “local presence”.

But beyond the rhetoric what does all of this really mean? And do these initiatives contribute to changing the culture of the industry?

Put simply the words and the actions need to match up. It’s all very well embedding the values into the foundations of your head office – but they also need to come to life in the day-to-day experiences of your customers.

This requires a new set of skills and competencies. It means better systems of reward and recognition – attractive incentives for customer service and stricter sanctions for poor behaviour.

And CEOs must act as role models. Greed is no longer good. It can no longer be acceptable to have bonuses out of step with the performance of the organisation. This leads to a broader question: can banks be genuinely customer focussed without the right people leading and the right people serving?

It will be a tough journey. Organisations will need to invest and not just in their marketing and PR. They will need to improve their approaches to training, implement more effective recruitment policies and ensure career progression is geared around the right behaviour.

Ultimately they need the right people with the right skills doing the right things. So it will also require better employee engagement.

Some of this will lead to a more fundamental review of the operating models that exist within the industry. More digital, fewer branches (at least for the established high street players). Does that go far enough?

With its emphasis on decentralisation and greater autonomy for branch managers, Handelsbanken has been lauded as the John Lewis of banking. Can this set the standard for the sector?

Some will question whether this model is truly scalable? Are the traditional players in the industry tied to unwieldy, centralised IT systems? Will it be a case of “computer says no” to a more localised, flexible approach?

And do leaders within the industry have the conviction to genuinely change? Will they listen and effectively involve their employees in these changes? In a tougher regulatory environment will they have the courage to give local staff more power to make decisions?

And what of the beleaguered financial services employee? After a seven year living nightmare will employees once again feel a sense of pride in the industry?

Our own Lansons/Opinium research study suggests that there is still a long way to go. 50% of financial services employees said they were proud of working in this industry compared to 24% who said they were not. This is one of the lowest scores across the various sectors although perhaps not as low as might be expected given the hellish period the industry has endured.

Five in ten employees being proud gives you a baseline to work from. Where genuine initiatives around changing the culture can begin to take root. And that sense of pride can begin to spread based on meaningful action. And slowly, surely we can emerge from this nightmare.

Maybe the future of financial services is bright after all?

If you would like to hear more around how Lansons is helping the industry change culture please contact Scott McKenzie, Director, Change & Employee Engagement. +44(0)20 7294 3611