Change Becomes Certain for Bankers in Britain

By O'Connor, James H. | American Banker, December 16, 1985 | Go to article overview

Change Becomes Certain for Bankers in Britain


O'Connor, James H., American Banker


THE BRITISH STYLE of banking management is looking more and more like an American style.

London's biggest institutions are striving to emulate the formalized training and personal communication skills the U.S. bankers here are known for. But at the same time they want to retain an element of management style particular to the United Kingdom. It's loyalty, and the word is the Americans don't have it.

"You don't wake up in London and find that your two or three top specialists have left," said Fred Crawley, deputy chief executive of Lloyds Bank. "It's quite different from the American scene where headhunters are out picking off people."

But there are some chinks in the cornerstone of traditional British management style. Though Lloyds still prefers to train from within, it is not above hiring a professional search firm itself these days.

"We're moving toward that quite rapidly, it's on the horizon," Mr. Crawley says. "All the clearing banks see it coming."

(Lloyds, Barclays Bank, National Westminster Bank, and Midland Bank make up the United Kingdom's "Big Four" clearing banks.)

One of Mr. Crawley's contemporaries at Midland Bank goes a step further. Mr. Ian Morison, assistant general manager of Midland, says bringing in new talent is crucial to "the management mix."

"The old way, a manager was trained by doing a succession of management skills within the bank. That is no longer the recognized career path for prospective senior management," he says.

Obviously, Midland is more receptive to the idea of bringing in people to fill senior management posts. Six of the 12 senior managers in the group were hired from outside the institution.

"That inevitably leads to a change in management culture," Mr. Morison says. He agrees that long-term familiarity among management is a great asset of the "old way."

"But it does lead to an inbred sdystem," he says. "In a far more competitive and more regulated environment, [a bank] needs an enriched variety of management." The so-called "City revolution," the process of deregulation in London's square-mile financial district that will climax next year when single-capacity rules are abolished on the stock exchange, has been one motivator of change.

End of an Era

As the old barriers fall and institutions form alliances or christen new companies, there is general agreement that an era has passed.

"It is very true that the organization I was familiar with has changed and will now change," says Don Murray, career planning manager at National Westminster. "This [City revolution] will accelerate the pace of change." Gone is the orderly recruitment in the high schools. Gone is the predictable pay progression through a long career. And gone -- probably forever -- is the unwritten "no poaching" agreement of yesteryear.

Mr. Crawley, who once headed the Lloyds subsidiary in California, syas investment and merchant banks in London are "looking very much like the California scene, headhunting not only for individuals, but for teams.

"As companies apply the golden handcuffs, there are companies willing to introduce the golden keys to unlock the handcuffs," he says. "Top management of clearing banks have been with the bank for 30 years or more. In California, one man was with the bank for nine years and he was thought of as the old timer.

"If you compare the stability of management with taht comparative volatility . . . it would have some effect on management style," he continued. "[The British style] is more of a family style, or paternal. Less commercially aggressive."

But talent-searching is only one change in the British style. One of the foreign bankers watching London's metamorphosis from the inside is Dennis C. Longwell, senior vice president and general manager of Chase Manhattan Bank. He says the most significant change in the British approach is its move toward teamwork. …

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