Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Banking culture saps energy and enthusiasm!

A fascinating story in today's Daily Telegraph. Told by a former insider at Lloyds Banking Group, he unloads a broadside at his former employers.

'...If some mad professor wanted to conduct a cruel experiment in the psychology of stress, he couldn't do better than to replicate the corporate culture of Lloyds Banking Group...'

He then proceeds to describe what can only be defined as a completely dysfunctional environment, where very senior people are expected to put in punishing hours of work '...to micro-manage the smallest details of everyday business...'

Probably no bad thing if some mega M&A deal is about to be signed off, but to receive an text at 1.00am demanding details of a seating plan or a briefing on a customer recently met, demands an urgent review of the mental balance of the sender!

He talks about an '...endless cycle of reorganisation...' a seemingly permanently repeated activity since the merger with HBOS in 2009, during which, each member of staff has to re-apply for their jobs, and which demands many months of management time. During this time, all effective decision-making had to be put on hold, leading to a state of inaction '...close to paralysis...'

Managers' decision-making authority was eroded to the point that in order to get approval for two additional junior staff required to help undertake a vital compliance task (probably something like a major KYC remedial exercise), it required a study by external consultants, costing far more than the modest salaries of the staff needed, and adding months of delay!

Deferring decision-making became the order of the day, and instead of exercising authority, managers chose to get 'sign off' from as many other people as possible. This, we are told, led to an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion, which the write finally ended by resigning!

As an ordinary man in the street, I used to find myself caught in a quandary when I was forced to determine what sort of service the public are entitled to look for from the major High Street banks. We have been constantly told that the banks have to be free to pay salaries and bonuses which make their ordinary client's eyes water, because the banking process is so complex and they need to be able to hire the best brains, to remain competitive.

I no longer believe this bullshit, indeed, I haven't believed it for many years. When I was in the Fraud Squad, I often had to go to banks to elicit information, get evidence we needed to convict some scam artist, and I never once ceased to be amazed at their apparent lack of common sense, their constant obstruction of every move we needed to make, until they were in possession of a piece of meaningless paper called a 'Bankers Books Evidence Act Order'. Even then they would only eke out the information like it was their own blood.

Later, I watched while financial practices which would shame some three-card trickster became the sine qua non of day to day business practice, while young people, frightened for their jobs, aggressively pushed the sale of new credit cards, new accounts, personal pensions, personal protection insurance policies, whatever was flavour of the month being promoted by their greedy sales managers. No wonder they were allowed to get away with it, there was no-one left with any vestige of business morality left to put the brakes on, and all the time, the level of operational dysfunctionality was getting worse and worse.

If you are one of those who is so fed up with the level of non-service you get from your bank, the lack of management empowerment, the inability to take even the most simple decision, then read this article on page B4 of the Daily Telegraph. I doubt whether Lloyds is alone in this condition, banks are so used to benchmarking themselves and their business methods by what their competitors are doing, that my guess is they are all in the same condition of paralysed inertia, as the author of the article puts it;

'...Middle managers' inability or reluctance to make decisions puts a further burden on senior executives, who are already prone to meddle too much in detail...'

God help us if they had to do something complicated.........

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