Many parallels are being drawn from the UK’s Brexit plight – some more justified than others. For this reason, I’d assured myself that I would steer clear…at least for my first post. However, as I contemplated my task - leading the evolution of Grant Thornton’s strategic account programme for the banking sector – I could not help but remind myself that progress is enshrined in compromise, collaboration and, above all, listening and learning.

Turning to the financial services industry, this sentiment seems pertinent: the industry is bigger than any one institution or adviser, its future depends on balance and relevance – achieving what is ‘right’ for all. The client-consultant relationship has, typically, been a transaction-based partnership, which has delivered acceptable results. However, I wonder what more could be achieved if this association was truly collaborative – founded upon differentiation, shared investment, goals and intelligence-led innovation?

For decades, business advisers have sought to impress their expertise upon clients through a set of static services or products that represent their own knowledge and ambition. This was likely a consequence of experts considering it their responsibility to dictate the change agenda, particularly where that agenda was shaped by rules and regulations that lent themselves to ‘productisation’. Simultaneously, while times were fair and budgets less constrained, firms may have been less discerning in their purchasing behaviour – preferring to stick with what had ‘not failed them in the past’, rather than what ‘might have been right for the future’. As post-crisis reform began to bite, the speed with which shortcomings were addressed was of the essence; possibly hindering any ability to genuinely assess the merits of alternative providers. In short, a crisis-led, time-constrained agenda retrenched existing practice, rather than the more open, collaborative approach the situation required.

As our politicians grapple with a panorama that has changed more than they possibly recognised (principally, disrupted by a far more engaged, informed and emotionally-invested electorate), much the same transition is well underway in financial services. The digital revolution is driving a far more inter-related ecosystem, founded upon customer-centricity that is challenging the deeply established order, including the client-consultant relationship. 

Over the past year, we have put in place a strategic programme of change within our Financial Services Group founded upon the vision to deliver differentiated and innovative solutions to support our clients’ aspirations. To that end, we have sought to listen better, learn more and dictate less. Our early analysis confirms both well-known trends and common frustrations; while there is a strong correlation between institutions’ ambitions and strategic areas of focus, clients are looking for something different: deeper insights, tried-and-tested innovation, true customer focus, investment in relationships and a compelling value proposition.

Banks’ revised objectives are best illustrated by their ambition to place their customers at the core of everything they do; this customer-centricity is sustained by three common pillars: a rationalisation of their offerings to focus on relative strengths, operational simplification and last, but not least, targeted digital transformation. We view this as a hugely positive transition from the focus on regulatory implementation that has marked the last decade. In essence, investing in the future represents the need to reestablish and retain relevance within a much changed ecosystem.

We understand that banks have difficult decisions to make about the future, and will look to their advisers for insight and innovation, tailored to their needs. I will be using these pages as a medium to discuss these and broader topical themes, to focus our investment in helping our clients to remain relevant, distinctive and innovative. Above all, I hope this can be a collaborative forum from which we can both listen and learn.