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Annual Review 2018/2019


Ten years have passed since the financial crisis of 2008, which had enormous repercussions for peoples’ welfare and the economic stability of many countries. There have been major developments as a consequence, many of them in the area of financial regulation. Regulation, and the sanctions of the law, have a very important place to play in responding to such catastrophic events.

In the UK, the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, which ranged widely in its work to try to get to the bottom of what had happened and why. The commission had some penetrating things to say about how the failures of the financial services sector had badly affected peoples’ trust in the financial system. And one of the consequences of this suggested focus on ‘trust’ and ‘trustworthiness’ was the project to establish a Banking Standards Board (BSB).

The distinctiveness of the BSB, which opened its doors in early 2015, was that it was not, and is not, a product of the law. It is instead a non-statutory collaborative effort, financed by the industry, but steered by a strategic board, which has a majority of people drawn from  public life working alongside industry practitioners. The second element of its distinctiveness is that it aims to focus on what it believes is the fundamental driver of how things are done in any business – the culture of the business.

The BSB’s starting point is that the distinctive culture of any business will be a fundamental determinant of outcomes. And that, unless and until the culture of a business, which (among other things) involves a common purpose shared and carried through by everyone at all levels in the business, is clearly and consistently focused on doing the right things, then a business will not be  worthy of trust.

Trustworthiness is of the essence for the financial sector, as we saw in 2008, when it was lost.

The BSB has developed a set of metrics for measuring key elements of the culture of its member firms. In this Review we report on the progress that has been made by firms themselves over the past three years in understanding their culture and, in some cases, changing it. I say ‘in some cases’: some, both large and small, have distinctive cultures that lead to good outcomes, and their membership of the BSB and participation in our work helps us all to understand the deep drivers of combining good business with good outcomes for customers, clients, members employees and indeed society as a whole.

This Annual Review reports on the results of our third Survey, to which more than 72,000 people responded. We have also held many focus groups to explore specific issues and spoken individually with a large number of senior executives and board members.

Key issues that have emerged, and which are unpacked in more detail in the body of this Review, include:

  • Senior leaders in the banks are now perceived by their colleagues to be taking more responsibility and to be more credible. As we note later, this result is of course consistent with, and no doubt reflects, the considerable regulatory focus on responsibility and leadership in recent years.
  • The counterpart of encouraging people to speak up is a willingness to listen and act, at all levels of a business. The Survey results show a much less positive picture here, reflecting either a fear of consequences, or a conviction that speaking up would be futile.
  • A quarter of all employees in our Survey say that working at their firm has had a negative impact on their health and wellbeing – a number that has barely changed in the three years we have been carrying out this Survey.
  • Complex internal systems and processes are frequently identified by people working in firms as the main barrier to being able to serve customers well.
  • Perceptions of equality of opportunity between men and women are strongly influenced by the leadership, or failure to exercise leadership, in this area by senior people in the firm.

All of this is discussed in much greater detail in what follows.

The overall picture is one of uneven progress.

Is this a cause for concern?

From the many discussions we have with firms in the BSB, we would say: these results are telling us that, making continuing significant changes to the method of operation of large and/or long-established businesses is a long hard slog, and that many firms are in the hard yards of achieving progress in improving their culture.

The results in 2018 are not, in our view indicative of any reduction in the strong commitment of our member firms to making continuing improvements to their culture and practices, in the interest of their customers and their employees.

The data accumulated over a (now) three-year period also allow us to focus on wide range of issues that between them, go to make up a culture of trustworthiness.

Rebuilding trust, and making themselves worthy of being trusted, is a long job. But the very fact of the existence of the BSB, and the participation of leading firms in the industry, is an important measure of commitment to the job.

The BSB does a lot more than running the Survey, the results of which are reported here. We are committed to identifying, supporting and sharing best practice across a wide range of issues, and to helping firms develop practical interventions and assess the effectiveness of these interventions. To carry through this wider work, we are very much supported not only by many member firms but by other organisations in other sectors and wider civil society.

We are grateful to you all.

In the coming year we will be working with firms, both inside and outside the banking sector, particularly on:

  • decision-making – using both the BSB Survey and other approaches to understand better the connection between decision-making, a firm’s social purpose, and outcomes.
  • technology and culture – digging down into the perspectives of the people who design and manage technology for our member firms and their customers or members.
  • speaking up and listening – collaborative work to understand best practice and share it.

I am personally grateful to the members of the Board of the BSB for all their hard and effective work this year. Two new members joined us this year, Loretta Minghella and Sir Alan Wilson, and each has brought new dimensions to our work.

And I have been very pleased to be able to support the Irish banking industry in the setting up of the Irish Banking Culture Board.

I am grateful to all those in the UK and overseas who have worked with us this year and look forward to their continuing support for the BSB.