The financial crisis in 2007/2008 revealed shortcomings in bank governance and also raised serious questions about the culture in banks. Both require resolution to preserve the financial system’s support for the economy and society and avoid another catastrophe. Attempts to date to reform the governance of banks have focussed on tightening regulation on bank capital, leverage, liquidity and pay. However, the reform agenda does not hinge solely on regulation but requires a deeper understanding of governance and cultural influences in a complex and diverse industry.
A pilot study, conducted at main board level, of five carefully selected UK-based banks (Barclays, Rothschild, Schroders, Warburgs and Nationwide Building Society) has demonstrated that ownership differences lead to different models of governance and control which are reflected in different systems of governance and influence on culture. Similarly, business models incorporating a wide breadth of business activities across a broad swathe of countries give rise to governance complexities and cultural challenges. And finally, principles of conduct laid down by a bank’s founders are the foundation of a bank’s culture, but to what extent is sustaining such a legacy relevant in a contemporary context and, if there are lessons to be learnt from history, how might they be applied today?
Four key questions for ongoing research arise from this study:
1.What bearing does the bank’s ownership structure have on its governance and culture?
2.What are the implications for bank governance and culture of different business models?
3.What lessons can be drawn for governance and culture from a bank’s history and development?
4.What are the implications for governance and culture of risk policy and management?
To help make sense of this, a conceptual framework linking elements each with an important bearing on governance is presented. It is clear that no one governance model fits all banks and that a clear definition of a bank’s purpose is key.