Archive for September 7th, 2007

Banking on process improvement

Friday, September 7th, 2007

It is becoming ever apparent that Financial Services companies, and in particular banks, in the UK are adopting process improvement methodologies from the manufacturing sector.

One bank that I know well, specifically refers to its back office as “the factory”.  I was at another bank last week meeting the Director of Business Process Re-engineering (BPR).  The very appointment of this title at such a high level is an indication of the importance of process excellence in the financial sector.

Just about every UK bank I am aware of has some capability based around Lean/Six Sigma or similar flavour and many of the recruits are coming from manufacturing, retail, and other service companies.

There are big gains to be made since (although the banks wouldn’t like to admit it) they are horribly inefficient.  A further concern is the cost/income ratio.  Most senior executives have some target set around this ratio.  Major investments in technology can take years to pay back.  This increases costs in the short term and brings any benefits way down the line, which adversely affects the cost/income ratio in the short term.  Call me cynical but most senior execs will have moved on by that point, so they will not see the benefits in their bonus payments.  So there is a degree of short-termism and BPR fits the bill because it is about making low cost investments in continuous improvement.

I would argue that this actually benefits both the short and the long term, and you have certainly heard me argue before in favour of incremental rather than big bang projects for a whole range of reasons.

So it is clear to see why they are doing it.  What about how?