Rebecca was a participant on the Oxford Bank Governance Programme in 2021, and here she gives her perspective on the course and its impact on her work.
Perhaps most people don’t think of working at a bank as a service. However, a well-run bank in an underserved market can be one of the most powerful tools of socio-economic transformation in the life of an individual, family, or business. On a macro level, strong banks are the bedrock of a healthy business community and can be instrumental in the growth of nascent companies, industries, and sectors.
Increasingly, financial institutions are trying to reach the unbanked, using both innovation and digital transformation as effective vehicles to access the increasingly complex transactions needed to participate in the modern economy. In addition, banks are increasingly encouraging their own clients to provide transparency on environment, social and governance (ESG) metrics, the process which can be a vehicle of good in making the world a better place.
Conversely, the public is acutely aware of how badly governed financial institutions can have a direct effect on once seemingly unrelated people or businesses. We need only look back at the 2008 financial crisis to see how critical and connected our financial institutions are. Deemed ‘the greatest economic disaster since the great depression’ by The Washington Post, the 2008 financial crisis wiped out nearly US$8 trillion in value in the stock market alone. Banks were at the centre of that crisis as well as the boards that govern them.
There is an important reason for the higher regulatory scrutiny and stringent governance in banks: it’s not the bank's money at risk, it’s the depositors. When banks fail, there are broad ramifications. Depositors can lose savings, lines of credit that businesses rely on to pay their suppliers and employees can disappear, and one bank’s failure can lead to other banks failing.
There has never been more attention paid to the governance of banks. The boards of these banks are charged with what some consider a sacred duty of ensuring these institutions are run ethically, sustainably and with all stakeholders in mind.
The decision to learn
With all this in mind, as I began my non-executive career, including in financial services, I wanted to ensure I was equipped with the most up-to-date and globally relevant best practices in the governance of banks. As one of my core values is continuous learning, it was only natural that I sought a course at a reputable institution of higher learning to aid me in this quest.
I found many general board director or corporate governance programmes available at every leading business school. However, I wanted a programme focused on banks. Finally, I came across the Oxford Bank Governance Programme at Saïd Business School. From all my research, it was the only course which led participants through a detailed examination of the governance of banks, and I was thrilled to be accepted into the 2021 cohort.
Unsure of what to expect, I signed on to my first Zoom session with a mix of anxiety and adrenaline. However, I needn’t have worried. The courses leaders brought a relaxed atmosphere to the programme.
The first session began with a kickoff on why trust and leadership matter so much in banks. Asking participants questions about why the board of directors plays such a crucial role as a corporate body in creating that trust, particularly in crisis situations.
The second and third sessions focused on risk management and regulation. As I have always been closer to the frontlines of financial services and my financial work had focused more on corporate finance, I found the world of bank risk management fascinating and has proven some of the most useful information in my service on boards. The case study on Lehman Brothers was a real highlight.
The fourth session focused on strategy, growth, and responsible business and during the fifth, we discussed future of banking. I was impressed with just how far-reaching and innovative many of the ideas generated were within what many consider a traditional industry.
A network to lean on
The course material and faculty were, as expected, excellent, but I was blown away by the calibre of the other students. Each participant was extremely impressive. Some were like me, from general financial services or industry, looking to deepen their understanding of banks. However, many were banking professionals preparing for the transition from executive to non-executive roles and had decades of experience to share.
My cohort of well-seasoned board directors from myriad types of banking institutions - small and large, emerging markets and developed, small economies and big - is the greatest resource I could have. I have been fortunate enough that since the programme I have been able to call upon many of them for troubleshooting, inspiration, and advice.
Applying the wisdom
The programme changed my perspective on bank stakeholders in a profound way. I am now able to support the executives with a broader more long-term view. Asking different questions, drawing on learned knowledge and referencing historical case studies to help avoid mistakes made by others.
Whenever I am approached by people looking to start their non-executive careers, I always recommend the Oxford Bank Governance Programme at Saïd Business School. It is a powerful way to ensure you’re fully prepared when taking up the critical role of Board Director of a bank.