Liar’s Poker, Michael Lewis’s first book, dramatised the crazy excesses of 1980s Wall St. It was rather like the Wolf of Wall Street but without the 18 certificate. But Michael Lewis knows how to make potentially dull stuff into a good read too, so if you feel you ought to know about the 2008 financial crisis but can’t face reading about it, The Big Short is the book for you. It’s a neat little paperback (or ebook, Read More

Books | March 2015

I have a relationship manager at the bank where I have my business account. I wonder what relationship he’s managing.

Is that unfair? Here’s a bank trying to do better. The problem with their monthly courtesy call is that it is content-free. They offer me nothing – no information, no news, nothing that could be useful to me. In truth it’s unlikely they’ll chance upon something I want to hear anyway. It feels like something they’re measuring for their own purposes: “We call all our business customers at least six times a year and check all is well.” The presumption here is that I will value the calls, Read More

Comment | January 2014

It’s all the rage to talk about purpose in business (I’m keen on it myself) but business also has to be about the numbers. The financial results are the ultimate numbers. Targets, KPIs and incentives are management tools to drive and track progress. But, there’s more to the old adage, “what gets measured gets done” than setting KPIs. Not all customer metrics are good for customers; even the best-intentioned metrics can have unintended consequences. Here are a couple of examples. Read More

Thought leadership | October 2013

That American business import, “the C suite”, gets some bad press. In the FT recently, Lucy Kellaway wrote a whole column about how she abhors it, prompted by the appointment of Charlotte Hogg as chief operating officer at the Bank of England. I confess I was a chief innovation officer for a while, though, in my defence, I never really called myself that. I don’t mind CMOs and CEOs, nor even COOs. But I do take grave exception to the latest addition to the C suite, Read More

Comment, Thought leadership | September 2013

This may be the only business book you read that covers Greek philosophy, ancient myths, modern parables featuring Fat Tony and Nero (characters from Taleb’s earlier books) and some personal stories, both from the author’s early life in Lebanon and from his more recent experience as a hate figure for classical economists. It’s a demanding and exhilarating read – skim-read half a page and you could jump two thousand years – but it deserves to be read properly. Read More

Books | July 2013

Last year I wrote in Market Leader about what financial services providers need to do to rebuild trust. Mainly it comes down to the basics of any decent brand or business: figure out what people expect, value and will pay for; offer whatever aspects of it make commercial sense for the business; and deliver what you offer.  Implicitly, that means don’t mislead, don’t offer something you can’t or won’t deliver consistently. I mentioned the banks’ Read More

Comment | June 2013

It’s hardly the end of capitalism, but the horsemeat scandal is showing large food retailers and manufacturers how it feels to be a banker. Meanwhile consumers – or people, as we might style ourselves– don’t know who we can trust. Marketing is seen as manipulative, and delivering profits is represented in the media as exploitation of customers. Sam Laidlaw of Centrica announced decent but hardly sensational results last week – and had to explain to John Humphreys on the Today programme why they hadn’t forgone profits for the sake of “the squeezed middle”.   Read More

Comment | March 2013

No sooner has the GoCompare opera singer been silenced than we have the TopCashback man, dressed in the world’s weirdest outfit – neon colours and those awful nappy trousers that sometimes look cool on young women but never, never on overweight men. He prances about to a jingle that lodges as firmly in your ear as any earworm, and an annoying voice that makes me nostalgic for the “We buy any car” voiceover. Is this “good” advertising? Read More

Comment | November 2012

It’s easy to take a swipe at banks, and tempting to think it was all about the good old days, when the bank manager knew his (mostly, his) customers personally. Dave Fishwick of Burnley Savings and Loans seems to think so. Frustrated at seeing loan applications from apparently credit-worthy local businesses refused by faceless administrators, or even computers, located far away from honest Burnley – probably in the wicked South – he set up his own bank, Read More

Comment | September 2012

Banks, eh? Easy to knock them, but what can we learn from their travails? Well, they illustrate perfectly how a. incentives drive behaviour, and b. delighting shareholders is unlikely to be a winning strategy in the long term. John Kay’s book Obliquity explores the principle that complex goals are best achieved indirectly, with examples of companies which achieved sustainable profitability by focusing not on their profit goals but on what their customers needed from them. Read More

Comment | July 2012