Financial Conduct Authority: ‘At our best’ leadership programme

Empowering leaders to drive transformation

Oxford Saïd collaborated with the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to enhance its senior leaders’ capabilities to navigate the increasingly complex financial services and regulatory environment.


Innovations, such as big data and blockchain, are transforming financial services. However, as well as bringing competition, choice and convenience, they also create new dangers. Growing complexity, cybercrime and fraud threaten the integrity of the global financial system, while rising household debt and uncertainty in employment continue to test consumer confidence.

Mitigating these risks is a significant task for regulators worldwide. As the organisation responsible for regulating financial markets and more than 59,000 financial services firms in the UK, after Brexit, the FCA faces the added challenge of disentangling the country’s financial regulations from Europe’s.

In 2017, the regulator embarked on an organisational transformation to deliver the future of financial regulation. It refreshed its mission and values, moved into a new purpose-built headquarters in Stratford, London, and invested in new cloud-based IT systems to encourage more collaborative working. However, it knew its success rested on implementing a bold new approach to leadership development.

More than 110 of the FCA’s senior leaders already had industry-leading technical expertise. The challenge was to enhance their capabilities to navigate the increasingly volatile, unpredictable, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) financial and regulatory environment.

The regulator needed a partner capable of developing a flexible leadership programme which was responsive to its evolving priorities and would engage time-pressured people to commit to personal growth.

Combining faculty knowledge from one of the world’s most prestigious universities with a diverse, innovative team of executive education professionals, Oxford University’s Saïd Business School offered the FCA the change-catalysing intervention it needed.


Alison Clunas, Head of Executive Development at the FCA

‘The Oxford Saïd team listened carefully and presented an expert proposal. They brought credible faculty to the table and immersed themselves in the FCA’s values.They challenged our thinking to develop a programme aligned with both the FCA mission and its evolving priorities. Their flexibility enabled us to adjust delivery and amend content ‘just in time’ around events which our leaders had to be "on standby" for, such as milestones in the Brexit process.’

The ‘At our best’ leadership programme

Oxford Saïd's Custom Executive Education team, the FCA's Executive Development Department and an Executive Development Advisory Panel of representative FCA senior leaders worked as a seamless team to co-create an agile and unique leadership programme.

Infographic of the programme structure

Named ‘At our best’ to reflect the FCA's refreshed mission and values, the multi-channel learning experience developed iteratively to meet participants' live needs and embedded professional development in the workplace.


Andrew Bailey, Former Chief Executive of the FCA and present Governor of the Bank of England.

‘The partnership with Oxford Saïd created a strategically-aligned and innovative curriculum which enhanced cohesion and connection between the organisation’s leadership. It empowered our senior leaders to coach and develop their colleagues to advance the organisation in an agile and experimental way, to learn, be curious and do things differently.’

Programme structure

‘At our best’ launched with an event for the FCA’s senior leadership team at its Stratford headquarters in September 2018, before splitting participants into six smaller cohorts to complete a six-month development track.

Each cohort gathered senior leaders from the regulator’s different levels and departments, including the CEO, Directors and Heads of Department, to encourage collaboration and networking across the organisation.

A deliberately overlapping cohort timetable between November 2018 and January 2020 guaranteed inclusivity and allowed those entering the organisation or who missed a learning session to still benefit from the programme.

Infographic of the cohort programme structure

Residential events at Oxford Saïd’s Executive Education centre at Egrove Park at the beginning and end of the programme focused on critical themes for the organisation, such as the future of regulation, risk and resilience, reputation, the work of leadership and sustaining change.

Oxford faculty-led workshops at the FCA’s Stratford headquarters embedded learning in the workplace and empowered senior leaders to take the ideas, tools and techniques they learned back to their teams.

Four faculty-led workshops:


Dr Nigel Spencer, Programme Director, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford

‘We wanted senior leaders to focus on the critical areas of their leadership they could develop to create positive change in the FCA’s culture. It was also crucial the learning was experiential. We are firm believers in the maxim that senior leaders “act themselves into new ways of thinking rather than think themselves into new ways of acting”.’

Coaching sessions organised in small groups of up to six people, based on seniority, reinforced workshop learning, embedded reflective practice and encouraged senior leaders to speak candidly about their challenges.




Andrew Gibbons, Lead Coach and Associate Fellow, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford

‘The group coaching sessions allowed senior leaders the rare opportunity to be vulnerable and work with colleagues in a supportive environment to find solutions to real challenges. They also […] provided a valuable opportunity to remember and reflect on the programme content.’


An intuitive online learning environment and accessible mobile app gave senior leaders ‘just-in-time’ access to materials and encouraged them to engage with digital learning in new ways.

Agile development and delivery

Oxford Saïd’s Custom Executive Education team, the FCA’s Executive Development Department and an Executive Development Advisory Panel worked hand-in-hand to develop the programme iteratively throughout its delivery.



Sarah Rapson, Director of Authorisations at the FCA and Executive Development Advisory Panel member

‘I wanted to shape each session for my colleagues, drawing on my own experience of it. After the first event, we asked that evening speakers be drawn not from financial services, but a different sphere of leadership excellence altogether. The Oxford team responded immediately, providing a wide range of speakers which included an Olympic champion.’


The Oxford Saïd- FCA ‘At our best’ implementation team drew on participant, faculty and coach feedback, and FCA updates on vital regulatory and political developments, to evolve the programme iteratively and ensure it was agile and responsive to the organisation’s emerging priorities.


Angela Adams, Lead Programme Director and Associate Fellow, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford

'The connection and continuous two-way dialogue also allowed us to deliver learning in the most appropriate spaces, and bring participants together to network and collaborate purposefully.'

Driving the FCA transformation


Andrew Bailey, Former Chief Executive of the FCA and present Governor of the Bank of England

‘The programme surpassed our expectations. It catalysed fundamental changes in the FCA’s thinking, practice and culture. It played a pivotal role in directing the Board and Executive Committees' priorities as we embark on the next phase of the transformation necessary to deliver the future of financial regulation.’

‘At our best’ encouraged the FCA’s senior leaders to engage with professional development in an environment where time pressures make it challenging to commit to learning. It built new cross-divisional networks, which enabled greater collaboration and cohesion among senior leaders. While facilitated coaching supported them to share live issues and find real solutions.


FCA Director, Human Resources

It was amazingly helpful to be able to bring leadership challenges to the group and get ideas. It strengthened my relationships across the FCA and extended my network, as well as providing practical solutions we were able to implement.

Participants applied the coaching methods they learned with their teams and discussed programme themes such as managing the pace of change and using doubt as a positive force at meetings traditionally reserved for technical discussions.



FCA Head of Department, Enforcement

‘I worked with Professor Olivier Sibony to tailor his workshop on “making decision-making more inclusive” for my managers. Olivier produced a brief video to introduce the session, and I used his slides and exercises to introduce the concepts and techniques. It has changed how we make decisions as a team.’

Reflective practice had a significant impact on senior leaders’ decision making. Directors and Heads of Department applied the technique to enhance management meetings.



FCA Director, Enforcement and Market Oversight

'[Reflective practice improved the quality of meetings] and sharpened their focus. We have been able to work in a less formal, paperless way on important issues. I have found journaling and taking the time to reflect on my thoughts and feelings incredibly helpful.’ 

The strength of collaboration between the FCA and Oxford Saïd made ‘At our best’ a success. It empowered the organisation’s senior leaders to be at their best to navigate the increasingly volatile, unpredictable, complex and ambiguous financial and regulatory environment.

Connectivity outcomes

A more collaborative, connected and cohesive senior leadership team.


Extended their internal networks.


Made connections with three or more new departments.

Cultural outcomes

Directors who coach, enable and support colleagues to progress at the FCA.


Believe they build inclusive cultures. Up from 76% before the programme.


Regularly encourage their team to think innovatively to solve problems. Up from 61% before the programme.

Leadership outcomes

Empowered leaders, curious to learn and do things differently.


Frequently use reflective practice in their leadership role. Up from 53% before the programme.