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2012 Retail Banking Awards results

I was lucky enough to be invited by the Commercial Director of one of our key banking Clients to attend the Moneyfacts Retail Banking Awards for 2012, presented by none other than Mark Durden-Smith (I had to Google him too!).

This was my first time attending this annual awards ceremony but it was fabulous to see how enthusiastic the teams were to be awarded for their products. The awards are given only in connection with customer feedback meaning that it’s whoever gets the most votes based on what the CUSTOMER likes. I particularly enjoyed the fact that it wasn’t just the ‘big boys’ picking up awards and some of the niche players were picking up some good awards too.

So this month I thought I’d provide the results as an interesting insight into who is getting it right for the customers (following on from my blog last month on the subject of customers). Looks like I need to switch products in every category as my bank didn’t even get a single commendation!

I’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions on the winners and losers below – did the Customers get it right?

James O’Loughlin is the Retail Banking Managing Consultant for BrightPool.


And the Moneyfacts Awards 2012 winners are…

Best Short Term Fixed Rate Mortgage Provider
Winner: Yorkshire Building Society
Highly Commended: ING Direct
Commended: Hanley Economic Building Society

Best Variable Rate Mortgage Provider
Winner: HSBC
Highly Commended: first direct
Commended: Market Harborough Building Society

Best Current Account & Offset Mortgage Provider
Winner: Woolwich from Barclays
Highly Commended: Yorkshire Building Society
Commended: NatWest/RBS

Best First Time Buyer Mortgage Provider
Winner: HSBC
Highly Commended: Skipton Building Society
Commended: Mansfield Building Society

Best Bank Mortgage Provider
Winner: HSBC
Highly Commended: Woolwich from Barclays
Commended: ING Direct

Best Service from a Mortgage Provider
Winner: Woolwich from Barclays
Highly Commended: NatWest Intermediary Solutions
Commended: Halifax

Best No Notice Account Provider
Winner: ING Direct
Highly Commended: Virgin Money (formerly Northern Rock)
Commended: Santander

Best Monthly Interest Account Provider
Winner: Aldermore
Highly Commended: Nationwide Building Society
Commended: Post Office

Best Cash ISA Provider
Winner: Santander
Highly Commended: Halifax
Commended: Kent Reliance

Best Offshore Account Provider
Winner: Alliance & Leicester International
Highly Commended: Skipton International Ltd
Commended: Nationwide International

Best Personal Loan Provider
Winner: Sainsbury’s Bank
Highly Commended: Tesco Bank
Commended: Post Office

Best Card Provider (Standard Rate)
Winner: Barclaycard
Highly Commended: The Co-operative Bank
Commended: Capital One

Innovation in Personal Finance
Winner: Governor – Governor Money
Highly Commended: MoneyVista –
Commended: Santander – 123 Cashback Credit Card

Best Longer Term Fixed Rate Mortgage Provider
Winner: Yorkshire Building Society
Highly Commended: Chelsea Building Society
Commended: Nationwide Building Society

Best Remortgage Provider
Winner: ING Direct
Highly Commended: Yorkshire Building Society
Commended: HSBC

Best Tracker Rate Mortgage Provider
Winner: HSBC
Highly Commended: first direct
Commended: Nationwide Building Society

Best Building Society Mortgage Provider
Winner: Yorkshire Building Society
Highly Commended: Nationwide Building Society
Commended: Skipton Building Society

Best Online Mortgage Provider
Winner: Halifax
Highly Commended: NatWest Intermediary Solutions
Commended: Abbey for Intermediaries

Best Conveyancing/Legal Search Service
Winner: eConveyancer
Highly Commended: Countrywide Conveyancing Services
Commended: myhomemove

Best Notice Account Provider
Winner: Shawbrook Bank
Highly Commended: Aldermore
Commended: Dunfirmline Building Society

Best Fixed Rate Account Provider
Winner: Post Office
Highly Commended: BM Savings
Commended: YBS Group

Best Internet Account Provider
Winner: Nationwide Building Society
Highly Commended: Santander
Commended: Post Office

Best Current Account Provider
Winner: Santander
Highly Commended: Halifax
Commended: Bank of Scotland

Best Card Provider (Introductory Rate)
Winner: Marks & Spencer Money
Highly Commended: Tesco Bank
Commended: Barclaycard

Best Card Provider (Balance Transfer Rate)
Winner: Barclaycard
Highly Commended: Virgin Money
Commended: Halifax

Personal Finance Provider of the Year
Winner: Santander Group
Highly Commended: Nationwide Building Society
Commended: Barclays Bank

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Who moved my cheese?!

I met with a Client this month following a hugely successful programme launching a new digital banking proposition. This proposition has had the most compliments of any new service launched in this bank, and equally as impressive – the fewest number of complaints. This interested me for a few different reasons as I wondered how they’d achieved this feat. The Client’s answer; the key to everything is customer communication – something which according to my contact is not managed as well as it should be. He believes that all projects should start with the customer and work backwards, which to me was refreshing.

It’s worth thinking about a bit further… Think back for example – have you ever logged onto your internet banking account to make a payment and hey presto, the entire interface looks completely different? Then three days later you receive a letter telling you about the ‘exciting changes’ taking place (future tense)? I know I certainly have and it’s frustrating as you feel like you have to learn how to use the system all over again. Well on this programme, the main goal was to maximise customer satisfaction so the IT was led from the customer side of change all the way through. This involved asking customers what they wanted, and then updating them throughout the design, testing and implementation phases right the way up to launch. The communication with customer was as important, if not more important that the product/service itself. The result? Happy customers! It all seems a bit obvious but judging by my last experience, the first I had heard about the changes to my online banking services was after it had happened.

I asked the Client what the inspiration was for the way he led this programme and his answer was ‘Who Moved my Cheese?’ (a book by Dr Spencer Johnson). This is generally applied to managing people within an organisation but he mentioned that its application was equally as appropriate externally for customers. The conclusion of the book is that if you manage change effectively and get people ‘ready for change’ they will embrace it. Put simply the book says:

* Change happens, be ready for it (tell customers what you intend to do)
* Get ready for the change (prepare customers for the likely timelines and new features as early as possible)
* Monitor change (tell customers about where you are in development and get them counting down to go-live)
* Adapt to change quickly (don’t parallel run – just do it and this will mean that customers will embrace it quickly)
* And the end result will be that Customers will enjoy the change!

Change is never easy but absolutely essential to keep ahead of the game… Have you come across any interesting/unusual approaches such as this in your programmes? I’d love to hear your experiences!

James O’Loughlin is the Managing Consultant, Retail Banking for BrightPool.

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Banking reforms: less of an impact but more of a cost?

I mentioned in a previous blog that the number of new regulations affecting banks was rising at an unprecedented level (an average of 60 new pieces of regulation per day).

However, according to PwC’s Banking Banana Skins 2012 report (in association with the CSFI – where they polled 700 bankers, regulators and interested parties across 58 countries on their top 10 issues), concern about regulation has dropped from 3rd to 6th place. So despite the increase in the number of new regulations, it appears that banks are more comfortable working in a more heavily regulated environment.

However, the severity of the new regulations is having an impact on the value of the banks, with RBS CEO Stephen Hester stating in a speech on Wednesday evening: “The UK regulatory reforms on their own have probably cost £10-20 billion from our future market value” (or to be more precise, they’ve cost RBS’ shareholders… or the UK government – as it holds c. 80% of the shares).

The new regulations are pushing the UK banks towards improving their capital and liquidity and ring-fencing their retail banking operations. So although the banks are getting better at dealing with the regulations, the negative effect on their market value and the increased costs for the new teams of regulatory compliance staff appear to be taking their toll.

I would love to hear back from you regarding your views on the new regulatory landscape and its effect on UK Banks.

Jon Goodman is the Risk, Regulatory & Compliance Consultant for BrightPool.

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FSA action: too much, too late, or just right?

After a few years of widespread public criticism of the FSA (over a number of topics…), it appears that the organisation has now found ways to gain headlines for different reasons.

These past few months have seen a number of significant fines being handed out. The FSA has just fined Coutts £12.5 million (with a 30% discount for early settlement – so only a mere £8.75m) for its failures in the screening of Politically Exposed Persons and stated that it was actively looking into the actions of other banks for similar compliance failings.

This – coupled with HSBC’s £10.5m fine in December and another Coutts fine in November 2011 of £6.3m – has led analysts to predict that there’s more to come.

Some of these cases have taken a few years to get to this stage (the November Coutts fine was for action prior to the credit crisis) and I agree that they need to firmly, and publicly, reprimand those who breach the regulations – as a deterrent to others.

But has the FSA managed to uncover the secret of the ‘Goldilocks effect’ in terms of the levels of fines?

Is it too much, too late, or just right??

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Jon Goodman is the Risk, Regulatory & Compliance Consultant for BrightPool.

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What is it I do again?

The Financial Services sector has always been considered a ‘safe market’ among the Contracting community. In fact, with the service industry making up over 70% of the UK economy, it’s easy to see why. With years of ‘boom’ and record growth, contractors had become used to walking from one assignment straight into another. This has certainly changed markedly over the course of the last seven years since I first started recruiting into Financial Services. And once again an article featured this month in Metro Money suggested that growth in this sector is under serious strain, with the lowest growth in this sector reported for yet another quarter.

It’s perhaps interesting that BrightPool, as a specialist Financial Services recruitment partner, has experienced growth of more than 50% for 3 years running, has featured in the Times Fast Track 100 (along with sister company Interim Partners) and can stake claim to a record Q1 (at the current rate) already in 2012.

So, in a challenging market, how is this possible?

It’s really quite simple from my perspective: the Financial Services sector is tightening its purse strings. In today’s market, good is not good enough – Clients are buying expertise that they cannot get elsewhere. They have to be able to demonstrate to their key stakeholders that contractors are undertaking work as an ‘expert’ in their field and to that avail there is one question that our candidates are being asked time and again: What is it that you actually do ? Put another way; what makes you unique?

In the mid-2000′s, the real buzz word was ‘change’. Nowadays Clients are asking us for ‘change plus subject matter expertise’. Whether you’re a project manager with payments SME knowledge, or a process analyst with Six Sigma, Clients are looking for something that makes people unique. I make a point of meeting every contractor we want to work with because when I introduce a candidate to a Client it has to be a ‘recommendation’ – scanning a CV is simply not good enough, you have to know the person you introduce. By truly knowing our candidates, we inspire confidence and the whole process becomes much slicker. It also allows time to discuss the ‘subject matter’ expertise and the contractor’s unique selling point – being an expert in today’s market is what makes a difference.

Are you finding the same in the market at present? What do you consider to be your USPs (unique selling points)? What do you tell people at interview stage to ensure you’re ahead of the ‘competition’?

James O’Loughlin is the Managing Consultant, Retail Banking for BrightPool.

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Salaries, pay rates and day rates.

What is the true cost of ‘rate pressure’?

I can’t remember the last time I picked up a newspaper where there wasn’t an article with opinions on the ‘best way’ to handle ‘greedy banker’ bonuses, or above inflation pay rises etc. Many of these articles focus on government backed banks and the perceived cost that these bonuses/pay increases have on the taxpayer  – citing comments such as ‘…it’s me who is footing the bill for failure’.  At face value this might be true – but can we really afford NOT to pay bonuses to keep niche skillsets/talent in place and thus avoid losing the best talent to competitors. In my opinion, the argument that bonuses/pay increases ‘cost the taxpayer’ money misses the point entirely and it’s the opportunity (future) cost that should be measured, rather than the absolute cost today. This is also true outside of the government backed banks where the competition for the top talent in a tough market is extremely fierce!

Seemingly banks are focusing on the now rather than the future, whether the exercise of foregoing a bonus is for good PR or the perceived cost saving made. Perhaps its unsurprising that cost cutting is trickling into the contractor market…

To illustrate this point, here’s what’s happening right now in the retail banking market.  As a Managing Consultant for BrightPool’s retail banking practice, I am responsible for introducing talented professionals to both large corporates and small retail banking clients on a contract basis. Often the need for an interim or contractor stems from the need to effect change. Whilst in some instances a contractor may be used to provide additional capacity where internal resource is not available, often specialist contractors are used because of their strong subject matter expertise (not to mention track record) to enable clients to implement changes that they would otherwise not be able (or not willing) to be undertaken using internal resource. This subject matter expertise can be niche and often commands a premium in the market place – particularly when specific subject matter expertise (such as Payments) is combined with change experience. This may seem rather obvious as it’s simple economics – day rates increase when demand is high and supply is low. So it was surprising to see that even within these specialist skill sets, at least three of the large banks have just enforced a 5-10% blanket cut to daily rates regardless of skill set or specialism. Their argument; cost reduction is essential to ‘survive’ in the current market.

Whilst cost efficiency is important, what is the true cost of this blanket pay decrease? Could this be an excellent opportunity for other banks to ‘poach’ contractors with strong knowledge by simply offering the market rate (or even a slightly inflated rate)? Does this affect the loyalty one gives to a client that consistently undervalues experience by paying below market rates? If this is true and we see mass market movement how will this affect the cost and delivery of projects/programmes whilst recruiting suitable ‘replacements’? With this in mind, is saving £50/day on a 10% rate cut really worth what could be £hundreds of thousands in delays? Only time will tell.

I’d be keen to hear about your experiences and what affect you believe these enforced daily rate decreases will have in the future…

James O’Loughlin is the Managing Consultant for Retail Banking at BrightPool.

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The true implication of new Regulation

Recently, I’ve been talking with regulatory compliance professionals and reading about the increasing cost of regulatory compliance across retail banking.

Thomson Reuters have just reported that, over the past year, there has been an average of 60 new regulations per day affecting banks.In January the FT reported that many UK banks are reacting to the pressures of new regulatory requirements, coupled with the effects of the global economic downturn, by withdrawing from many overseas activities. By retreating from certain markets, it follows that the number of new regulations that will affect the banks will decrease. However, the regulatory compliance functions must still be struggling to cope with the vast numbers of new regulations imposed upon them.

E&Y released a survey at the end of last year. 298 senior retail bankers across Europe named the top three challenges they saw facing the industry over the next five years. In the UK, more than half said that the cost of regulatory compliance was their number one challenge.

In 2010, in a HM Treasury report to Parliament, the Treasury found that the UK regulators failed in recognising and responding to the problems that were emerging in the financial system. So change clearly is required within the UK banking industry, to remove mispriced and misunderstood risk. However, are we now making the regulatory landscape too cumbersome – causing wide scale over-regulation, leading to UK banks pulling out from relatively safe and lucrative overseas investments?

ABSA bank (Barclays’ majority owned operation in South Africa) has just announced an increase of between 18 and 22% on earnings for the past year (despite a decrease in the demand for debt in South Africa) and Japanese banks have, on average during the past year, trebled their overseas lending; seeking growth outside of their flat, domestic market – showing that overseas markets can be good for business, despite the increase in regulations.

I am in no way suggesting that new regulations are all unrequired or bad. However, 60 per day may be stepping too far the other way.

Will the increase in regulations slow down entrants to market with new offerings – and so make UK banks less competitive in the global market? Are the costs going to outweigh the benefits? Please let me know your thoughts.

Jon Goodman works within the Risk, Regulation and Compliance practice at BrightPool.

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Will the Virgin magic last?

I have watched very closely the developments regarding the Virgin Money takeover of Northern Rock. As I specialise in financial services in the North it is my job to make sure I keep up to date with developments of this nature and what this means for the market place.

Clearly things have got off to a great start with Richard Branson’s PR visit to the Newcastle office, the launch of a £10m advertising campaign and even the Newcastle United strips have changed logos leading to a 3-0 win over Manchester United!

The question is – will he really shake up the banking world as he claims? With plans for lounges rather than traditional high street branches and competitive saving account rates will the good news last? Or will the Virgin magic disappear?

I am personally a huge Richard Branson fan and I believe he absolutely will shake up the banking world!

What do you think? Would you consider switching to a Virgin money bank account for instance? Really interested to get your views on this.

Helen Storey is the Financial Services Managing Consultant at BrightPool.