With bankers ranking around, or maybe just under, politicians in the popularity ratings, having fallen well behind lawyers but still just maintaining a lead over sex offenders, I note that they now appear to have encountered hard times. That said, certain investment bankers are not having to pull in their belts too tightly, as Howard Winn (In his "LaiSee" column - South China Morning Post) pointed out the other day when he showed scant pity towards Lloyd Blankfein's huge drop in salary to a miserable USD12m. (I note, Howard, you generously called the amount "earnings").
But not ALL bankers are in easy street. I was much intrigued by a report in that purveyor of quality news in Britain, "The Sun" newspaper the other day where it told the tale of a banker (a female one) who was reportedly jailed for 15 months after biting off the top of a gentleman's ear. The poor chap was having a quiet drink with friends - well maybe not that quiet as it was a stag night - when the lady rushed over and bit off the ear. Even after conviction it remains unclear what caused the attack.
Surely you can picture the situation. With bankers being vilified everywhere, with self- esteem clearly at an all time low, and faced with the prospect of maybe being made redundant or worse, or losing large chunks of pay just like Mr. Blankfein, it is leading bankers to resort to desperate measures. But whereas in the past they only wanted blood - now they apparently want flesh too.
Actually, you could be forgiven for thinking that I have a long term hatred of bankers, but having been one for 40 years that would be a trifle hard to countenance. I feel very sorry for the victim in the case above, but I have to say that the banking profession - or parts of it anyway, seem to do nothing but thumb their noses at the fact that times have - or certainly should have - changed.
I have been involved recently, wearing one of my variety of hats, in a series of structured discussions with bankers in cities around Asia, and somewhat less structured conversations in the Middle East. All were commercial banks. And the discussions have had a thread of similarity attached, in every place; the perception of banks and the people who work in them. I have to say, it is less marked in Asia than it seems to be in Europe particularly. But share prices are affected across the Board and it matters not whether you are a good, clean, unbailed-out bank, you are nevertheless tarred with the same brush as those who have not been so clever.
But there is not much point in complaining, because people won't listen anyway. You actually have to do something for yourselves. Every bank I have spoken to brought up the subject of service. I agree. In a world where banking products are easily copied, and where they cannot be differentiated significantly, your points of competitive advantage revolve around service. A breadth of product offerings sure, as long as you do them well, and deliver them easily, effectively, and efficiently - and talk to your client base to find out how they have changed.
In Asia as well as in the Middle East, the demographics are different as are the expectations, from region to region and country to country. If you are 55 years old, and running a financial institution where the average age of your clients is 32, do you actually know what they want - or are you giving them what you think they should have, delivered in what they at least would consider to be an old fashioned way?
If that is what you are doing, it won't help to change the public perception of bankers, who will become more and more depressed and instead of biting off your hand for new business, they will be biting off your ears!