Showing posts with label Barclays. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Barclays. Show all posts

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Removing incentives won't stop bank mis-selling


The news that Lloyds Banking Group has been fined £28m ($46m) by Britain’s FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) for having a bonus scheme that put pressure on sales staff to mis-sell products once again brings the spotlight to bear on the culture of banks and specifically, in this case, retail banks.  In Lloyds’ case it was not only the benefits of meeting or achieving targets that created inappropriate behaviour but the sanctions for missing targets including demotion and base salary reduction that put staff under pressure. For at least one sales person they felt under such pressure not to fail that they inappropriately sold products that they could not afford to themselves and their family as well as their colleagues.

The typical media and political response to incidents such as this is to suggest that incentives are bad, that remuneration shouldn’t be related to achieving targets as incentives lead to the wrong sets of behaviours.

However simply removing the explicit link between sales performance and pay will not remove the pressure to achieve sales targets.

The pressure comes right from the top. While the new CEOs of banks may publicly talk about changing the culture of banks, putting the customer at the heart of the bank, winning through providing a differentiated service and they may be completely sincere in those sentiments, by the time that that message is passed down through the organisation to the sales people at the frontline it will be measured in terms of targets, which will need to be achieved. Anglo Saxon businesses are run with a performance management culture where achieving or exceeding targets and  giving greater rewards to those who meet those targets than those who don’t  is fundamental to how those businesses operate. While it may never have been the intention of Antonio Horta-Osario, CEO of Lloyds Banking Group, that the staff be put under such pressure that they coerced customers into buying products that they did not need, by the CEO setting his or her direct reports stretch targets that was the almost inevitable consequence.

The reason for this is simple: banks are commercial businesses that have investors who are looking for returns and always have the option to invest their money elsewhere if the return is better. As such CEOs of banks are competing for investment and are accountable to their shareholders. This applies as much to new entrants and challenger banks as it does to the established banks. All of the new entrant banks without exception have investors backing them whether it is parent companies such as retailers, hedge funds, Private Equity funds or individual wealthy investors. Even the building societies and mutual have to look to the external market for capital and those who lend capital have options as to where they lend to and are doing to achieve competitive return.

But is a culture that is about beating the competition, about achieving the best that you can for your organisation really such a bad thing? Certainly the impression that many politicians gives is that yes it is. The sentiments being expressed have strong parallels with the period where some schools banned competitive sports because politicians believed they were harmful to children.  It wasn’t good for children because it meant that some of them would have to experience losing.

The politicians who rally against the banks and banker compensation schemes can’t have it both ways. On the one hand they say don’t want those in banks to be incentivised to sell customers products but on the other hand they want competition. Competition by its very nature requires a level of aggression, it requires you to play to win and for your opponents to lose.

To demonstrate that they are not solely focussed on financial outcomes most banks today use a balanced set of financial and non-financial measures to monitor the performance of the bank and their employees.   Typical non-financial measures include Net Promoter Score (NPS), customer satisfaction, numbers of complaints and staff engagement.  The argument being that by having a balanced set of measures sales staff are incentivised to treat customers fairly and to only sell customers what they need.

Some banks such as Barclays and HSBC have removed all financial incentives for their staff to sell customers products. Instead their staff are paid a basic salary with the ability to share in a bonus depending on the performance of the bank. However, even when that is the case, every customer facing bank employee who has responsibility for helping a customer to apply for a mortgage or open a savings account knows that, at the end of the day, when it comes to the annual performance review whether they have achieved or missed their financial targets will always be more important than whether they have achieved their non-financial ones. They know that their opportunity to receive a pay rise, to get a bonus or to progress their careers is dependent upon their ability to deliver profits for their bank. The financial incentive may not be explicit but it is still there.

There exceptions to this.  A bank that has taken a very different approach is Handelsbanken. At this bank if the profitability exceeds the average rate of its peers, then surplus profits are put into a fund and distributed to all the staff. However they can only receive these accumulated benefits when they turn 60, thus encouraging long-term thinking and loyalty. The staff, including the executives, have flat salaries with no bonuses. There are no sales or market share targets. Handelsbanken has very high customer satisfaction and is highly profitable. The bank has had no problems with mis-selling or wrongdoing.

However this model will not suit everybody. This is very much a Scandinavian model and the pace of growth whilst highly profitable will not be attractive to all investors. Detractors of this approach will argue that no highly talented executive would be attracted by this reward model when there are banks across the globe prepared to reward more in the short term. The sustained excellent results that Handelsbanken have delivered speak for themselves.  Handelsbanken  would probably argue that it has no desire to attract the sort of executives who are interested in only the short term and will move from bank to bank simply for better rewards.

Given that the reality is the Handelsbanken model cannot and should not be imposed upon all banks, what is the answer and how can this type of mis-selling be avoided in the future?

The reality is that it will never be totally eliminated. Indeed if there were never any complaints or if there were never any practices that could be open to question it would suggest that the hunger to be the best, the passion to grow the business was missing. Every sportsman who wants to be the best knows that you have to go the edge to succeed.   There will always be employees who are too aggressive or dishonest. It is that they are identified and the way that they are handled that sends out the signal to their fellow employees as to what is acceptable behaviour. That has to be called out loud and clear and demonstrated by actions from the top of the organisation.

Secondly, while many banks operate a balanced scorecard of financial and non-financial metrics to measure the performance of the bank, the financial rewards need to be truly aligned to that Scorecard and not just to the bottom line. Not only must reward be aligned to the scorecard it needs to be seen to be aligned. This means that for instance if customer satisfaction or employee engagement scores are part of that scorecard and those measures are not met or regulators impose fines despite financial targets being met, that the executives’ rewards are significantly financially reduced. This is something that has not been reflected across the banking industry despite the enormous financial fines handed out to the likes of JP Morgan and Barclays.

Thirdly there needs to be a recognition by investors that the days of retail banks being a licence to print cash are over, that most banks need significant investment both in terms of capital to fund the business but also to provide the infrastructure that a bank needs to have to compete in the 21st century and finally that an investment in a bank is for the long term – measured in double digit years.

Changing the culture of retail banks is not as easy as simply removing incentives, neither it is something that can be done overnight. To have a vibrant and competitive banking industry there needs to be some friction and a world without it will be a lot worse for the consumer.

Friday, 15 November 2013

The end of the COO/CIO experiment at Barclays?

The news that Shaygan Kheradpir, Chief Operations and Technology Officer, has resigned from Barclays to join Juniper Networks as CEO appears to mark the end of what was a brave experiment by the British bank. Back in January 2011 bringing in the former CTO from Verizon as COO of Barclays Retail and Business Bank was a surprising move given that Kheradpir had no apparent background in either banking or operations, let alone in the UK. HoweverKheradpir shook Barclays up from the start. Changing the historical relationship of CIOs reporting into COOs not only in Barclays but in banks and most other organisations across the world by making both equally accountable he made a bold statement. It’s a financial world wrote about this at the time http://www.itsafinancialworld.net/2011/05/barclays-cooscios-joined-at-hip.html . Whilst it was clear that not many banksagreed with this move (ANZ and WestPac being examplesthat went the opposite way), there was a lot of interest in seeing whether this radical change was going to make the difference to Barclays Retail and Business bank. This came at a time when Barclays’ investment bank, Barclays Capital, led by Bob Diamond and his close knit team were seen as aggressive, agile and highly successful; something that could not be said about the staid Barclays Retail and Business bank.  Kheradpir challenged the way that Barclays brought new ideas to market introducing agile and the first fruit of this approach was the launch of Pingit, the P2P payments solution.  He also brought in other like minded individuals from Verizon and those with a software background to reinforce the cultural change that he wanted to make. Following his early success, Kheradpir was promoted to Chief Operations and Technology Officer at the Group level and was responsible for driving the cost reduction elements of Antony Jenkins, the CEO of Barclays, ‘Transform’ programme. Much of which has yet to bear fruit.
Kheradpir leaving to go back to the Telco industry less than three years after he joined Barclays cannot be seen as a ringing endorsement for the effectiveness of bringing into a bank at such a senior level someone with no experience of the industry. Certainly there is an argument that bringing someone in from outside the industry brings a fresh perspective and enables them to ask the questions, just like the small boy in the story of the Emperor with no clothes that no one else dares to ask for fear of looking stupid. There is also the perspective, often argued by the consultants McKinsey that bringing someone in from another industry opens up the opportunity to leverage what worked well in that other industry. No one could honestly argue that banking doesn’t need to change. However banking and specifically retail banking in the UK has experimented with this before. The major banks hired retailers to teach them how to put the retail into retail banking. The ramifications of that are still being felt today. Yes bank branches may look smarter, may look more like GAP stores from the beginning of this century, but would there have been the PPI (Payments Protection Insurancemisselling scandal without those retailers for whom selling extended warranty policies which customers didn’t want or need was secondnature?
There is fundamentally nothing wrong with bringing in a senior executive from a different industry to challenge the way that things are done and have been done for many years, to argue for treating customers differently, to change the way that IT systems and change programmes are delivered but for this to succeed there are two critical requirements.
Firstly the new executive must not be so prejudiced or arrogant that they don’t listen and try to understand why the banking industry operates in the way that it does. That doesn’t mean that once they have taken the time to listen and to understand the industry that they apply their experience from outside the industry and fundamentally change the way that banking is delivered.
Secondly the new executive needs to surround him- or herself with open-minded experienced banking executives who he or she can rely upon for their integrity and to provide advice and a safe environment to allow the executive ask the dumb questions. The executive also needs to be confident that the executives working for him/her will tell them when they are talking rubbish. This sadly appears not to have happened in the run up to the financial crisis.
Kheradpir by making the COO and the CIO jointly responsible for the performance of the business units working for him was acknowledging that IT is not simply a supplier to the business of banking but that it is absolutely fundamental to being successful in banking. He was also recognising that today there are not that many banking executives out there that have the skills, experience and competencies to master both the COO and the CIO roles and therefore the next best step was to make them jointly accountable. Antony Jenkins, CEO of Barclays saw Kheradpir as one of the new generation of Renaissance COOs who are young enough to have been brought up with technology that it is so deeply ingrained in their DNA that the barriers between operations and IT can be effectively broken down by being encapsulated in one person.
With Shaygan Kheradpir moving to the CEO role at Juniper Networks the result of the experiment that Barclays undertook can only be inconclusive. Kheradpir simply will have not stayed long enough at Barclays to prove that the new model worked, whether it would have fundamentally changed the way that Barclays delivers banking which is a loss not only to Barclays but also to the banking industry that was watching with interest.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Why the new Payments Systems Regulator needs to avoid rushing in change


The UK government has announced that the bank dominated Payments Council is to be replaced by a competition-focused utility style regulator for payment systems, under the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), part of the Bank of England. This new body will assume its powers in late 2014 and will be fully operational by Spring 2015. The focus will be on providing competition, innovation and responsiveness to consumer demands in the payments system. It is hoped by the government that the Payments Council will in turn reform itself into a more traditional trade body.

Talk of reforming the payments system has been going on for a very long time with the Cruikshank Report into competition in banking  back in 2000 recommending the setting up a full blown payments regulator, the so-called ‘Payco’. That recommendation was never acted upon, not only because of the active lobbying by the banking industry but also because of the size of the investment required to set up the regulator and the fear of disruption to the payments system in the process. Little progress has been made since 2000 except the slow introduction of Faster Payments and the reluctant abandoning of end of cheques, which had been due in 2018.

The new Payments Systems Regulator may want to show that whilst the creation of the body has taken a long time that it is a body with a mission and at pace. However whoever heads this body should be wary of rushing in change too quickly.

The UK has one of the best set of payments systems in the world – in many ways the envy of the rest of the world. After 9/11 it wasn’t the fact that the Twin Towers had come down or that the US had been attacked on its own soil and that hundreds had died that nearly brought down the US economy, but rather the grounding of all the airlines. In the US at that time (and even today)  because the economy was highly reliant upon cheques (or checks if you are outside the UK) the fact that the planes could not fly the cheques raised on one bank to deliver them back to their originating bank for clearing meant that the US economy almost ground to a halt.  The flow of money was stopped. Given similar circumstances in the UK the impact on the UK economy would have been far less. The UK has a highly resilient, highly reliable payments infrastructure. Britain should be proud of the long history of a payments infrastructure that is only invisible to most because it works and customers take it for granted that when they make a payment it will arrive where it is meant to in the time that it is meant to. This is despite the fact that the systems have, primarily, been built by those 'empires of evil', as portrayed by the politicians, the big four banks (Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds Banking Group and HSBC).

However the UK payments infrastructure has been slow to change, has failed to grasp innovation and has had to be dragged and screaming towards the twenty first century. The Payments Council dominated by the Big Four banks has had the unenviable task of leading by consensus and with each of the Big Four being competitors has rarely got to consensus and where it has it has been through a suboptimal compromise.

The new regulator has the challenge of addressing the level of competition in the industry, increasing the innovation and making sure that the consumer’s voice is heard.
Despite all the reviews and all the parliamentary committees which have reviewed and reviled the banking industry, a forensic analysis of the payments industry has not really been carried out. Whilst the small banks and building societies who process low volumes of transactions and the new challenger banks may complain they are unfairly charged for access to the payments system the arguments seem to be based on little data and a lot of emotion.
One of the first tasks that the new regulator should commission is an independent, forensic analysis of the costs to both build and operate the existing infrastructure. The natural instinct will be to use one of the Big 4 accountancy firms to do this, however they are so dependent upon fees from the big banks that it is questionable whether they will be seen to be independent. The purpose of this analysis of the costs will be to determine what a fair cost to use the infrastructure should be (allowing for investment to build the next generation infrastructure) and compare that against what is being charge today.
The new regulator has an unenviable task because there is a clear conflict between significantly reducing the cost of using the infrastructure and encouraging investment and innovation into that infrastructure. It is analogous to Ed Miliband, the UK leader of the Labour opposition, saying that he will freeze the cost of utility bills whilst still expecting those utilities companies to invest in green technologies and maintaining and upgrading the creaking infrastructure.
This brings into question whether there can be real and speedy investment and innovation into the payments infrastructure while the big four banks still collectively own it. Over the last forty or so years they have demonstrated that getting to consensus has inhibited progress and has compromised innovation. There has also been a chronic lack of investment in building the next generation infrastructure. Is there any reason to believe that this will change?
The new regulator needs to decide whether the three objectives assigned to the regulator of creating competition, encouraging innovation and responding to consumer demand can be met while the ownership of the payments infrastructure remains with the big four banks.  A solution could be that the big four banks are forced to dispose of the payments infrastructure to an independent business to which they will become customers just like the smaller banks, building societies and challenger organisations. The acquiring organisation will need to demonstrate not only that they have the experience to run the infrastructure the resilience and reliability of which  is of national importance but also have a realistic strategy for the payments industry going forward and how they will fund both innovation and maintenance of that infrastructure whilst actively engaging with consumers. This is not a task for those who are looking for a quick in and out with a healthy profit. Only an organisation that is prepared to run the infrastructure independently of the banking sector for the long term will make any sense.
Without taking a measured, fact driven and courageous approach to changing the payments industry with cross-party support (given the length of time any programme will take to enact) this regulator will be no better than the Payments Council it is replacing. 

Friday, 7 June 2013

Will challenger banks make a real impact on UK lending?

Antony Jenkins, the CEO of Barclays, told investors that the challenger banks will fail to make a real impact on the lending market in the UK in the coming years.

His argument was that those who look to acquire the branches available by the forced sale of Lloyds Banking Group and Royal Bank of Scotland branches when customers are using branches less and less in favour of online banking are buying a wasting asset.

Simplistically this is right, however even in markets where customers are carrying out a greater proportion of their banking business online such as The Netherlands, where 50% of branches have been closed, when a customer has a complex financial problem that needs fixing those customers are still showing a strong preference to address these face to face in a branch.

Even in a digital world the branch is still an important part of the marketing and branding for all the world's major banks. Branches are perceived as a reassuring sign of the stability of the bank, that by having a physical presence the bank is not going to disappear overnight.

What Anthony Jenkins did not explore is how the role of the branch is and needs to evolve (something which Barclays as an organisation is very aware of). The challengers recognise that branches are generally under-utilised assets and are being far more creative about their role in the community whether it be for business meetings, book clubs, music soirees or simply somewhere to go for a coffee. Banks such as Oregon's Umpqua (www.umpquabank.com) and Virgin Money with their lounges (http://uk.virginmoney.com/virgin/about-lounges/) are taking forward the thinking on the future of the branch. Antony Jenkins is right that the big five banks are increasingly closing branches but the challengers with their far smaller branch footprint are opening new branches rather than closing them. Handlesbanken (www.handelsbanken.co.uk) have been quietly opening branches and have been having a not insignificant impact on the market particularly on business lending.

When Jenkins referred to the challengers he appeared to limit that to those who might acquire the Lloyds Banking Group and the Royal Bank of Scotland branches, but of course this is not where the only challenge to the lending market is going to come from. Tesco, M&S and Sainsbury's banks already have very large branch networks they just happen to be retail outlets. Betting against these three making a success of their banking business is the height of folly.

Where Jenkins is completely correct is that for a challenger to simply open branches, and specifically traditional branches, would not be a wise move given the evolution of the customer and the banking industry. However the main challengers are not doing that. They are looking at an omni-channel strategy where online, mobile, call centre and branches come together to provide a new and better customer experience. There is a recognition that even in the branch customers may want to access their mobile or online banking services, that digital opens up the range of services that a branch can perform.

Taken at face value Antony Jenkins' comments that challenger will have little real impact on the UK lending industry smacks of complacency which the challenger banks should be delighted to hear. However given Jenkins' experience and knowledge of retail banking the challengers should not underestimate the fight they have on their hands. This can only be good for customers.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Will Verde be Co-op's ABN Amro?


In April 2007 John Varley, then CEO of Barclays, in an attempt to vault Barclays into the Premier League of investment banking made a bid for ABN Amro. Not to be outdone Sir Fred Goodwin put together a consortium consisting of RBS, Santander and Fortis to put in a counter bid.

Through the spring and summer of 2007 a battle took place to win ABN Amro. It could be said that it stopped being entirely about the business sense of acquiring the bank and more about winning the deal, beating the other CEO. This was a deal that appeared to be personal. The price continued to rise.

Finally in early October John Varley and Barclays conceded defeat and withdrew their offer. Barclays was rewarded with being paid 200m Euros as a break fee by ABN Amro. Even at the time of Barclays' withdrawal analysts were saying that RBS was paying too much. One said that RBS was going to be struck by 'the winner's curse'.

The rest, as they say is history. The capital required, the slow down and eventual crash of the global markets and the complexity of the integration all contributed to the situation RBS finds itself in now.

Looking at the Co-op's pursuit of the  632 Verde branches that Lloyds Banking Group has to sell, there appear to be some parallels with the ABN Amro pursuit. Could it be that the Co-op will also be struck down with 'the winner's curse'?

The pursuit of Verde has not been as long as for ABN Amro but it appears to have been as personal. In July 2012 Peter Marks, the CEO of Co-op, boasted that he has taken the shirt off the back of the  Lloyds Banking Group CEO, Antonio Horta-Osario, as they agreed to a £750m price tag. Given that the expectation had been that Verde would sell for between £1.5-2bn, he may have had a point, though he may have been better keeping his opinion to himself.

However Co-op is also paying a big price in other ways to raise the capital it needs to acquire Verde. With the announcement of the sale of its Life & Pensions and Savings business to Royal London and its instruction of Deutsche Bank to find a buyer for its General Insurance business, the Co-op's existing financial services business is being taken apart in order to raise the capital for Verde. Aviva is rumoured to be interested in acquiring the General Insurance business.These deals are not dependent on the Verde deal going through, so should the deal fail the Co-op will be in a much poorer state.

Similarly RBS had to raise a lot of money in order to pay the price it had agreed for ABN Amro. In RBS's case it went to the market and executed a huge rights issue for which in a class action it is now being sued). This left RBS with a highly weakened balance sheet, which made it unable to absorb the massive change in the market. How would RBSG have fared if they hadn't pursued and won ABN-Amro? They certainly would still have had problems with their exposure to Ireland through Ulster Bank and the investment banking business would still have been hit, but with a stronger balance sheet and without the exposure to the PIIGS (Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, Spain) that ABn Amro brought the size of the bailout required from the UK Government would have been significantly lower. Fred Groodwin would almost certainly be Sir Fred Goodwin and his pension would be intact.

Should the acquisition still go ahead, which is looking less likely, this will not be a simple integration by any stretch of the imagination. The integration of Britannia Building Society has proved to be a major challenge for the Co-op, Verde will far more complex. Again looking back at RBS, Sir Fred Goodwin went into the ABN Amro integration full of confidence that the bank knew how to do integrations, but Natwest was fundamentally a larger version of RBS so it was a homogenous integration, ABN Amro was an integration of something quite different from RBS and the costs of integration ballooned.

One of the worst scenarios for the Co-op is that they sell off the assets they need in order to complete the Verde transaction and then fail to close the purchase. This would leave the Co-op in a weakened position in terms of Financial Services and overall in a poorer strategic position.

Whilst Peter Marks may have got what appears to be a rock bottom price for Verde the Co-op will be tied to Lloyds Banking Group for many years to come since they have agreed to pay for and use the Lloyds Banking Group systems for the Verde branches. It will take hundreds of millions of pounds and  years to move off these systems and onto a modern architected banking system so Co-op and Lloyds Banking Group will be partners for many years to come.  The Co-op may need to be reminded of the expression that revenge is a meal best eaten cold.

In the meantime Santander has withdrawn from the acquisition of the 316 branches that RBS is being forced to sell. Santander is a bank that appears to always make smart deals - Abbey National, Bradford & Bingley, Alliance & Leicester and Antonveneta to name a few. Antonveneta was owned by ABN Amro and was one part of Santander's element of the consortium bid led by RBS. In true Santander style it sold Antonveneta on to Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena before Santander had even taken possession making a $3.5bn profit in the process. For Peter Marks it would be sensible to contemplate why Santander withdrew from the RBS branch purchase and reflect on how that might apply to the Verde deal.

As the crunch point approaches when Co-op must decide one way or another to complete or walk away from the deal and Peter Marks looks forward to his retirement, it would be good to have one last reflection on the deal and to decide whether he would rather be John Varley, who walked away from a bad deal with his reputation intact, or Fred Goodwin who was struck down by the winner's curse.

Update April 24th 2013.

So Peter Marks made the almost certainly right decision to walk away from the Verde deal. For the Co-op to have been burdened with the debt and enormous risks of the Verde deal would not have been a good leaving present.

However it does bring into question the future of financial services within the Co-op. Having sold the life and savings business to Royal London and with the general insurance business on the blocks a question has to be whether the Co-op should pull out of financial services altogether. The integration of Britannia into Co-op Financial Services has been a major challenge and it has not resulted in a real challenger to the Big 5 banks. The Co-op is at a crossroads and needs to decide whether financial services is really a business it can be successful in.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

RDR reducing access to advice for customers



The Retail Distribution Review (RDR) introduced by the UK Labour Government was aimed at improving the quality of advice provided to customers and the transparency around the charges for that advice.

With the annoucement first by Barclays in January 2011 and then by HSBC in May 2012 of their withdrawal from providing investment and Life & Pensions advice to the mass market, rather than help the customer, RDR has in fact reduced customer access to advice. Both banks have stated that the reason for their withdrawal has been that the business is no longer viable for them commercially. The additional cost of training their staff to meet the high standards laid down by RDR and, undoubtedly, the size of fines and the risks associated with mis-selling of these products, has made it unattractive for them to continue in this business.

RBS is neither fully exiting or getting behind branch-based mass market advice. Their announcement that they will be laying off 618 advice based staff is a reflection of the reality that if you move from what is perceived to be a free service (even though consumers are paying commission through the annual fees hidden in their investments) to one which is fee-based inevitably volumes will drop.

Lloyds Banking Group had been saying that they would continue to provide advice to mass market customers. However when they asked customers  about this what they  found "for the majority of our customers, demand for a fee-based financial planning advice service decreases when they have lower amounts to invest,". As a consequence they have announced that they will only be offering advice (for a fee) to those with more than £100,000 of investable assets. They will continue to offer a non-advised service through the Halifax, Bank of Scotland and Lloyds TSB branches. Around 1,000 branch staff will be impacted by this change and will be offered either a new role or redundancy. Given this move by Lloyds Banking Group the argument for selling off Scottish Widows becomes even stronger (see http://www.itsafinancialworld.net/2012/05/why-lloyds-shoudnt-dismiss-selling.html ).

Interestingly Santander is taking a contrary position and on hearing of the layoff of the HSBC staff allegedly approached HSBC with a view to hiring those laid off.

However even Santander is now reconsidering this position. In February 2013 they are being investigated for giving poor advice following mystery shopping by the FSA uncovering poor practices. Shortly before Christmas 800 advisers were suspended for retraining. A review of strategic options is now under way. In March 2013 this concluded with the withdrawal of face-to-face advice for new customers, putting at risk 874 jobs. A new team of 150 advisors will be deployed to serve existint customers.

In April 2013 Clydesdale, Yorkshire and Co-op announced the withdrawal of advice from their branches. In their case this was supplied by Axa. According to the Financial Times, Paul Evans, chief executive of Axa UK, said he was “very disappointed” that the division “must also now withdraw this service having not found a model which balanced the regulatory requirement that the service be profitable in its own right, whilst setting advice fees at an affordable level.”

The exit is not only being seen amongst the big players in the market. The building societies are also withdrawing from the market. In early 2011 Norwich  & Peterborough Building Society sold their sales force to Aviva and withdrew from the market. There are also large numbers of IFAs (Independent Financial Advisors) who due to the cost of funding the training and the amount of studying are withdrawing from the industry, again reducing accessability to advice for the lower to middle income customers.

This is creating a very serious problem. With all of us living for longer and the cost of living, particularly in the later years rising, with the reduction in employer provided pensions benefits, there is an increasing need for individuals to save for the longer term, to invest in individual pensions and to provide for their loved ones through life assurance. With the options complex and becoming more complex there is an increasing need for advice, however what RDR has done is reduce access to that advice.

With the availability of advice for investment products being reduced the current UK Government is now putting in plans to reduce the accessibility of advice for mortgage products. Similar to RDR the Mortgage Market Review (MMR) set out to protect customers but is fact making it far more difficult to get advice. For instance should a customer phone up a bank such as First Direct and ask about mortgage products the bank employee will not be able to talk about the difference between a fixed-rate mortgage versus a variable rate mortgage since that would be seen as advice and without completing a fact find that will no longer be possible. This could once again, see mortgage advisors and brokers withdrawing from the market.

Not all banks are withdrawing from either the investment market or the mortgage market. There are those who are considering the commercials and rather than quitting are looking at innovative ways of improving productivity of their advisors. Both Bank of America and Bank of Moscow have pilots out using videoconferencing to bring the advisors virtually to the branches. With the increasing acceptance of videoconferencing through the likes of Apple's Facetime or Skype, the availability on devices such as the iPad, then those organisations with the imagination may still be able to find ways to commercially provide advice to the mass market.

Of course videoconferencing does not overcome the requirement to have fully trained and qualified advisors, since selling through videcconferencing is no less regulated than through branches or contact centres. What it does mean though is that through the higher productivity brought about by the advisors being able to support multiple branches less advisors are needed and the cost of providing advice is therefore reduced.

What RDR shows, once again, is that when governments with all good intentions create regulation for the Financial Services sector the effect on customers is often the opposite of what they intended. Governments should spend more time considering and discussing regulation with customers and the industry (and not instantly assume that whatever the banks say is wrong and out of self-interest) and resist the temptation to rush out populist regulation.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The end of the Retail experiment in Retail Banking?






With the announcement that Joe Garner, CEO of HSBC's UK retail bank and First Direct, will leave the bank early next year, following in the footsteps of Deanne Oppenheimer (Barclays), Andy Hornby (HBoS) and Helen Weir (Lloyds Banking Group)  the era of  former retailers running UK banks appears to have come to end.

The recognition that Retail Banking had lessons to learn from the retail industry was really born with the launch in 2000 of the 'Occasio' branches by Washington Mutual under Deanne Oppenheimer's leadership. These were completely novel bank branches with the screens between the tellers and the customers removed, bright open spaces which looked much more like a retail outlet than a branch. They even included areas with toys for children to play with while the parent took out a mortgage or a loan.

This concept of moving from 'branches' to 'stores' took off across the world. Abbey National (now part of Santander) openend up branches co-located with Costa Coffee outlets The thinking being that when a customer popped in for their cappuccino they might just take out a loan or open a savings account.

This model was taken even further in one bank in Puerto Rico where bank tellers were expected to take their turn operating as a barista in their branches handing out bank-branded coffees.

In Australia this concept took a uniquely Australian twist with one bank offering to wax your surf board while you did your banking.

Behind all of these radical changes to the design of  bank branches was the core retailing philosophy of the importance of footfall i.e. increasing the number of customers in the branch. The thinking behind this was that if there were more customers in a branch then this would increase sales, which is certainly true in retail.

However whilst having a coffee shop in a book store may have sold more books, with the Abbey National Costa branches it would appear that it was the sale of coffee that went up more than that of financial products.

One of the retail concepts that Joe Garner has brought to HSBC is the January Sale. For the last few years at HSBC branches loans have been offered at special deals and branches have had signs in the windows advertising the January sale. Again this is all about increasing footfall to increase product sales. In retail the usual reason for the January sales is to make room for new stock by selling off old stock at a discounted price rather than having to write off the value of the stock. That concept does not exist in retail banking. There are no old mortgages or old personal loans that are sitting around in the banks taking up branch space. Equally while in retail the January sales can result in impulse buys a loan or a mortgage is not and, never should be, an impluse purchase.

Meanwhile in The Netherlands the idea of making financial services products more physical was taken up. With one Dutch bank when a customer took out a loan they would leave the branch with a smart looking box. Quite what was in the box and what the customer would do with this 'physical' loan is still a mystery. Needless to say this experiment was quietly dropped.

Another concept that has been introduced into HSBC branches is HSBC Radio. Again this is a concept brought in from retail. Fashion shops such as Top Shop have for some time had their own radio stations both to improve and extend the shopping experience as well as increasing basket size. However the reality is that retail banking customers do not want to spend any longer than they possibly can in a branch. While they are queuing to pay in cheques running adverts for loans and mortgages is no more likely to create an impluse purchase than the January sales.

A concept brought from the white goods retail sector of heavily discounting the cost of appliances such as televisions, fridges and washing machines and then making up for the discount by selling highly profitable extended warranties was brought to the retail banking sector at the height of the credit boom in the form of low interest personal loans, credit cards and mortgages along with PPI (Payment Protection Insurance). In many cases the interest rate of personal loans was below cost (due to the high wholesale loan interest rates driven up by the excess demand over supply) making it essential for the banks to sell PPI in order to make a profit.

Finally introducing the retail compensation model of low basic salaries with commission based on sales targets including large incentives to beat targets into the retail banking sector has been key to the misselling of products to customers.

There is no doubt that the way branches looked and operated needed to change. Certainly a lot of the branches today are far more attractive and appealing places than they were before the injection of retail experienced executives into the banks.

However it would appear that the retail experiment is largely over. When Chase took over Washington Mutual  it took a conscious decision to refit the Occasio stores and make them look more like traditional branches.Underpinning Chase's decision was the reality of who the users of branches are today. With the exponential increase in the use of smart phones and other ways of connecting with the internet the vast majority of personal customers do not visit branches on a regular basis. Most personal customers will not either remortgage or take out a new mortgage more than once very three years (and increasingly longer than that), therefore their need to visit a branch (and even here increasingly mortgages are taken out online) is almost never. The users of branches today tend to be small businesses and private banking customers. The open style of branches with the bank private radio playing does not work for either of those segments of customers. Those customers want, and need, a difference experience.

The last 10-15 years has seen the injection of retailing ideas into retail banking. It has had some benefits for customers, but also has had some serious downsides. What we are now seeing is a recognition that banking has always been about servicing, and focusing on the total customer experience across all possible points of contacts is the most important way to retain customers and build loyalty. It is also clear that there are industries other than retailing that excel at delivering a great customer experience that banking should learn the lessons from.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Barclays COOs/CIOs joined at the hip? ANZ doesn't agree

In an interesting move Barclays Global Retail Banking COO, Shaygan Kheradpir, has announced that the COO and CIO of each of the business units within the Global Retail Bank ( Barclaycard, UK Retail Banking, Barclays Africa and Western Europe) will jointly run their businesses and report to their CEO as well as to the GRB COO. This is sending a very clear message that, for retail banking, IT is as important as operations and that only by jointly working together can they succeed.

One can only assume that this is a move to change the behaviour often seen in banks where IT is seen as the whipping boy of Operations, the department that holds back the business from evolving and competing and the recipient of a lot of finger pointing.

In many banks and other financial services organisations IT reports into Operations and is not represented on the Executive Committees of their business units. This move by Barclays firmly places IT at the top table. It represents just how much more banks are dependent upon IT to be competitive.

Commonwealth Bank has gone one step further and has their CIOs reporting directly to the CEO, such do they see the significance of technology to the success of their banks.

Too often recently there have been tales of how IT has stopped the business working. You only have to look at the woes that National Australia has been enduring and the impact on the business of systems not working.
See http://www.itsafinancialworld.net/2011/04/deja-vu-as-nab-systems-down-once-again.html Interestingly NAB has a structure whereby they have split responsibility for IT between effectively BAU (Business As Usual) and New Technology with Adam Bennett as CIO and Christine Bartlett, the executive programme director of the NextGen technology upgrade programme.

However Barclays is clearly demonstrating how technology can help lead a business. First out with the tap and wave debit card in the UK and first out in the UK with the mobile wallet on a phone with their joint venture with Orange (see http://www.uswitch.com/news/communications/orange-and-barclaycard-launch-mobile-phone-payment-scheme-800550966/ )

For this joint responsibility to work effectively requires a special type of COO and a special type of CIO. The head of Operations will need to have far more than just an appreciation of IT than has traditionally been the case. Equally the CIO will need to have a deep understanding of how the business works and how IT can enable the bank to compete. Traditional CIOs who have come from an IT Service Delivery, focussed on keeping the lights on, may struggle to perform this role. The type of CIO required for banks is clearly evolving. This is discussed further at http://www.itsafinancialworld.net/2011/10/new-type-of-cio-is-required-for-todays.html
This dual leadership can only be seen as a temporary measure until enough executives emerge who can really master both banking and technology - people like Shaygan Kheradpir, whose last role was CTO at Verizon, and is an example of the Renaissance Man which is needed to manage banks in the 21st century.

In a move against the trend ANZ has announced that Anne Weatherston the CIO will no longer report directly to the CEO, Mike Smith, but will now report to Alistair Currie, the new COO, whilst still retaining her position on the management committee.

Shortly after the ANZ announcement Westpac has followed suit in going against the trend and has announced that they will not only introduce one COO but two and have a CIO reporting into each one, removing the CIO responsibilities even further from the CEO and the board.

Only time will tell whether either ANZ's and Westpac's or Barclays' and CBA's models are right. It will be interesting to see and costly for the banks that have got it wrong.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

PPI - A sign of the mad, bad world

The announcement that Antonio Horta-Osorio, the new CEO of Lloyds Banking Group has decided to draw a line under the sorry PPI (Payment Protection Insurance) situation, take a reserve of £3.2bn and withdraw from the BBA (British Bankers' Association) appeal against the recent judgement should be welcomed as a sensible, pragmatic move and hopefully bring a close to the mad, bad world that was operating at the time that the misselling was taking place.

When the sale of PPI was at its peak the banks and finance houses were working in a market where personal loans were being sold at a loss as competition had driven the prices down and demand for funds driven the wholesale prices up. Banks and Finance Houses were prepared to sell these loans at a loss because they were able to sell Payment Protection Insurance at such a high premium, with very little chance of a claim against them due to the convoluted terms and conditions. Staff were heavily incentivised to sell PPI because that was where the profit came from and as a result hard-selling took place.

Consumers actually got loans at lower interest rates than they should have, so a good proportion of customers (primarily those who didn't take out PPI) were getting a good deal, so it wasn't all a terrible rip off for bank customers.

Hopefully the other banks and Finance Houses will follow the lead set by Lloyds Banking Group and draw this sorry episode to a halt. (UPDATE: All the other major banks have followed suit with RBSG writing off £850m, Santander £538m, Barclays £1bn and HSBC £270m or a total just under £6bn). That doesn't mean that everyone who claims should get their money back, because there are a surprisingly large number of claims being made by people who either didn't take out PPI or worse still didin't even take out a loan. The process of weeding out the fraudulent claims and processing the valid claims will undoubtedly take some time.

What should happen now is that loans and credit cards move to being priced realistically, based on the wholesale market prices and with a reasonable risk-adjusted price. This may be a shock to customers, but at least it will represent a fair price.

The fall out from the financial crisis is that retail banking needs to change, but the changes and expectations need to be not only on the banks' side but also the consumers.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Why the Big 5 banks should be pushing for the end of 'free banking' (and the government shouldn't)

With the ICB (Independent Commission on Banking) looking at increasing competition in the retail banking sector, examining the market share of the big banks and overall looking for greater fairness and transparency in charging, strongly supported by the likes of Vince Cable and other politicians, increasingly it looks as if the end of 'free banking' is in sight. Of course 'free banking' doesn't really exist, rather it is a mirage in that rather than paying directly for the services provided, consumers are made to pay by low or no interest rates for money deposited in current accounts, low interest rates in deposit accounts, high mortgage rates and even higher overdraft charges. As consumers baulk at the costs charged for loans and going overdrawn and politicians continually call for fairer, transparent charges, the inevitable conclusion is a banking system where customers pay for the services they use.

Being able to charge a direct amount for the services they provide would bring some significant advantages to the big banks in the heavily regulated environment that they are increasingly operating in. When there is more focus on the market share that each of the banks has, and where more market share is seen as bad, then the banks will want to focus not on the absolute market share but the quality of the market share.

All of the big banks today have customers that they don't make any money from. These will be the types of customers that open a current account for their household money, for their book club, for their children, where the balances are low, transactions sizes are small and they have only one product. If market share is going to be restricted then these are the customers that the banks are going to want to be shot of. The problem is that in today's banking environment it is very difficult for a bank to fire customers. However if customers were made to pay directly for the services that they use then it would be far easier for the banks to adjust their charges to either makes the low balance/low transaction value customers profitable or, better still for the banks, to encourage those customers to take their business elsewhere.

With four out of the five big banks now being run by investment bankers not retail bankers, and Barclays, HSBC and Lloyds Banking Group focussed on a strategy of raising their Return on Equity (ROE) up to at least the 14-15% range, then there is clear evidence that making customers pay directly for the services they use can help achieve this. In Australia where this model has existed for many years, The 'Four Pillars' (National Australia, Commonwealth Bank, WestPac and ANZ), have in the past enjoyed ROEs of 20+%. Even with tougher regulation they are each expecting ROEs of around 16%, significantly higher than any of the UK banks.

However whilst this all sounds very attractive for the big banks, it is not great for the new entrants, who will struggle to compete with the scale advantages that will allow the big banks to make their charges attractive for the customers they want. It also raises the big question of who will provide the banking services to the customers that the big banks don't want? It has the potential to significantly increase the number of the unbanked. As the likes of Vince Cable continue their crusade against the banks and push for ever more transparency of charging for banking services, the politicians need to be wary of the consequences of getting what they wish for.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Is videoconferencing the answer to RDR?

With Barclays having announced their withdrawal of investment advisory services from their branches for all but the very wealthy see - http://www.itsafinancialworld.net/2011/02/will-rdr-see-end-of-advice-in-bank.html and both Bank of America and Bank of Moscow announcing the roll out of videoconferencing in their branches, could this be the answer to the issues brought about by the introduction of RDR?

The reason Barclays has said that they have withdrawn from advice is that with the cost of training for RDR it has become financially unviable to offer the service. What they have said is not the reason, but surely must have been an influence, is the high amount of the fines that the FSA has been handing out for misselling of complex products.

There is no doubt that RDR is going to increase the cost of training sales advisers and once trained it is then a question of making those advisers productive. Having them sitting in branches waiting for customers to come in is not necessarily the most productive use of their time and that is where videoconferencing comes in. With the use of videoconferencing it should be possible to have a smaller team of advisers who are busy more of the time and therefore generating more profit per adviser. Add on top of that an efficient appointment booking system that customers can access via the banks portal, social media presence, call centres as well as in the branches and you have further productivity gains. It is also true that a customer who makes an appointment is more likely to buy than one that simply walks in off the street.

However we've been here before. Over the last ten years or so there have been many attempts to put videoconferencing into branches and none have been particularly successful, so why could it succeed this time?

Firstly the quality of videoconferencing has significantly improved since it was last tried. Cisco's Telepresence (which Bank of America is rolling out to its branches), is a very lifelike experience where the customer sits at one side of an oval table and the adviser appears to sit on the other side, life-size and in high definition. There is none of the awkwardness of having to look away at the camera you simply talk to the person who appears to be opposite to you.

Secondly the cost of Telepresence has dropped significantly so it can become far more viable for smaller branches and doesn't only justify itself in the busiest urban branches. Indeed it is getting towards the point where it is beginning to be targetted at the consumer market and not just business.

Thirdly with the increasing use of smartphones, iPad2 and Skype-type personal videoconferencing, social media and Youtube, we're all beginning to get a little more used to videoconferencing and seeing ourselves in videos, so the willingness to videoconference is much higher than it was ten years ago.

So as long as the placing of videoconferencing in bank branches is done sensitively (in the meeting rooms that the advisers would otherwise have been in), then yes it might be a way of in the post-RDR world customers getting  investment advice.

But this will most likely only be for the medium term, for as videoconferencing prices drop in the longer term not only will the customers be able to do it from their own home, but the advisers will most likely be doing it from theirs as well!

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Diamond cutting through Barclays - updated

With Bob Diamond's observation that 35% of businesses within Barclays are not profitable enough, actions to either close down or improve the profitability of businesses are being felt right across the globe.

First there was the announcement of the removal of investment advisors out of the retail branches (see http://www.itsafinancialworld.net/2011/02/will-rdr-see-end-of-advice-in-bank.html )

Next has been the announcement of the closing down and putting up for sale the Russian retail banking business. Entering Russian retail banking was a Frits Seegers initiative, something that he had also done when he was at Citibank. Now, with the benefit of hindsight it is not regarded as a good decision. "The purchase by Britain's Barclays of a Russian bank for $745 may turn out being one of the worst foreign investments in Russia," the Vedomosti business daily wrote. Interestingly Soc Gen is having a lot of success with their Russian consumer business and it is now their second largest market by employees and should become their largest international contributor of earnings by 2015, so not everyone believes that foreign banks can't succeed in Russia.

Another venture that Frits Seegers embarked upon that is also being closed down is retail banking in Indonesia. Perhaps no coincidence Mr Seegers is married to a daughter of the late President Sukarno of Indonesia.

Also announced is that the Head of Global Islamic Finance Operations, Harris Irfan  is leaving the Group as "The focus of the organisation has changed back to its core operations and Islamic finance wasn't seen as part of its core business,"  "Barclays will carry on providing the Islamic finance services but in a different way without a global figurehead with expertise in Islamic finance." This is an interesting announcement at a time when a new generation of wealthy muslims is emerging (albeit other extremely wealthy muslims in countries such as Egypt and Tunisia are currently moving off centre stage).
Mr Diamond wants to strip £1bn from running costs by 2013. Some £500m of this will be removed in 2011, so it is safe to assume that these are only the first of many significant changes going across the Group.

Update 18th February: Barclays is in talks to sell its commercial mortgage servicing business, Barclays Capital Mortgage Servicing. This is a business that was set up in 2004. Given the specialised nature of commercial mortgage servicing and the size of Barclays book (estimated to be around £6.8bn) this moves does not come as a surprise.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Why ring-fencing and holding more capital may not be the answer

An interesting background article by The Economist on Ring-fencing and holding more capital and why there is no simple answer to making tax payers safe from large global banks.

http://www.economist.com/node/18013923

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Will RDR see the end of advice in the bank branch?

With the recent announcement by Barclays of the withdrawal of investment advisors from their branches, coming on the back of (but unrelated according to Barclays) a record fine for misselling of investment products and the announcement that Norwich & Peterborough Building Society is transferring its in-branch IFAs to Aviva, where they will become restricted advisors, does the introduction of the Retail Distribution Review rules mean the end of the provision of advice in branches?

In principle no one can argue with the requirements of RDR that customers should expect to be given advice by qualified people who can either advise about the whole market of investment and insurance products or make it very clear that they can only advise on a restricted set of products from a restricted set of providers. Equally in principle no one can argue that if the advisors are providing value with their advice that the customer should pay for that advice and that the customer should be free of the concern that the advice is being influenced by the amount of commission that the advisor is being paid.

The challenge for the banks is that in order to get their staff up to the standards to pass the qualifications to be allowed to advise customers requires a significant investment in training and when compared with potential returns from the sales that they generate from the mass market in the existing business models for some banks, such as Barclays this looks financially unattractive. Hence why Barclays is moving to a model of pushing the mass market i.e. those with relatively low levels of investment, to online channels, whilst still providing face-to-face advise to customers who qualify for the Barclays Wealth proposition.

Of course this all depends on how you evaluate the business case. Certainly if the case is evaluated specifically on the cost of sale and the revenue generated as a standalone product sale, then it is difficult to make the case in a post-RDR world (post 2013), to provide in-branch advice to the mass market. However if the overall enhanced customer profitability of cross-selling customers insurance and investment products, many of which are seen as "sticky" products, and the impact on customer retention and customer advocacy is taken into account then the business case for advisors improves.

Another way to improve the business case is to improve the productivity of the advisors. Some of the ways this can be achieved range from simple measures such as more effective appointment management and more effective sharing of advisors across groups of branches to the provision of more effective technology enabled tools to the use of video-conferencing advisors into branches, reducing the time lost due to the advisors travelling to branches. As video-conferencing technology costs reduce and the technology improves (as with Cisco's TelePresence), the resistance of customers to video-conferencing will also drop.

Will other banks follow Barclays' lead and will the mass market be left without in branch advice in a post-RDR world? It is highly unlikely, particularly as banks such as Santander, HSBC, Lloyds Bank (with their 'For the journey' branding they would need to re-think their branding if they did) and RBSG (who have just announced the launch of the sale of two new funds) as they look to re-build trust and provide a differentiated service will follow that direction. RDR however does provide the banks with a significant catalyst to re-think how they provide advice to their customers.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Burger King Banking - is it a Whopper?

Vernon W. Hill II, the founder of Metro Bank, the first new high street bank in the UK for over 100 years, likens growing Metro Bank to growing a Burger King franchise. He should know as he owns a large Burger King franchise in the US. He also successfully grew Commerce Bank in the United States to 500 'stores'. What he means by the similarity of growing a Burger King franchise is that every 'store' looks identical, operates identically, has the same level of service and operates as a retail outlet. In Metro's case some of the gimmicks are giving away free pens (Barclays has been quietly doing that for some time in their branches), free dog biscuits and cash counting machines built to look like one arm bandits.

None of this is particularly new either in the US, the UK or the rest of the world. We have seen over the last decade or so banks attempting to become more like retail outlets whether it is the Abbey experiment with branches co-located with Costa Coffee outlets, which lent heavily on the experience of Washington Mutual with its co-located branches with Starbucks or the Australian branches with their offer of waxing your board while you are doing your banking. We've also seen banks recruiting senior executives from the retail sector to drive that retailing mindset into the branches. As tax payers no one should be allowed to forget the impact of having a retailer running Halifax Bank of Scotland had on that particular bank.

The point is that on the surface it may seem that a bank branch is just like any other retailer, but it only at the surface that that analogy works. When you go into a burger king to go to buy a standard product that is entirely disposable, highly commoditised and which you own for only a very short time. For a product such as this a bright, open plan store with little or no privacy is entirely appropriate. However opening a current account or a loan or a mortgage is nothing like a burger. Buying these types of products is a  long term, for many a life time, acquisition, intensely private (sharing how much you earn or are worth continues to be one of societies taboos that simply isn't going away) and are not quick purchases. So when you sit down in an open plan office, where the people on the street outside walking past can see the screen that the banker is operating as he types in your salary or looks at your overdraft, and the person at the desk next to you is ear-wigging on your conversation don't forget to ask whether your value added account comes with fries!