How service gave way to sales at the Bank of Scotland

When did Bank of Scotland begin the change from a predominantly service culture to one being predominantly driven by sales? In HUBRIS, I acknowledge that it was starting before the merger with Halifax, but new light has been shed by a reader – a former senior HR executive in the Bank, who dates it from the merging of Capital Bank into BoS.


Going, going, gone: the Super Saver Squirrel of Friend for Life days. The only place you will find it these days is on eBay.

Capital Bank, formerly the Bank’s Cheshire-based finance division, North West Securities, began to attract the attention of some senior BoS executives because of its successful sales record.

My correspondent provides a fascinating insight into what followed. He writes:

“There was some overlap especially in retention products and frequently Capital Bank performed better on these than BoS. So BoS staff were ‘encouraged’ to adopt some of the Capital sales methods in the hope of similar success. However, Capital set themselves much more challenging targets, adopted much more aggressive sales methods, and were apparently less concerned about longer-term customer satisfaction.

“Many BoS staff were very uncomfortable with this approach and saw their role to be just to get the numbers, with the threat of failure to meet targets always present. However, BoS management continually delivered the message that sales was what it was all about and so the arrival of a similar culture from HBOS just speeded up the pace of a change which was already well underway.

“This drive to achieve profitable outcomes was also becoming something of a mantra in the Business and the Corporate banks, especially in the latter, and was seen as the way to achieve further success. Its ability to create unimagined revenue soon made Corporate Bank the new powerhouse. Many new staff, most of whom had accountancy backgrounds, were hired and quickly became imbued with the fast developing culture which portrayed them as the ‘real guys’.

“The Corporate senior management soon began to flex their muscles as key contributors to the Bank’s bottom line and at times seemed to operate as if they were not part of the Bank. Corporate operated increasingly independently from the Bank, apparently seeing no need to conform to comparability in such as pay levels and performance management, and operating as if they were a devolved business unit with a separate, distinctive and results-driven culture. This caused much resentment especially among many of the Branch managers, some of whom expressed concern about the levels of risk being taken, but the Bank executive’s response was to strongly endorse the activities of Corporate.

“As a senior HR manager, I expressed concern about the inconsistent approaches to people matters, especially pay and performance, adopted by Corporate but I’m afraid the response usually was – ‘the business knows best’. The traditional Bank employment model of high security but limited remuneration was soon replaced, especially in Corporate, by one which provided high security and high, even very high, remuneration, encouraging risk taking without real consequence. Bonuses started to rise well above the norm which, as I seem to recall, in the late 90s in Bank was around 20% of salary, a far cry from the 100%+ I believe that followed soon afterwards.

“I recall that when Sir Bruce was at the helm he made it clear that there should be no egos, as the Bank was what mattered and not the individual members of staff, and stewardship was a critical requirement. I’m afraid that these core values readily got subsumed as the new culture emerged. More the pity.

“Finally, I must emphasise that I thoroughly enjoyed my 16 years working in Bank of Scotland. When I joined I found the continuation of the ‘old values’ very reassuring and the colleagues I met did seem genuinely concerned that their customers were successful – ‘if they are, so are we’, was the view. By the time I retired, anyone who harked back to earlier times was dismissed as not being ‘with it’ whatever ‘it’ was, and of course the exodus of long serving staff resulted in the loss of much valuable tacit knowledge.

“Sounds like an old man speaking but I can assure you that I still feel a strong loyalty to the Bank if not to the executives whose lack of ability to manage the ‘whole’ plus their excesses and self interest brought down a institution that is much missed not only in Scotland but world wide. I hope my ramblings confirm some of the issues your excellent book covers so effectively and reflects what the changes felt like for those of us not at the highest levels.”