Donovan Bank Ltd is a major retail bank that operates in the Republic of Southland, a prosperous, developed economy in Europe. Like many other financial institutions, the bank was adversely affected by the global financial crisis but recovered both quickly and strongly. In the past 10 years the bank has been consistently profitable and has grown at a faster rate than most of its competitors.
The bank offers competitive products and adopts an aggressive sales strategy. Managers and staff working in customer facing roles are given demanding sales targets, with generous performance-related rewards comprising annual bonuses based on the value and volume of products sold and linked to the profitability of the bank.
Experts working in the capital markets regard investment in the shares of Donovan Bank Ltd very positively. The bank has increased its dividend payments for eight consecutive years and analysts believe that the financial performance of the bank will continue to be robust, especially in the short-term. These factors have driven up the share price, and hence the market capitalisation, of the bank.
The financial regulator of the Republic of Southland arranges annual review visits to all major financial institutions in the country. At the most recent review meeting, regulatory officials raised several matters of concern with the board and executives of Donovan Bank.
Two years ago, the regulator introduced a set of ‘Putting Customers First’ guidelines to promote positive outcomes for customers. These included a requirement to put the interests of customers at the heart of all banks’ activities, to ensure that products and services meet customer needs, to ensure fair dealings at all stages of the customer journey and to provide appropriate after sales service. The regulator’s concerns included the following:
• The number of customer complaints against Donovan Bank were at least 20% higher than any of the banks’ major competitors. The complaints related to lack of transparency in relation to fees and charges, poor administration and delays in responses to routine communications, failure to address errors and obstacles to deter customers from closing accounts and switching to competitors.
• The regulator noted that Donovan Bank was often regarded negatively by the financial press, with frequent articles accusing the bank of complacency towards existing customers, as it could rely on securing new customers based on the strengths of the products offered.
• The regulators’ statistics showed evidence of a high level of customer attrition, suggesting that the bank was selling products that were not consistent with customer needs. This resulted in some customers closing accounts soon after opening them. It was also suggested that customers were being advised to buy more products than they actually needed, and it was possible that some existing customers would
continue to maintain account relationships that were not actually beneficial for them
as a result of customer inertia.
• Several former managerial employees of the bank had written in confidence to the
regulator complaining that they had left to pursue alternative employment because they had felt pressurised to achieve increasingly demanding sales targets.
The board of Donovan Bank convened after the annual review meeting to discuss these issues. Several of the non-executive directors who had attended the review meeting were concerned at the findings of the regulator and insisted that it was imperative to change the culture of the bank by moving away from an aggressive, sales-led approach in favour of a more customer-centric approach. The regulator had made it clear that it regarded compliance with its ‘Putting Customers First’ guidelines as mandatory and it would not hesitate to take action if it felt that service standards at any bank were compromised, even if the bank was financially strong.
When discussing the best way forward, the board was divided. Some directors argued that as a public company listed on the stock exchange, its primary duty was to its shareholders, and that they bank had exceeded all expectations in recent years. Conversely, the majority of directors concluded that they would have to act to ensure that customers’ interests were served at all times and that urgent change was necessary.
As an independent consultant engaged by the board of Donovan Bank Ltd, prepare a report addressing the following:
a) The ethical case for aligning the strategy of the bank with customer interests and how these interests may be reconciled with the objective of maximising shareholder value.
b) Actions that the board should implement to change the culture of the bank to ensure that customers’ interests are consistently protected and promoted at all times