Rebuilding trust in the financial services sector

23rd May 2016

In recent years, regulators and financial institutions have tried to wrap the industry up in protective layers of regulation and corporate governance, to rebuild trust in the sector.

But are the regulations achieving this aim? How can boards of directors provide effective governance so that directors can tap into customer feedback and look after consumers’ interests? And what, if anything, can other businesses learn from what’s being done?

With a 30-year career in banking and finance, Bruce Carnegie-Brown is well placed to comment on these themes. Today, his portfolio of non-executive directorships includes being chairman of MoneySuperMarket.com and of insurance broker Aon, as well as being the vice chairman and senior independent director of Banco Santander, headquartered in Spain but well known on the British high street. We asked him to share his thoughts.

How do you ensure that the customer’s voice is heard at Santander?

It’s my job to coordinate the independent directors and provide the right kind of challenge to the executive management of the Santander Group. There are a lot of metrics out there and the key issue is to make sure that the board has allocated enough time to discuss them and not just allocated time to exploring whether revenues are growing or contracting. We need to spend time looking at things from a customer perspective.

How does the board make sure that a customer-centric culture permeates the organisation?

In the UK, Santander’s advertising slogan is ‘Simple, personal, fair’. It aligns with improving customer service and it aligns with the regulators’ ambition for what banks should be doing. Of course, if it’s going to be real, rather than just a marketing slogan, you have to work very hard to review all of your products, to make sure they fit that tag and ensure you can create a consistent set of values across the organisation.

What can banks and financial services organisations do to safeguard customers’ interests?

I don’t think there’s enough education of savers and investors and I think that’s a missing piece of the regulatory dimension. Financial services have got to apply a much higher standard of care in terms of the way they sell products and market themselves than many other industries and companies engaging in consumer service. 

What advice would you give to other businesses when it comes to maintaining trust?

A fundamental part of establishing customer trust lies with the employees – and, apart from the occasional bad apple, which can be found in any organisation, most people don’t need a regulatory framework in order to set their moral compass. 

One of the underexplored opportunities around better customer experience is employee engagement. It’s quite hard to measure, but the basic premise is that if you engage your employees, they’re excited to work for you, they believe in the values of the business. Then you have much better customer outcomes because they are real advocates for the product or services that they are selling. That’s really infectious. That is one of the really positive opportunities that exist, to align the values of an organisation with good client outcomes.

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