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BSB Assessment Results 2019

BSB Survey results in 2019 show little change for banks and building societies collectively, but considerable movement and difference between and within firms (including between the group of large, complex firms and that of smaller, less complex firms).

28 January, 2020
— The BSB today released the results of the fourth annual BSB Survey; an exercise designed to inform, support and challenge banks and building societies committed to managing their cultures and raising standards of behaviour and competence across the sector.

More than 81,000 employees across 29 UK banks and building societies responded to the BSB Employee Survey in 2019. The number of both participating firms and respondents has increased each year since the Survey was first run in 2016.[i] The core survey questions are consistent over time and the responses comparable across firms and business areas, enabling results to be assessed in both absolute and relative terms.

BSB Chair Dame Susan Rice said:

“Culture is an organic concept, shaped by all the individuals in an organisation and progress is not always in a straight line. Firms join the BSB because they want to be open to the challenge, support and scrutiny that comes with membership and the scale of participation in the Survey and the BSB’s work more broadly shows firms’ commitment to continuously asking themselves difficult questions.

We’re also working increasingly with firms and organisations outside the banking sector and outside the UK – others who’ve sought us out and asked to engage with our work to challenge themselves, whatever their starting point. Firms across financial services are taking up the challenge of understanding and managing their culture with increasing seriousness.”

Alison Cottrell, BSB Chief Executive, said:

The culture of an organisation influences the way in which its people behave, both towards each other and with respect to customers, clients and everyone who engages with it. Culture has consequences. It shapes outcomes. Managing culture and raising standards of behaviour and competence across the banking sector, is a challenge for firms, individually and collectively. It is also a responsibility and, in a changing and competitive environment, an opportunity.”

John C. Williams, President and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said in a recent speech – Getting to the Core of Culture:

The Banking Standards Board survey is a terrific tool for getting a snapshot of what your organization’s culture looks like and how it’s changing over time. It goes far beyond typical engagement questionnaires and provides powerful insights into the values of employees and the characteristics of an organization. It’s impossible to make progress if you don’t have an accurate picture of your starting point.”

To find out more about the methodology behind the Survey please see the BSB web site and our video: BSB Methodology Explained.

Download 2019 BSB Assessment Results.

Key findings

  • The BSB Survey scores of UK banks and building societies, taken as a group, showed little change in 2019. This followed a similar tendency in 2018, meaning that – over the four years in which the Survey has been run to date – the overall picture is one of improving scores in 2017 followed by a sideways trend.
  • Given the efforts that many firms have been taking to understand and manage their organisational cultures, this lack of change may come as a surprise and disappointment. Two considerations should be kept in mind when interpreting this overall finding.
  • First, without the steps that firms have been taking, these aggregate scores may have been lower. In a context of ongoing internal and external change, firms in aggregate may have been running hard to stand still (and as this data set relates only to banking, it cannot offer a counterfactual from other sectors). Actions taken by firms may take time to show results; culture change rarely happens quickly or in a straight line. Or, of course, none of this may be the case. Understanding the detail is not to excuse it; it is, however, central to being able to take effective action.
  • Second, the stability of scores across all firms collectively, hides considerable movement and differences between and within firms. Even when we divide firms simply into two groups – large, complex (i.e. systemically important) firms and smaller, less complex firms – differences emerge.  Taken together, the scores of large complex firms trended sideways in 2018 and 2019, holding onto earlier improvements. The aggregate scores of smaller firms, in contrast, have tended to decline over the past few years, albeit on many questions from a higher starting point than that of larger firms. This has been particularly evident on some questions relating to responsiveness and reliability. At the level of individual firms and business areas within firms, variation and change is even more evident.
  • Over the period since 2016, the greatest improvements in scores across all firms in aggregate have been on questions relating to responding to staff feedback and to perceptions of senior leaders. Women tend to answer the Survey questions more positively than do men. The main exception to this in 2019 (as in previous years) came on the question about whether people turned a blind eye to inappropriate behaviour.
  • We asked respondents for the first time in 2019 about their ethnicity. For several questions – and controlling for other characteristics such as gender, business area etc – the responses of people who identified as ‘White-British’ were more positive than those of other respondents, and in particular on questions relating to ethical behaviour in the firm.
  • A quarter of employees said that working at their firm had a negative impact on their health and wellbeing. This proportion has shown little change over the past four years. We asked respondents in 2019 about sleep and fatigue. 37% of employees said that they routinely slept for 6 hours or less each night, and 29% that they felt fatigued or very tired at work every or almost every day. Given the importance of sufficient sleep not only for physical and mental health, but also for the ability to exercise professional and ethical judgement, this may be something that the industry wishes to explore further.
  • While the overall range of firm scores has fluctuated over time, the range of the second and third quartiles (the interquartile range) has narrowed across all nine characteristics in both 2019 and over the period 2016-2019.
  • Employees in Retail Banking tended, on aggregate, to respond more positively to the Survey questions in 2019 than employees in other business areas.  Scores in Commercial Banking, having improved in 2017 and 2018, fell in 2019.

Selected 2019 BSB Survey statistics


70% of respondents believed in 2019 that senior leaders meant what they said and 66% that leaders took responsibility, especially if things went wrong. Both proportions have increased by eight percentage points since 2016; this is the biggest change in responses to any of the 36 Survey questions over the four year period, though with most of the gains coming in the first year.

Shared purpose

85% of employees said that their organisation’s purpose and values were meaningful to them. This proportion was comparable with 2018, and a 4 percentage point increase from the first year of the Survey in 2016. 66% said that there was no conflict between their organisation’s stated values and how business was done; a similar proportion as in 2018, but a 3 percentage point decrease from 2016.

Speaking up

30% of employees said that people got defensive when their views were challenged by colleagues and 28% that they would be worried about negative consequences if they raised concerns at work. While the first of these has improved since 2016 (when it stood at 34%), the latter has shown little change. 78% of employees would feel comfortable challenging a decision made by their manager; a 4 percentage point increase since 2016.


42% of employees said that they often felt under excessive pressure to perform at work, while 25% said that working at their organisation was having a negative impact on their health and wellbeing, a proportion little changed from 2016.

In 2019 we collected data on sleep and fatigue for the first time. 37% of employees said that they sleep for six hours or fewer each night and 29% said that felt fatigued or very tired at work every or day or almost every day.


70% of respondents believed in 2019 that senior leaders meant what they said and 66% that they took responsibility, especially if things went wrong. Both proportions have increased by eight percentage points since 2016; this is the biggest change in responses to any of the 36 Survey questions over the four-year period, though with most of the gains coming in the first year.

90% of employees said that their colleagues acted in an honest and ethical way. 13%, however, said that they had seen instances of unethical behaviour being rewarded and 14% felt it was difficult to make career progression without flexing their ethical standards. This picture has been consistent since 2016.


79% of employees agreed that their organisation encouraged innovation in the best interests of customers – a 4 percentage point increase since 2016. A consistent 55%, however, felt that internal process and practices were a barrier to continuous improvement. 75% felt that their organisation responded effectively to customer feedback, and 63% to staff feedback. Both proportions were unchanged on the year but have improved since 2016.


19% of employees said that they see people in their organisation turn a blind eye to inappropriate behaviour. Though women answered slightly more positively than men, on average, across most questions, they were more likely to say they saw people turn a blind eye to inappropriate behaviour (21%, compared to 15% of men).

Download 2019 BSB Assessment Results.

Laura Conaghan
Head of Media Relations, BSB
T: 0203 7819711

Miriam Abilama
Head of Content, BSB
T: 0203 7819711