The posting place for news and opinions of BrightPool, a specialist recruitment consultancy.
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The future of Retail Banking at your fingertips

The Way We Bank Now study showed that there are over 7 million ‘log ins’ per day via internet-based banking technology and over £6.4bn is transferred per week using mobile and internet banking.

RBS and NatWest announced that its customers who use an iPhone 5 and 6 can now use the fingerprint recognition technology to access their accounts via their app.  Banking technology clearly saves customers time and money as they no longer really have to go to their branch in order to carry out their day to day banking needs.

This ethos behind RBS and NatWest’s reasons for using this revolutionary technology is the concept of making it easier and more convenient for its customers.  My immediate thought however is: “is it secure?”

It has been pointed out that there are limitations within the app which mean extra security verification is required for certain operations, such as making a payment. However, the customers would have access to basic features and details of their accounts.

Within days of Apple launching this technology, hackers had managed to get round it, which shows that no one truly understands the risks.  Apple told the BBC that the technology was not “a total replacement for traditional security measures”.

With this in mind, why would the banks replace the traditional username/password account security with such a technology?  Is it secure?  Would you feel that your account details and money are totally safe?

Lisa Smith is the Resourcing Consultant at BrightPool.

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Can you feel the pressure?

We’re told we’re coming out of the recession and apparently have more disposable income.  So, with less than three weeks until Christmas Day will millions of people be going into the red through the pressure to spend?

Not without the influence of the big brands’ marketing campaigns in full swing, the pressure to shop, and shop big, for presents and food can be all-consuming at this time of year.  And this pressure doesn’t just come from the professionals either, but also our adorable little ones who innocently want to conform to their peers.

I’m guilty of buying too much myself and having to scrimp by in January, as despite me making notes of what Christmas gifts to get throughout the year I leave all my shopping till December, meaning my monthly salary is stretched beyond comprehension!  Yet, I’m probably one of the lucky ones who don’t have to add money to their credit card balance, take out a pay day loan, or forgo meals in order to buy presents and a turkey.

According to the Money Advice Service the average adult in the UK spends £540 on festive celebrations with the total retail spend in December by UK households expected to be £74.3billion with 1/3 of this being purely Christmas spend.  The Money Advice Service have conducted a survey where 30% of adults admit they will find it harder to afford Christmas this year than last.  Almost half of UK adults said they will resort to some form or credit to pay for Christmas and almost 1.4 million people saying they will request a pay day loan. See the full report here.

What are your thoughts on the constant pressure and demands on our bank balances at this time of year?  Is it worth having to pay back hundreds of pounds in APR just to have presents under the Norwegian Spruce?  Are we forgetting the real reason behind the ‘holiday’?

Lisa Smith is the Resourcing Consultant at BrightPool.

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A return to core banking?

After the 2009 financial crisis had settled and the banks took stock, it seemed that the way ahead for most financial institutions was to focus on their ‘core markets’. Financial organisations cut away the high risk assets and new divisions which had seemed so appealing in 2007 when the markets for them were so buoyant.

From personal experience recruiting in Japan in 2011, I know that for Credit Suisse in Asia it meant selling or closing much of their investment banking operations and using the money to buy and expand HSBC’s struggling Private Bank, meaning that they could in turn focus on their FX operations in the region.

Although my experience is somewhat anecdotal, this departmental merry-go-round happened around the world, with many major institutions focusing on the parts of their business which not only made them money, but were also low risk should the catastrophic happen again. Indeed, to compound the situation here the bailed-out UK banks had their hands forced into reducing ‘non-core assets’, which included everything from International branch networks to global aircraft financing, in an effort to balance their books and repay the taxpayer.

With the economies of the US and UK seemingly improving and getting back on track it surprised me to hear that, despite strong results, Citibank announced this week that it will withdraw retail operations from a number of countries, including Japan, to further improve profits although looking at the analyst’s numbers it seems to make sense.

While this may just be the tail end of the core market trend mentioned above, it has got me wondering if there is yet more ‘focus’ to come for banks or if, with the spectre of regulatory reform largely dealt with, banks will soon look to flow once more into the ‘new’ markets they have ebbed away from in the last few years?

I am keen to hear your thoughts on this. We at BrightPool are certainly seeing a demand for experienced staff who can design and implement new departments but as yet haven’t seen the need for these on a global scale, so it will certainly be interesting to see what the future holds.

Mike Smith is the Client Services Manager at BrightPool.

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The new PPI?

Having already paid out over £10billion in compensation for mis-sold Payment Protection Insurance, banks are now being hit by claims for charges paid by customers to have ‘packaged’ bank accounts.

Perks of these accounts include travel insurance, mobile phone insurance and breakdown cover. Many people fail to use these policies, could potentially get them cheaper elsewhere or are ineligible to use them should they need to claim.

Rules brought in by the FCA mean banks must now ensure these ‘bolt ons’ are suitable for the customer. Are banks guilty of setting frontline staff ‘sales’ targets meaning they placed pressure on customers to sign when it possibly wasn’t the right thing for them? Are banks guilty of mis-selling these products or should customers have read the small print before signing?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Lisa Smith is the Resourcing Consultant at BrightPool.

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What would you do?

This morning, HSBC Chairman Douglas Flint warned that the regulatory reforms due to commence in 2019 could deter banks from taking even the most minor risks.

His comments got me thinking about all the recent regulatory reforms that the banks have had to accommodate, and whether these changes will achieved the desired effects. I couldn’t help but imagine what I would do if I had the powers to effect regulatory change.

If you were the regulator, what would you do? What rules and regulations would you put in place to safeguard the future of banking practices, or to improve the ways of working? Or do you think that the current regulations are fine how they are?

Amanda Whitehead is the Account Manager at BrightPool.

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Is KYC the future of remediation?

As the majority of PPI and IRD remediation programmes are now thankfully beginning to appear in the rear view mirror, this blog’s attention turns to new remediation programmes on the horizon: how long can we expect them to last and what can be done to reduce their impact when they do?

Jumping to everyone’s mind will be Premier Bank Account and Card Protection Insurance mis-selling in the UK Retail Banking market but it doesn’t take a huge leap of logic to imagine a raft of new Banking, Financing, Utilities, Energy and Telecoms claims, especially with the FCA’s assumption of the OFT’s authority over consumer credit earlier this year.

As has been widely reported in the news, remediation programmes aren’t necessarily all bad for the UK economic recovery – their capital injection has certainly been welcomed by the Chancellor – but how many more will there be and for how long they will last? Looking at when some of the PPI and IRD products were actually mis-sold and when the claims have been settled, we could be in for another decade or more of remediation and associated costs for companies deemed not to have done their due diligence as they pushed to improve sales.

So if much of the damage has already been done in terms of the actual mis-selling, how can companies mitigate those past actions to avoid future PR disasters on the scale of PPI? A very senior retail banker recently said that knowing your customer (KYC) will be a pillar of this; knowing what, when and to whom you have sold will allow companies to be proactive in their efforts to foresee potential claims, offer redress where required and to nip any reputational risk in the bud. KYC is already a major concern in financial services, but do sectors which have only recently become regulated have the data to support the reasons for the sale of a historical product? Alternatively, will they have to bite the bullet and offer system wide redress as the banks have in the past?

The wider reaching impact of how these programmes are handled will be huge and will have to be approached with great care. Companies will need to be proactive in addressing these claims to reassure customers that they have been treated fairly and avoid future mis-selling, while the FCA must ensure that their drive to improve industry standards doesn’t lead to a crisis of consumer confidence unless it is truly warranted.

I am interested in your thoughts on how you see the future of remediation. Please leave a comment as I am keen to discuss this in more detail; as an area where BrightPool excel, we are always looking to listen to the market and talk about the latest trends.

Mike Smith is the Client Services Manager at BrightPool.

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Trust is a many splendid thing!

For those of you who didn’t listen to Anthony Jenkins CEO of Barclays Bank on the Radio 4’s Today Programme on New Year’s Eve, he mentioned it could take up to a decade for the bank to rebuild trust with customers. Jenkins stated, “Trust is a very easy thing to lose and a very hard thing to win back.”

Trust is clearly an important quality that banks are trying to regain. Barclays, like several other banks, has been hit with everything from the Libor Scandal to PPI mis-selling.

The face of retail banking is changing. The sale of part of RBS and its rebranding to Williams & Glynn is about trust and confidence in a name, and to a certain extent the new TSB has the same objectives.

In ten years time the face of retail banking will have changed, and I suspect with a stronger emphasis on community banking where trust will be implicit within the communities in which it operates.

The question is: why will it take so long to achieve trust, and can it really ever be achieved?

Trust is not about persuasive selling or convincing someone; neither is it about best products or best digital offering. So what comes first – the products and services or the people? For me it has to be the people.

Trust is about the people the banks employ and how they value the relationship with the customer. The bank can build frameworks and have the best offerings but if the consumer doesn’t trust the representative of the bank then it’s likely to be a ‘no deal’. Attitudes can change, values have to be rethought, not just at corporate level but at individual level. Cultural change on this scale takes time – maybe up to ten years?

This may be too simplistic an approach but unless we are going to legislate what are acceptable behaviour and reward mechanisms, building trust with the banks will come down to its people, and will start at the very beginning of the recruitment process for new staff. If this is the case, demands for HR professionals will soar!

Does this all sound too simple? What do you think?

Angela Hickmore is the Managing Director of BrightPool.

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AML: have the Banks got it right?

I recently went into a bank to pay a cheque for a few thousand pounds into my account. At that point a bell rang, and the cashier told me she couldn’t process it as it was above their limit so she would have to call a senior cashier. Some 12 minutes later I was ushered into a room where the senior cashier asked me a number of questions as to the origin of the money, reason for payment etc. I was conscious whilst I was sitting there of how intrusive the questioning was, but also aware that I could have given a whole range of answers, which were untrue but plausible for cover, and no one would have questioned further. I came away somewhat irritated and annoyed at the time it had all taken, but also wondering about the validity of the process and how effective it really was.

Banks clearly have a duty to monitor large transactions and to prevent money laundering – but after all this time is this the most effective process? Many banks are heavily reliant on technology; this gives a number of issues as to how the controls are set and when flags are raised. Brightpool was recently asked to quote for a Bank who faced a significant backlog of AML alerts created by an over-zealous software programme. Whilst undoubtedly most of the alerts would not have been suspect, the responsibility of the bank was to make sure they were not party to money laundering.

I can’t help thinking that these processes need an overhaul if banks are seriously committed to preventing AML – or is this as good as it gets?

Angela Hickmore is the Managing Director of BrightPool.

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Why can’t I get an interim assignment in FS?

I’m frequently asked by interim professionals who have little or peripheral experience of the FS market why they can’t get assignments in Financial Services.

It’s true to say that retail Financial Services – banking and insurance – has well withstood the ravages of a challenging market, and the demand for interims remains strong and rates competitive. The work is interesting and these services and products are bought by us all.

In some areas such as Credit and Market Risk, Compliance, there is no substitute for FS experience – you can’t learn it on the job and the consequences of getting it wrong are partly why the banks find themselves where they are today!

But in other areas – operations, marketing, customer services and technology – you could see that not only are these skills transferable but would in some cases bring a fresh way of looking at things.

Clients, in general, remain unconvinced. They want detailed sector expertise, content knowledge and a style that is compatible with the industry (whatever that may be!).

Are FS organisations missing out on interim talent outside the sector? Is it possible to transfer skills from other customer-centric businesses into an FS business? I believe it is, but I’d really like to hear your thoughts and experiences, especially if you have managed to make the leap from a non-FS career into FS.


Angela Hickmore is Managing Director for BrightPool.

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Should bad bankers go to prison?

I read this week that the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards states that Britain’s banking bosses should face jail if their decisions force fresh bailouts.

The commission’s anticipated report urges George Osborne, to oversee the creation of a new offence of “reckless misconduct in the management of a bank”.

Were such an offence in place in the aftermath of the financial crisis, several banking leaders could have faced prosecution.

The parliamentary commission, which was established by Mr Osborne to reform banking after the Libor scandal, describes the failure of senior financiers to accept blame for their actions as “dismal”. It says new rules are required to force executives to take proper responsibility.

The report also calls for a new licensing regime for bankers, underpinned by strict rules to ensure traders and even branch staff who mis-sell financial products are faced with the full force of penalties open to Britain’s financial watchdogs.

What are your thoughts on this – is prison too harsh or would this act as the appropriate deterrent given the financial crisis we have experienced?

Do you think it should just be applicable only to senior management or should branch staff be penalised in the same way?

Helen Storey is the Managing Consultant for BrightPool – North of England.