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Opinion > An interview with

An interview with Danny Harmer: Businesses with workforces that reflect communities they serve are 'more likely' to deliver for their customers

Theo Osborn | 13:30 Friday 30th August 2019

In an interview with Specialist Banking, Danny Harmer, chief people officer at Metro Bank (pictured above) talks about creating a culture at a bank and the most effective ways of retaining staff.

What are you responsible for in your role?

As chief people officer at Metro Bank, I’m responsible for the people and culture that makes the bank a fantastic place to work. I’m 100% focused on our people, their development and putting the customer at the heart of everything we do — which turns our customers in to ‘fans’ and enables us to surprise and delight in every interaction.

When I joined Metro Bank in 2012, we had around 300 colleagues. We now have around 3,900 and we’re continuing to grow.

What are the most important foundations to put in place when creating a culture at a bank, and how can you stay unique?

Organisations can overcomplicate things, specifying behaviours and values they espouse for colleagues to follow with customers, and a separate internally-focused employee experience and culture. People are people whether they are talking to a customer or a colleague.

Culture is really the behaviours in an organisation and they are the key driver of exceptional customer experience. Embedding our culture and supporting our people to provide fantastic service is what sets us apart. It helps us attract, welcome, celebrate, retain and develop our fantastic people. It encourages our colleagues to bring their best self to work when helping our customers and supporting each other, because everyone knows what we are about.  

Recruiting the right people is often the hardest task when building a business. What qualities are most important to look for when adding people to the team?

We are looking for people who can focus their skills and expertise on great customer outcomes and are energised by our purpose and approach. For our entry-level colleagues in customer facing-roles, we hire for attitude and train for skill; we can train people to be bankers (which we do in our in-house university) and we offer all our advisers a career path, which includes the Chartered Banker Certificate and Diploma.

We are growing and also operate at a fair old pace, so people who thrive here tend to work well with ambiguity and are quick thinking.

We also look for diverse teams in every sense of the word. It isn’t just good business sense, it’s fundamentally the right thing to do. Businesses with workforces that reflect the communities they serve are more likely to understand and deliver for their customers and make better decisions. 

What are the most effective ways of retaining staff at a bank?

We believe that everyone has talent, not just the ‘top’ five or 10% of people in the organisation.

It’s really important to continue to support and invest in the careers of our colleagues, especially as the bank grows. During 2018, we created over 800 new jobs and promoted more than 730 colleagues. We also helped 90 new leaders ‘learn to lead’, supported over 280 colleagues on fast-track schemes and specialist studies, and enabled 445 colleagues to gain professional banking qualifications.

In October 2018, we partnered with leading business school Cranfield University to launch an MSc in retail and digital banking, which also provides the chartered banker diploma on completion. This is about investing in our colleagues and enabling them to be the very best they can be, with the knowledge and confidence they need to help Metro Bank continue to be a disruptive force in UK retail banking.

By empowering colleagues and creating the conditions for them to grow if they want to, we allow them to thrive.

If you could change one thing about the banking industry, what would it be?

It has to be trust. The reputation of banking as an industry has a way to go. Initiatives such as the Competition and Market Authority’s (CMA) service quality surveys are helping and giving customers more information and ability to compare providers. But we have this strange balance of banking being a service society needs, customers being unwilling to move providers and suspicious of the banking industry as a whole.

How did you get into the industry?
After I left university, I was going to be an accountant and then had a change of heart. I ended up working in trade finance for a few years and then joined the Halifax Building Society. It’s now 30 years later *gulp*.

If you didn’t work in finance, what would you be doing?

I love the difference people make in a business so if I didn’t work in finance then I would probably be working in HR in another industry. Or perhaps I would be a maths teacher — because I love numbers, children and helping to make the complex simple.


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