Financial regulation expert Andrew Barber of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, was commenting as the UK's Banking Standards Board (BSB) published the findings of its third annual survey of banking staff. The survey showed little change from firms' scores in 2017, after strong improvement the previous year.
The BSB highlighted speaking up, employee wellbeing and equality of opportunity by gender as three areas in which "further, deeper work" was needed to address the issues raised by the research. For example, while 63% of employees who said that they had wanted to raise a concern about something at work over the past year had done so, 40% of those who had spoken up said that they did not feel listened to or taken seriously while a further 19% were unsure.
A quarter of employees said that working at their firm has had a negative impact on their health and wellbeing, a proportion which the BSB said had "barely changed" across the three years of the survey. Respondents also highlighted perceived gender inequalities at their firms, with 24% of female respondents from investment banks saying that men had greater opportunities in their firm compared to 14% of female respondents at commercial banks and 10% of female respondents at retail banks.
The BSB said that the results of the survey showed that banks and building societies needed to "persevere" with their initiatives to address internal culture and standards. The lack of the improvement on last year's results could be a sign that 'easy wins' had been exhausted, or that ongoing initiatives had not had sufficient time to come to fruition, it said.
Andrew Barber of Pinsent Masons agreed that the BSB's report "should not discourage firms from continuing to focus on cultural change as it is a long term, ongoing process".
"Having achieved the 'easy wins', senior managers now need to ensure that their firms concentrate on embedding a positive culture, ensuring that all stakeholders have bought into the vision for the business and positive behaviours are championed," he said.
"On the need to listen to employees, as highlighted by the BSB, firms as a whole should go beyond having feedback mechanisms in place and be pro-active to listening in and addressing issues. The action of listening up may also require a change in mind set for some senior staff. They need to accept the challenge to their preconceived ideas about where issues within the business exist," he said.
The BSB was set up in April 2015 to promote high standards of behaviour and competence across UK banks and building societies. Over 70,000 employees across all levels of seniority at 26 firms responded to this year's survey, almost double the number of respondents last year; while nine firms also took part in a more in-depth exercise involving focus groups and interviews with senior executives and non-executive directors.
Although the BSB's activities are UK-focussed, this year's survey data incorporates responses from member firms' non-UK banking operations and non-banking operations in the UK. The BSB also ran the survey for a number of banks in Ireland, giving the newly-established Irish Banking Culture Board initial baseline data to inform its future work.
One area in which the survey results showed that banks had improved on last year was in perceptions of their senior leaders: 66% of respondents said that senior banking executives were willing to take responsibility when things went wrong, up from 58% in 2016. The BSB said that this was "consistent with, and no doubt reflects, the considerable regulatory focus on responsibility and leadership in recent years", including through the introduction of the Senior Managers and Certification Regime.
The BSB said that it would use the results of the survey to inform its work in the coming year. It intends to focus particularly on understanding the connection between banks' social purpose and decision-making; technology and culture; and developing and sharing best practice around speaking up and listening. It will also continue with its existing work on employee wellbeing; consumer 'good'; and effective implementation of the Certification Regime.