Banking on change

  • 23 April 2020
  • Blog | Green Finance | Blog

Institute Advocate Brian McCrindle says banks are making good progress on ethical, sustainable and digital priorities – but more work is needed.

Brian McCrindle, Board Trustee and Institute Advocate at the Chartered Banker Institute, believes that across the industry, we have made significant progress since the days of the banking crisis. But big ethical questions remain for the banks, he emphasises.

“An important one for me is: do our customers feel the same positive improvements? Banks are seeing green shoots of recovery,” he says. “But they must think carefully about the learnings from some of the things that may well have contributed to the global financial crisis back in 2008. We have to be mindful about debt, making sure it is affordable to service, especially around high loan-to-value mortgages and when very low introductory offers on credit card debt come to an end.”

McCrindle remembers being taught ethics back in the late 1980s as part of his banking exams. “So it has always been a foundational tenet of the industry,” he adds.

Being an Advocate of the Institute, which has promoted professionalism in banking since it was founded in 1875, is about giving back, he says.

“I think it’s important to encourage people coming into the industry today to think about that professionalism and build on that same foundation. It’s about saying: ‘You can achieve quite a lot if you get those foundations right and build as you go along’.”

Career milestone

Qualifying as a Chartered Banker was an important milestone in McCrindle’s 33-year career in banking – one that enabled him to qualify as a Chartered Accountant with The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland.

“The chartered accountancy profession looked at the banking exams and assessed they were equivalent to degree standard, so that enabled certain newly qualified bankers to train as Chartered Accountants as well,” McCrindle explains.

“I don’t think I could have gone on to some of the roles I have without the Chartered Banker qualifications. The basic knowledge and understanding they gave me in different aspects of banking, such as credit and risk, as well as law, economics and finance, were massively important and a really good foundation for my future.”

In his work across multiple areas of RBS, including branch banking, internal audit, group projects and personal and business banking, some particular roles stand out.

“The integration projects are key ones for me,” McCrindle continues. “And that started off with the integration of NatWest and RBS in 2000. That was a fabulous experience and helped me to meld together what I’d learned through the Chartered Banker qualification and also my accountancy training. This enabled me subsequently to get involved in other transactions and acquisitions.

“It’s easy to get carried away with new technology – but addressing customer need should always be the principle focus.”

“After that, we moved into financial crisis time and I coordinated a cost reduction programme for the bank in 2008 and onwards. The scale and pace at which we had to take action – and especially the loss of so many jobs – was difficult, but it was a massive piece of learning.”

Driving innovation

After directorships in Group Projects and Distribution and Strategy for UK Retail Finance, McCrindle became Head of Finance in Personal and Business Banking for RBS and then, finally, Director of the bank’s Homebuying and Ownership Customer Segment in Personal Banking.

“Up to this point all my roles had reported into the Finance function of the bank, and this was the first role at the sharp end of the business, responsible for how we dealt with customers in the mortgage segment,” McCrindle explains.

“So I was particularly pleased to be in that role and, while I was there, I led the implementation of the UK’s first paperless mortgage process, working with a small FinTech company that showed how quick and nimble we could be in developing an innovative, industry-leading customer proposition.”

Applying for a mortgage up to this point had typically involved taking your documents into a branch to be photocopied, stamped and sent off, or posted using “snail mail”.

“It was a real pain for the customer and created friction,” McCrindle says. “The paperless process allowed us to take all that out and to do everything electronically. We had great feedback from customers, and that’s one of the things I’m most proud of.”

Digital banker

McCrindle remains a passionate advocate of technology and recently joined Edinburgh-based Symphonic Software, an access management software specialist. As Chief Operating Officer he will help drive the company’s growth plans in Europe, Asia and the US, with a particular focus on the banking sector.

“I’ve learned a lot about access management with Symphonic and generally how poor we are at managing access to data,” says McCrindle. “We tend to focus on identity (the ‘who’), but often don’t place strong enough emphasis on access control (what we allow them to do).”

For example, he explains, you wouldn’t open the front door of your house to someone, even though you had checked their name, and let them do whatever they wanted once they were inside.

In banking, it’s easy to get carried away with new technology – but addressing customer need should always be the principle focus. And banks should make sure they really understand what they’re dealing with.

“It’s time more banks set stretching goals and targets to reduce their involvement in lending that impacts our environment.”

“The analogy I use is a black box versus a glass box,” McCrindle explains. “You might be relying on a  new,innovative, technology-led system to undertake certain tasks but, as bankers, we must always be able to see in and understand how the decision-making intelligence works in these solutions. So, yes you can still have a great process that is better than before, but this time you really understand how it works.”

The Chartered Banker Institute has proactively responded to technology debates such as these through its qualifications, particularly the recent introduction of its Advanced Diploma in Banking and Leadership in a Digital Age.

Banking sustainably

Sustainability and responsible environmental stewardship have also been prevailing themes at the Institute.

“We talk a lot about environmental impact at the Chartered Banker Institute,” McCrindle continues. “And I’m very proud of this, because I think the Institute has really picked up the baton on some of these environmental themes through the introduction of its Green Finance Certificate™.”

Launched by the Chartered Banker Institute in 2018 and updated in 2019, the Green Finance Certificate™ is the first global, benchmark qualification for the growing Green Finance sector.

“A lot of banks are starting to develop and measure their environmental, social and governance aspects, McCrindle says. “We know some of the lending that banks do contributes to the proliferation of fossil fuels. Do we really understand well enough how lending and banking facilities are involved in, for example, palm oil production or the deforestation of the Amazon? I think banks are much more aware of their environmental impact, but that needs to get stronger over time. It’s time more banks set stretching goals and targets to reduce their involvement in lending that impacts our environment.”

If you would like to contribute your views as an Institute Advocate, please contact Matthew Ball, Head of Public Affairs, Policy & Communications, Chartered Banker Institute, at [email protected]