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Banking Reform – no confidence in the ship’s charts, nor in the officers at the helm

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Bob-Lyddon

While the HM Treasury White Paper on Banking Reform has softened the blow on the UK’s banks in some respects, it still bases itself on a misleading narrative of the cause the banking crisis in the first place.

Likewise the Mansion House speech of Mervyn King and the subsequent relief of capital and liquidity requirements (in terms of timing if not ultimate substance) are welcome, but they fall a long way short of an acceptance by the Bank of England of its share in the creation of the crisis – collusion in the appointment of non-bankers to top positions, a lack of regulation around secondary banks, and co-signature of a capital adequacy regime that fuelled the boom and exacerbated the bust. The Bank of England is, as a central bank, the UK member of the Bank for International Settlements in Basel that is the author of the global capital adequacy frameworks, Basel I, II and III.Bob Lyddon

The focus of follow-up to the crisis on so-called ‘casino’ investment banking and on splitting that from the ‘sound’ parts of the business is a convenient distraction, because it exculpates regulators and politicians from their share of the blame. The UK’s financial crisis centred on secondary banks – former building societies in the provinces like Northern Rock, Bradford & Bingley, Halifax Bank of Scotland and Alliance & Leicester. It is the same in Spain where the problems were in the regional Caja de Ahorros.

The Cajas were partly owned by municipal governments, who nominated directors, who in turn appear to have benefited indirectly or very directly from the property loans that the Cajas made.

In the UK the regional lenders were reviving the UK rust belt as it developed during the Conservative years 1979-97. Banking became about ‘High Street’, allowing Fast-Moving Consumer Goods executives like Andy Hornby of Asda to qualify themselves as having relevant skills, and growth outside the City could be engineered via business models unfettered by ratios around capital and liquidity, or at least by traditional ratios.

The titans of growth – Andy Hornby (HBOS), Adam Applegarth (Northern Rock) – were lionised in Westminster until being comprehensively disowned when things went wrong.

National politicians – in the UK and elsewhere – wanted an appearance of robust economic growth and that was delivered by spending on or price increases in real estate, justifying an interconnected rise in government spending. The loans were disbursed and spent; the destination of funds was on materials – yielding VAT – and on labour – yielding national insurance and income tax – and on profits – yielding corporation tax – and not forgetting the rising take from Stamp Duty on every sale.

The illusion was enabled by the explosive growth of secondary banks, operating in politicians’ tribal reserves and benefiting from weak regulation. ‘Fit and proper person’ tests were rigorously applied to traders and salepeople in wholesale banking, but scarcely at all to employees – and let alone senior management – of retail banks.

Unfettered growth was in turn enabled by a bank capital adequacy regime that favoured lending to the two areas that the governments most wanted: Real estate, and themselves.

This was already evident in Basel I in the late 1980s, and it became embedded in banks’ internal Risk-Adjusted Return on Capital models, that were their unofficial internal models before they were institutionalised under Basel II. Then they were re-named Internal Risk-Based or IRB models, either Standard or Advanced. An ‘Advanced IRB’ bank, like Northern Rock, had a long run of data showing how unlikely it was that they would lose money on their loan book. Data supplied by companies like Experian and S&P was allowed to do place for data from the bank’s own research and experience.

Specialist banks, such as Northern Rock, were granted even more favourable treatment because their specialisation was taken to betoken increased expertise, imputing greater reliability to their risk model. Proper banking means models with risk diversification should be favoured – like models that combine retail and wholesale banking.

In the UK real estate business, the ‘long run’ of data underpinning an IRB model was permitted to start in 1990, after the last major price correction. Banks were allowed, by regulators and auditors, to peg Year Zero in the calculations at the bottom of the trough that resulted from the withdrawal of multiple MIRAS (personal mortgage interest tax relief) on the same property in 1988.

Against that data, with very low current credit losses and the constantly increasing value of security, it was possible to demonstrate that the loan book needed next to no capital to support it. Secondary banks, like Northern Rock, had capital adequacy models installed by their auditors that radically understated their risks. That is a problem not caused within the investment banking divisions of a big universal bank, but in a secondary bank that was an instrument of government policy and a ‘hands-off’ from the soft touch of the regulators (or was the phrase ‘light touch’?).

How do we do better going forward? How about more proper bankers at the senior management level in banks and in banking regulators? The latest appointment to head a banking regulator is a senior partner of KPMG; Fred Goodwin was a partner at Deloitte’s whose first job in banking was as Deputy CEO of Clydesdale. Lloyds TSB’s most recently appointed non-executive directors are from McKinsey’s. Where is the background in basic banking of these who would lead the industry and regulate it and, as far as the Vickers committee is concerned, shape its future structure?

One member of the Vickers committee was himself a prime example of this failure: a former CEO of Courtaulds whose first job in banking was CEO of Barclays. Now, once again, he has been brought in to an influential position to opine on matters outside his professional experience.

To sum up, banking regulators allowed the Basel capital adequacy accords to fuel unchecked growth in real estate lending and sovereign risk lending. Governments were delighted that they could record growth based only on real estate as a justification for their own increased spending. But, having failed to properly regulate and control the secondary banks, and having allowed them to become so bloated that they represented a systemic risk when the bubble burst, politicians and regulators go into distraction mode when apportioning out the blame.

Firstly, measures are mooted that are irrelevant to the causes of the crisis and will only cause damage: to banks’ international networks, to their ability to support British companies internationally, and to the ability of the banking system to support the recovery of the British economy from the crisis.

Secondly other measures, initially presented as vital to the stability of the UK banking system, are postponed when the obvious becomes clear: that increased capital and liquidity buffers can only be met by reduced lending if capital markets are shut and interbank markets illiquid.

How much confidence should one have in the governor of a central bank who can – at a town supper – cast overboard all the measures he had championed so forthrightly as being vital to stability?

How much confidence can one have in a committee proposing reforms that has not one single person on it that has worked as a banker, as opposed to being on the payroll of a bank?

How much confidence can one have in a regulator who was a senior partner of the audit firm that signed off the accounts in 2007 of both HBOS and Bradford & Bingley?

None of this bodes well for the future of the industry, in which far too many of the top seats are occupied by individuals who, if not contributing materially and directly to the crisis, certainly did not object loudly to what should have been starkly obvious.

Bob Lyddon, Managing Director, IBOS, 0207 484 5389, [email protected] www.ibosassociation.com/
Bob Lyddon is Managing Director of the IBOS Association Central Office. IBOS stands for International Banking – One Solution.  It is an association which fosters inter-bank cooperation.  Currently active in 49 countries and rapidly expanding, its members include Santander, HSBC France, Intesa SanPaolo, KBC, Nordea and UniCredit Bank.

Banking

The Bank is Where the Heart Is

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The Bank is Where the Heart Is 1

By Nick Barnes, Practice Director, Financial Services & Customer Success at JRNI

When unexpected events occur, people turn to their banks to provide a sense of trust, security, and stability. They need to be available anywhere, anytime, and from any device. As it’s a business based on trust, one-on-one communication is key.

With the world still emerging from the COVID-19 crisis and endeavouring to avert a possible second wave, every country, state, and region has their own unique requirements. Plus, every customer or member has their own demands. Experts and pundits have discussed a new normal, but what’s normal for now involves keeping customers and employees safe while also providing the same sense of stability as before.

For banks, building societies and credit unions, the main concerns include how to maintain personal relationships amidst social distancing; how to be available at any time on any device; and how to provide a sense of calm and security amidst the chaos.

Adapt or fall behind

Customers are quickly learning which of their service providers are adapting best to this new world. Are financial services providers like banks and credit unions adapting, or falling behind?

Finances are a highly personal topic, and often, illogical or emotional. Will I have enough? Will it be available when I need it? It is always a hot topic of conversation, but especially during a pandemic when unemployment rates are rising, and the economic landscape is unsettled. In the past, a customer could walk into the bank, have a reassuring conversation with a representative and move on.

So, how can banks help their customers through tough financial times during the current crisis, when in-person communication is nearly impossible? One solution is to provide helpful, personalized customer service through digital channels.

While in-person assistance will remain important after COVID-19, customers are looking for assistance now.   Banks are turning to remote video and voice appointments to boost customer satisfaction and meet customer expectations.

3 reasons to use remote appointments

1. To comply with social distancing

Our Modern Consumer Banking Report​​​​​​​ last year showed that when consumers visit branches, it’s primarily to talk face-to-face and ask questions/get help.  Research from Bain reinforces this, and emphasizes that “many retail banking customers think it’s easier to purchase through a human channel, or prefer to speak with an employee before buying a product.”

Due to social distancing measures, branches cannot be customers’ primary way of managing their finances during this pandemic. However, this doesn’t mean that customers aren’t interested in personalized attention that can be made available via video and voice.

2. To meet new demand 

Although spending habits may have changed, consumers are still making critical financial decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Individuals: The financial effects of coronavirus are drastically different from one customer to the next. While some are counting down the days to receipt of their unemployment check, others may be taking advantage of low-interest rates to buy a house. Ultimately, banks and credit unions need to address each customer segment with a unique message and way of providing assistance.

Small business banking: Countless small businesses around the world have been forced to close their doors. Whether they’re needing loans, payment deferrals, or advice, small businesses are looking to their bank as a guide, and a comfort.

Investment management: A recession is upon us, and with that comes a new approach to investing. Financial advisors are fielding questions, providing recommendations, and staying up to date on the market. Beyond this, many are building entirely new strategies for their clients.

Regardless of customer type, it’s clear that each subset of customer needs help from their financial institution at this time.

3. To boost customer retention

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Financial institutions cannot afford to lose customers during the pandemic, so customer retention is crucial.  Great customer service boosts customer loyalty, and research from Bain shows that loyalty is key to retention:

  • Customer loyalty increases revenue, and loyal customers are less likely to switch to a competing bank.
  • Customers who are a bank’s “promoters” recommend the bank to others as much as six times more than “detractors.”
  • A bank’s “promoters” spend one-quarter more than detractors on their primary credit card.

Ultimately, being able to connect with a customer in need using video or voice can give customers peace of mind and boost loyalty. Delivering personalized financial services without interruption is crucial.

Initial results from video banking show that consumers consider the service valuable. Phoenix Synergistics’ survey from December 2019 found that 17% of customers polled had used video chat through a website or app with their financial institution. Of those that had used video chat, 89% found video chat valuable.

Some suggestions for banks using remote video or voice appointments would be to: firstly ensure your solution is secure and doesn’t expose personal information outside of the conversation; secondly create a culture of consultation to alleviate outstanding fears; thirdly leverage appointment setting to allow customers to pre-schedule consultations and enquiries; finally include remote appointments as part of a wider suite of ‘touchless’ offerings.

The dos and don’ts for bank branches

Forty-three percent of banking customers have expressed their desire to change the way they bank due to the pandemic. As with retail and hospitality, several key customer segments have doubts about visiting physical locations and are transacting more remotely.

The challenge for banks is to make services available wherever customers want to bank – be it by phone, online, or in branch – and when it comes to any transaction, the key is to make customers feel cared for, heard, and secure.

With social distancing parameters in place along with other health and safety measures, there’s significant focus on the need to retool the branch experience. Here are a few suggestions as we move into that next stage of business and interaction:

DO: Have a plan.

Nick Barnes

Nick Barnes

Think about how customers will enter and exit each location. Plan for increased space between people in line, how to attend to at-risk customers, properly spaced lobbies, and waiting areas. Consider your employees and what they need in order to stay safe including break rooms with increased space between lounging areas, removal of shared snacks, availability of hand sanitizer and masks.

DO: Make sure you can effectively manage footfall.

Overcrowding will create fear and loss of trust. Make sure you have plenty of directional signage, crowd control measures, and staffing. Solutions including people counters, occupancy managers, and pre-booked appointments​​​​​​​ both allow for the throttling of traffic, and the ability to build in cleaning time.

DO: Hire the right team and staff adequately.

Being courteous and in control will be the most important ingredient to success. Have enough staff, you will need the extra hands to ensure that all staff is properly trained and ready to enforce new protocols.

Some customers will be understandably anxious going into branches, and some will want to feel that everything has returned to normal, so staff may need to be very firm and well-versed in a new operating style.

DO: Offer customers the ability to bank when and how they prefer.

We’re not suggesting that you remain open for 24 hours, but the goal is to make it easy for the customer. Adding the ability to set an appointment with a wealth manager or an advisor online will enable customers to bank from home, and will enable banks to provide the personalized service customers have come to expect.

Leverage online appointment confirmations to remind customers to have key documents available if they need them. Virtual solutions position the bank to serve as an advisor rather than just a financial institution.

DO: Demonstrate your commitment to a safe environment.

Use clear signage to convey the measures in place to ensure customer and employee safety. Make hand sanitizer or wipes available throughout the branch, and in all high-touch areas. Ensure cleaning supplies are visible, around doorways and ​​​​​​​near greeters to provide customers with an added sense of security. And make sure that employees are following every measure required of customers.

DON’T: Lose customer confidence.

If you are not prepared, it will show, and it will be very hard to gain back customer confidence once compromised. Social media will not be your friend. Forrester Research reports that 52% of US online adults prefer to buy from companies that demonstrate how they are protecting customers against the threats of COVID-19.

DON’T: Overcrowd or fill your branch to capacity.

Consumers are being trained to avoid crowds, so failure at the branch to comply could result in losing their business. Most physical locations are operating with fewer staff and accommodating 10 – 25% of the traffic once allowed. Keep in mind that you only have one opportunity to make a first impression on customers, and they’re looking to trust you have their best interests in mind.

DON’T: Understaff.

You will need to expect the unexpected and having more hands-on deck will prove to be beneficial in the long run.  Having the wrong staff, or those that don’t take the time to learn new operating procedures or feel comfortable telling that customer who won’t keep a mask on, may not be the best fit.

DON’T: Make it difficult for customers to do business with you.

Social distancing introduces a number of disruptions to the way you’ve traditionally done business. So limiting options to customers – providing no ability to bank online or via phone, not having a live customer service voice or chat option – is not going to help. In addition to making sure the services are available, it is imperative to communicate all options to customers.

DON’T: Assume someone else will do it.

Bank staff need to show that the branch is being tended to, cleaned between visitors, and before opening each day. It is important that staff jump in to help move customers safely through the branch, ensure their questions are answered and overall, take a proactive approach to service without assuming that a sign or another staff member will take care of it.  Customers will come to the branch, but gaining their confidence is everything. Don’t lose it by not being prepared. It will be very hard to win it back.

With the constant threat new restrictions in response to COVID-19 outbreaks, banks will need to take a long view on how they enable the operational flexibility that will be needed to adapt to fast-changing conditions.  As people prepare to live more risk-averse lives, banks will need to go the extra mile to ensure customers feel less wary about visiting in person whilst also offering a seamless experience for those customers who prefer to remain in the safety of their homes.  Those that manage to do so will emerge from the crisis with a sustainable advantage over their competitors.

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Banking

Will COVID-19 accelerate the transition to banking alternatives 

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Will COVID-19 accelerate the transition to banking alternatives  2

By Gael Itier – CEO & Founder at akt.io

The COVID-19 crisis has led us to witness what will be remembered as a historic migration to digital. While we’ve seen an intense period of experimentation and improvement across financial services in the last five years, we’ve yet to see a truly unprecedented period of innovation to reimagine and rewrite the functionality of capital markets, until now. In less than a few years’ time, the wealth management and trading landscape will become unrecognisable to its current form.

The environment we currently operate in has influenced new consumer behavioural trends and increased expectations for a seamless digital experience. Banks who want to survive the storm must move faster than ever to introduce value-adding services that enhance the customer’s experience of modern banking. In the road ahead, banks and fintechs who want to stimulate long-term growth will see the crisis as a chance to create entirely new ways of thinking about how assets can be innovated to deliver more value to the consumers. While many companies will have to preserve funding, others will increase their investments in emerging technologies, such as AI, automation and blockchain, to make this vision a reality.

Alternatives to the traditional banking system will continue to pick up momentum as COVID-19 becomes a consistent presence in our society and economy. Though what will really set fintechs apart will be the ways in which they solve the challenges of tapping into new, secondary capital market structures and unlock real value by inviting mainstream consumers to participate. What is certain is that COVID-19 has highlighted the vulnerabilities of those who live paycheck to paycheck and made even more clear the need to access new services that help customers take better control of their money to stay afloat during the crisis or better yet thrive financially.

A watershed moment for digital banking consumers

Banks across the world will have to accelerate their digital transformation and future banking strategies to meet the rapid shifts in consumer demand for digital banking services and cashless payments. One recent study found that three quarters of European banks ‘weren’t prepared’ for the scale of change that COVID-19 had triggered in customer behavioral trends, with a further 88 per cent stating that they were overwhelmed by the demand for online and mobile banking during and post-lockdown. It is precisely this pattern that will lend to the rise in demand for fintech’s services given that they have operated for some time without a physical presence and as such are perfectly suited to adapt accordingly to this shift.

In a few short years, customer attitudes towards and interaction with banking products and services have evolved dramatically. Consumers today are more attracted to brands that offer more personalised and convenient experiences. This has led to greater preferences to seek out more intuitive modern banking software, which seamlessly responds to consumer needs. The emerging technologies deployed by fintech providers have shown consumers more sophisticated and intelligent user experiences are available, which has meant there has already been a rising permanent switch to digital pre-COVID.

Unfortunately for many heritage banks, the move to digital during COVID-19 has drawn harsher attention to this distinction. For customers who have traditionally managed their finances solely in brick and mortar locations, the inefficiencies are rife. Many scenarios have seen customers unable to shift quickly enough to mobile apps, struggle to get past hold to customer services for what feels like hours, and feel as though they don’t have enough financial control or stability.

Against this backdrop and the impact of COVID-19, other core traits of fintech providers and neo-banks in contrast to heritage banks make it well poised to come out on top when winning consumer trust and loyalty. The fintech industry’s business model has had yet to fully demonstrate its strength to combat economic uncertainty, until now. From adaptability to self-sufficiency, and speed to market and agility, fintech players are in a good position to ensure customers’ experience with banking runs smoothly during this challenging period.

Making money go further

The COVID-19 crisis has in many ways validated the foundational principles of many current and emerging fintech players: consumer control, rich personalisation, accessibility and transparency. Now more than ever, the average consumer will be searching for new and creative ways to sure up their finances. The pandemic continues to threaten job stability, demonstrating the need for fintechs to present greater opportunities for consumers to have more robust financial backup plans, including alternative sources of income, such as owning income producing assets.

The pandemic has proved itself as a wake-up call to everyone and has undoubtedly sparked a rise in motivation to take full control of finances. We are likely to see a steady rise in investment and trading options to seek out better returns than traditional savings accounts. Yet while investment apps will grow in popularity, for those starting out as investors, the barrier to entry is still very high. When it comes to accessing and effectively managing investments, there is a real need for a platform accessible enough for market participants who do not have the same level of capital and knowledge as high-profile investors to get involved.

A new period of innovation is upon us and this time over-hyped products, offering very little in terms of new functionality and customer benefit, won’t cut the mustard if they don’t provide an effective way to truly help people to manage and improve their finances. To truly be set apart from traditional banking infrastructures and even some of the most impressive fintechs when increasing wealth capital, customer expectations will be high. All-in-one digital platforms leveraging AI and other cutting edge technologies when providing customers with the opportunity to grow their wealth will redefine a promising and much needed era for consumers.

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Banking

How banks can take on Google in the race for AI talent

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By Nicola Sullivan, solutions director at candidate engagement tech firm Meet & Engage

The events of 2020 have made the battle for AI talent more ferocious than ever. In a volatile landscape where innovation is key, multinational firms are rolling up their sleeves for the inevitable scrum ahead.

For incumbent banks, the stakes are intimidatingly high. In one corner stand the fintech startups: the likes of Revolut and Monzo, who are snapping up AI-literate graduates while laying down pressure for capacity in exactly that area.

In the other corner, we find the Silicon Valley contenders of Amazon, Facebook and Google, who have phenomenal pay packages – not to mention glamour and visibility – on their side. And technologists with a finance background loom firmly in their crosshairs (Facebook employs hundreds of ex-banking recruits).

This unsettling picture is intensified by a chronic tech shortage: in a recent study by AI firm Peltarion, 83 percent of AI decision-makers agreed that a deficit of deep learning skills was seriously hampering their competitiveness. But, with the global impact of AI on financial services companies set to hit $140 billion in productivity gains and cost savings by 2025, banks need to find a way to break ahead and secure the AI talent they need. Here’s how:

Fish from a wider talent pool

We tend to think of AI in relation to a very niche set of qualifications. Yet in reality, it’s a fast-moving sphere that also requires a host of soft transferable skills such as problem-solving, agility, great communication and a sound analytical mind. In short, it’s less about what a candidate knows/does, and more to do with what they could know or do.

It’s worth thinking about whether you are being open-minded enough in your interpretation of tech talent. Do the AI roles you’re looking to fill need specific skills and criteria, or are they better suited to people who are inherently curious, intelligent and quick to learn?

Depending on the answer, you may want to expand your search from the bright young things of MIT or Berkeley to other related careers or older candidates with transferable skills. You may even want to look internally for the next generation of tech talent.

For example, if a bank’s customer-facing roles are declining but AI supply is not keeping up with demand, maybe this is a problem that could fix itself. The bank in question could run a two-week internal virtual AI internship to test interest, with the aim of rechanneling internal talent and avoiding redundancies. If AI is as critical as all forecasts suggest to the future of finance, investing in a more comprehensive approach like this may make a lot of sense.

Then there’s also the question of underrepresented groups. The proportion of black or latino people at major tech companies remains depressingly low, while women make up only a quarter of computing roles.

As well as driving equality, this issue of diversity is also a market gap that could be used for competitive advantage by banks. But doing so requires a deep-seated strategy that addresses the root reasons why candidates from these groups are turning away from tech. Issues such as lack of career development and accessible education need to be solved at ground level from the inside-out; an effort that begins before, or in tandem with, recruitment.

Make your recruitment process personal and transparent

When you’re fighting for top AI candidates who have the world at their fingertips, it’s not enough to bundle them through a generic Applicant Tracking System. You have to actively woo them, and get them on-side with your vision and community. This is especially important for millennials and Gen Z recruits, who are more purpose-driven than their predecessors.

Live online chat sessions hosted by high-profile speakers across the business is one tactic our banking clients have seen great success with here. For example, a shortlisted group of technologists get to meet with a bank’s CTO or Chief Human Resources Officer via a group chat (which they can join anonymously if they want to), to ask questions and find out more about a company’s technology roadmap and cultural ethos.

This is a rare opportunity to give candidates real takeaway value; even if they’re not thinking about leaving their current job, few will turn down the chance of time with the person who runs cybersecurity at a major bank. And this person will invariably be able to communicate a much better sense of culture than a third-party recruiter can.

Visibility is also important here: if you want to attract more BAME or female candidates, you need to have lead BAME or female technicians as a vocal part of the recruitment process, showing what success in your company looks like. If you don’t have people to fulfil these roles, you need to go back and address that rather than making empty statements.

Opening the doors to your company in this way is a winning strategy for tech candidates: it’s a “wrapper” to put around them and make them feel wanted, welcome and motivated – even when a recruitment process lasts a little longer than you’d like.

Talk like yourself but walk like a tech expert

Part of the openness needed to recruit key tech talent is about being authentic, too. There’s a tendency among some finance incumbents to “get down with the kids” and appear more like their disruptive competitors than they truly are. If you are a long-established brand in the banking world, with a good track record of developing careers, that alone is enough to attract AI technologists – you have a lot to offer, and you don’t need to put on a guise.

Equally, if you do have work to do in being more accessible to potential candidates, focus on real progression rather than image. This may mean putting through measures to build awareness and role modelling around recruitment diversity, or enhancing employee wellbeing.

With mental health issues on the rise in the workplace, a co-managed wellness programme of fitness and community events can make the difference between which way a candidate sways in a roomful of enticing options. This is especially true since banks – for all their boardrooms traditions – have a reputation amid technologists for a better, less brutal work-life balance than Silicon Valley.

Lastly, banks need to walk the walk when it comes to tech-enabled recruitment. However hard you try to make it personal, most candidate enrollments will involve a degree of automation at some stage – and it’s important to make that process as quick and slick as possible. For a candidate with consumer-grade tech experience, first impressions count: they want to know that this is a place that will recognise and nurture their skill set. So instead of a long, clunky application process, maybe consider a virtual assessment centre or a sophisticated chat bot, which can capture essential information in a fast, engaging way.

Recruiting the world’s top tech talent isn’t a question of magic or even necessarily a huge pay cheque. Instead you need to weave together these “micro-moments” that signal your bank’s character, integrity and technical ambition. Do this, and you stand a good chance of persuading leading AI candidates to skip the queue and come directly to you.

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