Levelling up – the role of banks
Boris Johnson’s declaration in July 2021, that “the mission of this government [is] to unite and level up across the whole of the UK” was part of a speech that laid bare glaring inequalities within and between the UK’s regions. It is these, he remarked, that “are holding the UK back”. A precursor to a whitepaper to be published later this year, which will set out plans for a wealth-creating economy that will utilise human capital, realise potential, improve living standards and boost communities, the speech also set out funding proposals for the vision.
Aside from government pledges and funding, banks too have an important role in supporting the levelling up agenda and many of the themes are familiar from our own emphasis on professionalism, ethics and social focus.
Many financial services organisations have already relocated parts of their operations outside of London – to Newcastle, Manchester, or Birmingham – stimulating local economies and providing employment within communities. Banks and their employees give freely of their time and skills to help local community groups or charities to achieve more, earning themselves a central role in the fabric of the societies they are part of.
Reducing inequality is a key focus for the Institute too. We are vocal in our support for vulnerable customers and we have advocated for access to basic banking services. Many of our members are instrumental in supporting those who have traditionally been unbanked to open accounts that can be an important step in them receiving benefit payments or securing accommodation and employment.
Our 2025 Foundation is piloting a Smart Futures scheme in collaboration with the EY Foundation, which targets young people in receipt of free school meals and builds awareness of the opportunities available to them in banking and financial services. As well as potentially inspiring a new generation of bankers, the programme provides skills and experience for youngsters who may traditionally be disadvantaged and that can be an important addition to their CVs.
Access through innovation
We’re also championing innovation and ensuring that members don’t feel marginalised or left behind by advances in technology, but instead can see the many opportunities it offers to them and their customers. In fact, technology can play a vital role in levelling up. We’ve seen through the pandemic how it’s enabled access to essential services such as healthcare, shopping and banking for those most vulnerable. Technology is also making it easier for those with disabilities to access our products and services. It allows less time to be spent on processes, and more time on adding value to customers, and it helps support service delivery that’s not bounded by time or geography.
All that creates opportunity. Levelling up is something we as an Institute and as an industry, have always known is important to generate economic prosperity and social good. Through our diversity and inclusion policies, our support for vulnerable customers and customers in crisis and our centre for responsible banking, we are continuing to hold those values dear and instil them in successive generations of bankers. As the UK moves to a deeper focus on levelling up, our members are already engaged, and your Institute is ready to deliver the support needed.
Read more about our Smart Futures programme in the ‘Inclusive learning curve’ article on pages 21-23 of the summer 2021 issue of Chartered Banker magazine. Or turn to pages 32-34 to read more about regional banking.