Photo © Banking Standards Board Birmingham visit
Birmingham showed many different faces to the Banking Standards Board when it visited the city last week and during a full-on day we met with almost 200 people, from city and community leaders to local employers and a wide range of students.
As a member of the BSB board, I wanted the team to share the richness and diversity of our great city and it was fascinating how, no matter what subject was under discussion, an almost tangible sense of optimism shone through.
So many senior people from Birmingham’s leading banks and building societies took part and we were also pleased to welcome union and academic representatives. Together we touched on everything from support for start-ups; prospects to keep talented graduates in the city; jobs that capture the experience of older workers; financial advice and education for those on low incomes and most importantly how we work together to make Birmingham and its community, stronger and even better in the months and years ahead.
It was gratifying to hear that while jobs in financial services and banking have decreased in London, they are increasing outside London and Birmingham is rightly proud to be a destination of choice for the industry because of its high quality schools and universities and large talent pool, good transport connections and rich commercial heritage.
Our local authorities have also worked hard to encourage and support this burgeoning financial services hub which is why global players like HSBC and Deutsche Bank are choosing to join the many local banks and building societies which have supported families and businesses in the West Midlands for generations.
But while the growing financial services sector is good news for future employment and opportunity, parts of the community are clearly not yet able to share in the economic upside, which is why doing business in Birmingham has to be driven by wider values than just the bottom line.And why, the Banking Standards Board felt it was important to gain the broadest possible perspective on what the Birmingham community needs its banks and building societies to deliver.
So what did we learn? I for one learned a lot more about Birmingham’s banks and building societies, their rich heritage in the area and how they are striving to understand and embed themselves in the community they serve so that they can be a support beyond just providing finance. Our generous hosts at the Birmingham Chamber and Pinsent Masons, for example, explained the significance of country specific advice to local entrepreneurs as they take those all-important first steps to become global exporters.
There was also great passion expressed for what Birmingham can offer long-established as well as relocating banks and the attraction the city currently has for inward investment but there was also some welcome humility as it was recognised that we sometimes struggle to sell our city as well as other cities like Manchester might do. But we are getting better.
What did the banks learn? I believe they learned that although there is much still to do the benefits of connecting with the local community are invaluable. Just as sharing contacts and best practice with colleagues across the industry and having the humility to seek an alternative perspective on how to conduct business are strengths and not weaknesses.
Finally, what did the Church bring to the debate? I hope a real focus on why doing business well shouldn’t just be driven by profit but by wider values, be they Christian or otherwise. We all reminded ourselves, at different points throughout the day, that at the heart of banking are relationships that build trust and confidence amongst businesses and the public. As the industry seeks to restore its trustworthiness, after many troubled years, I am proud that Birmingham is playing its part in showing London and the rest of the country how business should be done.