James Radford, CEO
of the Cheque and Credit Clearing Company, the organisation responsible for
clearing the country’s cheques, started his career as a graduate recruit at
American Express in 1990. Here he takes a look at how the banking industry has
changed and how it must continue to evolve and deliver products and services
that customers really need.
Banking has changed out of all recognition. The days of Captain Mainwaring lauding over things as the pompous Bank Manager in sleepy Walmington-on-Sea are long gone. In its place we have a fast moving, technologically-driven world of electronic payments, where customers no longer need to visit their local branch to transact and where the majority of transactions are now done at the click of a button, or a swipe of a plastic card.
“We have a fast moving, technologically-driven world of electronic payments, where customers no longer need to visit their local branch to transact and where the majority of transactions are now done at the click of a button, or a swipe of a plastic card.”
It's hard to believe the pace of change in retail banking over the last 25 years. In 1990 there were over 20,000 bank and building society branches, now there are just over 7,000. The days of banks simply operating from traditional branches and via the post or by telephone are long gone. In its place we have an ever-growing customer base which demands products and services are available 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year via a range of electronic methods - whether that be via their smartphones, iPads, apps or via plastic cards.
It's worth looking at the major developments in the banking and payments world over the last 20 years just to remind ourselves how the pace of change in banking is getting faster. In 1997 online banking was first introduced in the UK, whilst in 2003 the UK was the first country in the world to introduce Chip and PIN technology.
“The payments world never stays still and cross-border solutions are now commonplace. Banking truly is a global industry.”
Changes started to come thick and fast - in 2007 contactless technology made an appearance, while in 2008 Faster Payments were introduced in the UK which enabled online and mobile phone payments to be made at the touch of a button. In 2013 the Current Account Switch Service was introduced, followed quickly by the introduction of Paym making payment by a mobile phone an option. The payments world never stays still and cross-border solutions are now commonplace. Banking truly is a global industry.
As soon as one payment method is introduced, technological developments make other payment methods, once seen as only a dream, suddenly become an option.
We at the Cheque and Credit Clearing Company are also busy with our own change process as we bring cheque processing firmly into the 21st century. From the end of October, the payments industry will start to roll out a new image clearing system which will speed up the cheque clearing process from the current 'six weekdays' to the 'end of the next weekday'.
For customers this means that if they pay in a cheque on a weekday they will be able to withdraw the funds by 23.59 on the next weekday at the very latest. A number of organisations are likely to allow their customers to access their funds even earlier than this.
“By ensuring that the payments industry is always looking forward and is joined up and always planning for change, ultimately means that the end user - the customer - continues to benefit.”
The image clearing system will not only safeguard the future of cheques, but by building the 'pipework/infrastructure' which will allow images to be exchanged, it will then allow other data to be exchanged between payment operators. By ensuring that the payments industry is always looking forward and is joined up and always planning for change, ultimately means that the end user - the customer - continues to benefit.
Understanding the ever-changing regulatory, political and social landscape is key to delivering the changes required in what is seen as a multi-stakeholder environment that is the payments industry. The UK is widely seen as the world leader in delivering real cutting-edge payment solutions, and the industry has a great track record of working together to deliver innovation which offer positive benefits for its customers.
But the rapid pace of change brings with it specific challenges - and therefore opportunities - for staff within the banking and payments sectors. The skill-set required of staff is changing just as quickly as the banking industry itself is changing.
“The skill-set required of staff is changing just as quickly as the banking industry itself is changing.”
I was very lucky when I started my career. I joined the graduate recruitment programme at American Express and being part of a multi-cultural, global organisation, I was always encouraged to embrace change management and always put the management of people at the forefront of everything I did. These skills have held me in good stead ever since.
However, other people who I know that started their careers around the same time as me weren't so lucky. Many were pigeon-holed in their roles in a sector that was changing far more rapidly than any other sector I know. By only concentrating on this narrow skill-set meant that some people struggled with the fast pace of change, and for some people, this has held them back ever since.
So what skills do prospective employers within the banking and payments world look for when recruiting?
With most roles, the ability to communicate is probably the most essential skill employees should have. Although technology is enabling the sector to introduce more and more products, the ability to communicate effectively is essential. Individuals must also be motivated, ambitious and they must be able to work on their own initiative.
Individuals must also be motivated, ambitious and they must be able to work on their own initiative.”
Another key skill that individuals should possess is a commercial awareness and an analytical and logical approach to problem-solving. The company values at C&CCC reflect our role as a critical player within the payments world. Those values include being 'reliable' and 'accountable', but equally important is being 'inquisitive', which not only keeps us on the front foot but also keeps us focusing on the importance of progress.
In short, employers will always be looking for employees to add value to their organisation - the more you can add the better! Nowadays change is a constant. As was once famously said - 'the secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new'.
This has never been as true.