Chris Smerald


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What is out of kilter in Financial Services for employees & society at large?What seeds of positive change are in the wind or on the ground?

There is a lot of admirable focus these days on culture, sustainability and ethics in the financial sector, but ideals can be stunted by everyday realities or sown even by small victories -so what are they? This is a listening question to help inform a volunteer group of insiders and concerned citizens seeking to care for and encourage the soil and seeds that positive change will sprout from. We think it will emerge more from conversations like this than someone’s forced agenda.

Thank you so much. Our group, City Forum, is in partnership with St. Ethelburga’s Centre for Peace and Reconciliation (a multi-faith and secular focused London charity founded out of the ruins of a 1993 terrorist bombing whose mission is ”to help people build relationships across divisions of conflict, culture and religion”). We have begun organizing events around these general topics and your responses will help aid our research and strategy setting. You can search us using “City Forum St Ethelburga’s” to find out more.

  • Dec 2 2013: As a contractor/consultant to the Banking industry for many years I have seen wave after wave of cultural changes that have cumulatively led up to the current common perception where customer trust has been largely lost, the staff see their employer bank as no more than a stepping stone to making enough money to retire, company strategies are mostly short term cost cutting exercises. Banks have become just another corporate brand trying to sell you something.
    One of the current cultural waves is to become customer centric although this usually is being implemented as what the bank thinks the regulator thinks the customer wants.
    But on the bright side I have seen some recent top down initiatives that really could change the organisational culture if they are followed through properly. Forward looking values that would make people proud to work for their bank. Empowerment of local branch staff. Reshoring of failing offshored operations. Signs that banks are taking corporate social responsibility seriously.
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    Nov 29 2013: Chris, I have served in various management positions and at many levels financial counseling was always a part of the big picture. I am not a expert but most o us can spot a bad situation.

    As the saying goes, "You can't undo stupid". People seek assistance when the water is over their heads. What would be of importance would be to find a means of transmitting this sound advice to near graduates in high schools and colleges. Many people get their first job and buy a expensive car and look or a house and a spouse. Before they know it they are in deep.

    If your agency could reach these people prior to making these errors it would be a great accomplishment.

    When I was in the military I taught a volunteer course in "Live Management" I taught powder puff mechanics, homemaking, cooking, budgeting 101, ... survival skills in the real world. This was open to all ranks and their spouses. It turn out to be a success. Once we covered the basics I asked for other areas of interest and arranged for special speakers.

    The point is that "it ain't gotta be fancy" just effective and word of mouth will send you people.

    Be well. Bob.
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      Nov 29 2013: A good point. I was just at a small business start-up conference and was impressed by how mentoring as a business service has sprouted up. Thinking about your contribution, it feels like there are riches of niches waiting to be filled also (for of individuals and employees from an "outside" fresh perspective). It just takes some organization and trust to get started...
  • Nov 28 2013: Hi to all,

    I was working as an online consultant for past five years in London, for charity sector as well as providing consultancy on some altruistic projects funded by people working in the City.

    As someone who was working with, as you would say, corporate big shots, I had an opportunity to take a look at the financial sector in London, through private and business relationships.

    I have never met a person who would say “I work in the City and I am really happy with my job”.

    Usually people complain about their bosses, or if they are the boss, about responsibility they have.

    Surely, this is not to say that 100 per cent of people working in the City is unhappy, but it could help us understand mind-set of some of the people.

    Financial industry lost a bit of its prestige in the eyes of general public after the credit crunch. I am sure the same thing happened for some of the insiders.

    In that sense, your topic is a good starting point to begin a dialog and thank you for that.

    I see several things as a necessity in order to restore the balance in the Financial Services and the society at large:

    Lessening the gap in terms of pay role between the top management and young employees at the beginning of their career.

    Creating sustainable micro financing models that could help raise people out of poverty.

    These micro granting projects, could and should be done not only in India, but also in poorer areas of London.

    I understand that for some it is strange to realize this, as people live in bubbles they create themselves, but there are poor areas of London, and the City is not London.

    Thank you.
  • Nov 28 2013: I don't know if this helps, but a friend of the family, Sam Greene, was the Father of microeconomics. He would go to villages in Guatemala in the 1960's and ask the village elder what they needed (His program was called, "Pennies for Progress"). If they said they needed a pump, he would provide them with a microloan to buy the pump and each of the villagers might donate a penny a day to repay the loan. His repayment rate was phenomenal and he would use the repayment to provide other villages with the basics of living.
    • Nov 28 2013: Great example.
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      Nov 28 2013: Thanks for getting us started. It is great to be reminded that meaningful changes do not need to start large.
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    Nov 30 2013: One thing we found in our two dialogues was that there were three levels to the question:
    -individuals trking and management levels with pressures, hopes and ideas
    -financial institutions with competitive pressures and perhaps trying to reinvent themselves
    -the public under pressure and wanting change.
    It would be good to hear about a wider spectrum of impact and action