McKinsey survey reveals BoE plagued by internal politics

10 November 2014

A recent research from McKinsey & Company finds the staff of the Bank of England are dissatisfied with elements of how the institution is run. While not all bad news, the report finds that listening to staff will allow it to “become more nimble and agile as an organisation,” allowing the institution to make the changes required to operate well in the post crisis financial environment.

In October last year the Bank of England (BOE) hired McKinsey & Company to support it with drafting a new strategy and roadmap. As part of the research, the consultants in November asked staff at the central bank to evaluate the management of the 320 year old institution. The internal survey, which looked at competencies and capabilities in 37 management practices (based on McKinsey’s ‘Organizational Health Index’), was instigated by Mark Carney, the institution’s 2013 appointed governor, as one of his first acts in his bid to transform the institution.  

Bank of England

The survey found* that, overall, the central bank scored above-average relative to other public sector organisations. Staff are generally satisfied with the culture of the institution, describing its goals as “having a noble purpose” and “being of service to others.” There were however concerns about some elements of the institution’s management, relating in particular to its direction, accountability and coordination. Key words used by some of the 2.266 staff that took part in the survey, 67% of its workforce, described the institution to be “slow moving,” “hierarchical” and plagued by “internal politics.”

Many of the BoE’s staff indicated frustration at their “insufficient authority to make decisions,” and that the quantitative methods used to oversee the running of the institution were “comparatively ineffective.” In its hierarchical structure, the bank was missing out on the potential innovative spirit of its wider staff and could "benefit from a more open, transparent and consultative style of leadership receptive to challenge.”

Organizational Health Index

McKinsey’s Organizational Health Index’ methodology.

In addition, an overlarge majority of staff was frustrated by the wage-stagnation and method for providing financial incentives. Only 11% of staff answered that they “always” or “often” agreed with the way in which the institution doled out financial incentives.

Upwards feedback
The results of the survey have been taken seriously, comments Charlotte Hogg**, a former McKinsey employee and now the Chief Operations Officer at the BOE. “To truly transform this institution, it was crucial to have staff engagement into all aspects of what we do and how we do it,” she says, adding “Staff told us very clearly what they wanted to see change. We listened, and we responded.”

On the back of the survey and broader strategic review, Carney earlier this year released his new “One Bank” strategy. With the new roadmap the central bank aims at responding to the need of merging new bank regulatory powers with its monetary-policy function, as well as boosting its external impact and internal efficiency.

Mark Carney and Charlotte Hogg - BOE

* The survey was not made public by the Bank of England, yet after a lengthy seven month process through the Freedom of Information Act, Bloomberg was given access to the aggregated 17-page results of the research.

** Charlotte Hogg started her career with the Bank of England, after which she joined McKinsey & Company in 1994 in Washington. In 2001 she became Managing Director for Strategy and Planning at Morgan Stanley. Following a period at Experian (Managing Director UK and Ireland) and Banco Santander (Head of Retail Distribution and Intermediaries) she rejoined the UK central bank early 2013. In her role as COO she led the six-month review by McKinsey.


The business and operating models of digital-only banks

04 April 2019

In recent years, several digital-only banks have successfully managed to nestle themselves in the banking landscape, with their popularity continuing to increase. Looking at it from the customer’s point-of-view, there is little difference between these FinTech unicorns; looking at the bigger picture, however, reveals significant variation in their business models. Matyas Fekete, a consultant at KAE, explores some of the main similarities and differences in digi-bank business and operating models. 

What about the profit?

Unlike in the UK, in most of continental Europe, bank accounts and corresponding banking services are historically paid-for services. The fact that digital banks offer most of their services free of charge has undoubtedly helped them build a large customer base. On the other hand, despite comparatively low set-up and minimised operational costs compared to that of traditional banks, and given the lack of revenue stemming from the typically no-fee model, profitability has proved difficult to achieve. Monzo, for instance, recorded a net loss of £30+ per customer in its most recent financial year. 

In the start-up world, it is customary to focus on expansion rather than profit – see the case of Uber, for instance. Still, while profitability might not be their number one priority in their early stages of development, it must be a long-term goal of any business. With their ever-growing customer base, digital banks are increasingly under pressure to turn their business from loss- to profit-making. 

Credit where credit is due

Digital banks pride themselves on their fair (often meaning “free”) proposition and have so far stayed clear of offering loans (including credit cards & overdrafts), traditionally amongst the most lucrative products for traditional providers. Though somewhat reluctantly, newcomers are also realising that offering lending products is one of the most straightforward ways to offset losses made on their free, often high-cost services (e.g. overseas ATM withdrawals). Monzo, N26 and Starling have recently started offering credit products to their customers, with their loan offering expected to be extended to a wide range of services, from mortgages to overdrafts. Correspondingly, creating a lending portfolio can also pave the way for launching an interest-paying savings offering – a proposition seen as a basic banking product that is yet to feature in most digital banks’ portfolios. 

The business and operating models of digital-only banks

The premium customer

While most digital banks offer most of their products for free, some have extended their offering by paid-for premium services in order to create a revenue stream. As these premium features – including different types of insurance, unlimited free transfers/withdrawals, faster payment settlement or concierge services – are often offered in a subscription format, customers are typically prompted to pay for the full package rather than just the desired service(s), providing a significant revenue stream for the bank. Revolut, for instance, was amongst the first digital banks in Europe to break even earlier this year, a feat largely due to revenue from its premium subscription.

SMEs like digital too

Traditional banks typically service small and medium sized businesses under their retail rather than corporate banking arm. Having their product offering tested with consumers, and consequently gaining a reasonable customer base, digital banks have also identified SMEs as an ideal segment to extend their target audience to. The five FinTechs profiled have already gone, or plan to go, down this path by following up their consumer solution with a business account. While both propositions are typically built on similar features, some providers charge businesses a monthly subscription (e.g. Revolut), while others apply additional fees to specific services (e.g. TransferWise), banking on the expectation that businesses are more likely to be willing to pay for banking – something they are already used to doing. 

The marketplace model

While most digital banks offer a wide range of banking services, some of these tend to come from partnering with third-party providers. For instance, Starling Bank’s only proprietary product is its current account, which serves as a basis for the provision of ancillary services, ranging from loans to insurance, to investment opportunities. Instead of developing these services in-house, Starling enables a select group of partnering financial service providers access to its platform in exchange for a fee. In effect, Starling is using its customer base to create a market for its partners, charging a commission for each acquired customer. 

In such cases of digital banks applying this marketplace model, the majority of their income often comes from partners rather than customers. Naturally, only banks with a large enough customer base can be successful in this set-up, underlining the current intensity of competition amongst digital banks.

Banking as a Service

While customer-centricity is heralded amongst the main USPs of digital banks, some are looking beyond offering consumer-facing services to diversify their revenue streams. Starling, which is among the few digital banks built on its own proprietary platform, has recently leapt into the Banking as a Service (BaaS) industry, making its technology available to other start-ups looking to launch a digital bank. Naturally, this raises the question whether the two offerings could threaten each other’s success. Generally, as long as such partners operate in different markets, the two business lines should be able to thrive alongside each other. Further along the line, however, such partners could easily end up expanding their banking solution into the same market(s) as they aim for global success, and by doing so, becoming direct competitors. 

Different approach, same result?

It is fair to say that consumers in Europe looking to bank with a digital-only provider would have a difficult time finding relative advantages/disadvantages amongst the leading players in the industry. Still, despite the limited surface-level variety, exploring the business models of leading digital banks reveals different approaches to the challenge of making money. Alongside the more straightforward method of offering paid-for premium features/subscriptions, some are banking on the value that access to their customer base offers to third-parties, while others outsource their technology to neobanks wanting to focus on the Fin rather than the Tech. With competition amongst digital banks heating up, it will be interesting to see which business model(s) prove to be the winning formula in the long term.