Back to root and branches

InBusiness certainly knows how to spot rising stars - shortly after this interview was completed, Charlotte Hogg was appointed Chief Operating Officer at the Bank of England. She started her new role just as we went to press. It is said that when, in days gone by, journalists arrived in Whitehall for a briefing by a minister, a private secretary would announce: "The press, sir, and the gentleman from The Times." Sometimes the press just has to know its place.

So it was when I arrived from InBusiness to meet Charlotte Hogg, Head of Retail Distribution and Intermediaries - i.e. head of the branch network - at Santander UK. I had to wait. At the head of the queue was a group of Cass MSc Finance students who had come to find out a little more about the person in charge of operations at this newish but sizeable player in the competitive UK high street banking market. Hogg displayed good customer service skills as she answered questions politely and encouraged her young visitors to speak up - "You've been very quiet," she said, in a friendly way, to a more reserved member of the group. Finally, it was over to me for the more formal part of the meeting.

Conservative dynasty
An interview like this could not hold too many terrors for the experienced executive. Although only 42, Hogg has already held a number of senior positions. After university (Oxford) she worked at the Bank of England, then joined the consultants McKinsey, working for the financial services division in their Washington DC and New York offices. A client, Morgan Stanley, hired her and, after a stint in a strategy role with the bank, she came back to the UK to run Discover's credit card business before becoming Managing Director of Experian, the customer credit business, for three years. She was hired by Santander in April 2011.

The other reason Hogg is unlikely to be daunted by media interest is that being the focus of attention is in her blood. Her late grandfather was Quintin Hogg, later Lord Hailsham, the Conservative politician, while her father Douglas was also a Cabinet Minister and her mother, Sarah, is a distinguished former journalist and businesswoman.
Santander UK was formed from the merger of Bradford & Bingley, Alliance & Leicester and Abbey (formerly Abbey National), all three essentially savings institutions. This merger was part of the tidying up exercise required after the great financial crisis. But now Santander UK is establishing itself as a serious rival to the more established UK lenders such as Barclays, HSBC, NatWest and Lloyds TSB.

Understanding customers
"Ana [Botin, Santander UK's Chief Executive] was very persuasive," Hogg says. "She wants to get back to traditional banking, understanding customers, who they are and what they need." The chance to get involved was clearly too attractive to resist.
In September 2011 the company convened a large "customer first" event at Wembley stadium to launch a culture change programme under the same name. This was serious stuff: staff, customers and the leaders of all the top 150 retailers were there, as was one of the bank's brand ambassadors, the golfer Rory McIlroy. The message was clear: banks need to change, and Santander needed to change the way it viewed its customers. It would not be just the culture that was changing - it was also the roles of the people in the retail bank.

The real point of this reorganisation and culture change, Hogg says, is to get back to the future - to make banking more human again, to recognise the needs of customers better, and to respond to them. She brings a McKinseyite's analytical skill to this task. "Banking went off track," she says. "Captain Mainwaring [the bank manager in the BBC sitcom Dad's Army] ceased to exist. Banks became more sales driven and processes were automated. But this disempowered staff, and almost prevented them from helping customers properly. Incentives were poorly designed, too. This all combined to give the customer a bad experience. Now we need to stand in the customers' shoes and work hard to serve them better."

Cultural shift
Hogg is keen to stress that the bank's journey is not just about the Customer First programme. "The launch of the 123 current account in March 2012 further embedded our cultural shift. It's more than just another product - it's supported a change in our thinking whereby our focus is on our customers and the value we can offer them. And this value is different for each and every one of our customers."

Hogg expands on the theme of the value of a personal touch by telling a story which was included as part of the "customer first" event in September 2011. Ten years earlier, on 11th September 2001, she had been working in New York for Morgan Stanley. The bank had offices in World Trade Center 2, one of the twin towers. "One of my colleagues was disabled, and she was working high up above the 80th floor," she says. "Two other people who worked with her just left her there. But a mailman carried her down 68 flights of stairs to get her out. "It's an example for us to think about: what do we want to be, and what do we not want to be? We are there helping people make really important decisions in their lives. Now we are getting back on a journey to be the best bank we can be."

As part of Santander UK's investment in the future the bank has a relationship with 50 universities in the UK, including City University London and Cass. It offers 500 scholarships in this country and funds internships for students at small and mediumsized enterprises. A flotation for the UK bank is on the cards. And the mission for the bank, Hogg says, is to operate on a basis that is "simple, personal and fair". The woman in charge is pretty clear about those goals, too.

Stefan Stern is a Visiting Professor of Practice in the Centre for Professional Service Firms at Cass. He can be contacted at

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