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Indepth Profile: Robert Dickie

by Lewis Panther | 24 Oct 2017

Profile of Robert Dickie, President of the Chartered Bankers Institute. 

Robert is currently in Australia to share his experiences of four decades in the industry - and to urge financiers to continue to demonstrate to the world that they should be trusted. Robert Dickie picture

WHEN he looks back at his long, successful career in banking and financial services Robert Dickie recalls one of his proudest moments standing on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on October 16, 2012.

The current president of the Chartered Bankers Institute - which is the oldest in the world, founded back in Edinburgh in 1875 - was part of the team at insurance giant AIG that brought the company back into public ownership after the financial crash.

Four years after the collapse of the housing market sent seismic shockwaves through the banking world, bringing down some of the biggest names in the industry, Robert and his colleagues were restoring some of the trust that had been lost.

It is trust that Robert says is one the most important aspects of his profession.

But it had gone out the window as the institutions were bailed out by governments around the world with billions of dollars of public money. The determination to pay the money back is what Robert sees as the heart and soul of his profession.

He said: “The highlight of my time working all around the world was in New York City where I was for six years from 2008. AIG was at the epicentre of the financial crisis.

“But there was a tremendous amount of honour amongst the staff at AIG. They got something wrong and they wanted to put it right

“I was brought in to be part of the team to pay $185bn back to the US Treasury after the bailout - along with $20bn in profit that was made.

“The divestiture of 46 companies in 20 months was incredibly challenging but also one of the most rewarding things I have done. We had some of the most difficult working conditions with all the complexities of selling off so many companies.”

As Chief Operations Officer, he had to make sure updated computer technology worked in different parts of the world, which was “very complicated when you’re dealing with offices in 50 different countries”.

He added: “Having done it, it was very rewarding.

“I was on the floor of the Stock Market when the CEO rang the opening bell to open the day and signal that AIG could be publicly traded again.

“As a team, the single-minded focus (to get AIG out of government ownership) was hugely impressive. It made a big impression on me.”

That he would be sorting out the biggest crisis to hit the banking industry would probably have been the furthest thing from Robert’s mind when he started his first job at a local branch of the Clydesdale Bank in Hamilton, Scotland, in the 1980s.

But apart from the massive changes in technology which has seen the huge computer terminals of his day replaced with the ubiquitous smartphones of 2017, he is convinced banking remains the same.

He says: “Fundamentally, it hasn’t changed. The core remains customer focus and management of trust between the customer and the bank.

“Banking is about trust. The customer must trust the bank.”

That is why he sees the CBI and and FINSIA as having such an important role in a post financial crisis world. The professional qualifications offered by both bodies and the continual education opportunities are central to that. Customers will value the advice given to them - even if it isn’t the news they want to hear.

He explains: “It’s not always about saying yes. When you look at the effects of 2008, you have to ask if there should have been more people told no.

“Sometimes the customer needs a bit of tough love, though that’s not always easy. Customers who get told they can’t get what they want can go elsewhere to get money. 

“What I have seen through my career is that you paint scenarios and work out if it’s good for the customer. You have to cause that person to pause. By highlighting the issues you hope they will support your decision.

“That doesn’t make it easy, but professions aren’t always easy.”

Having the recognised professional standards to install confidence in the customer is essential, says Robert who sent 30 years working in banking and 10 years in insurance.

And the advice he would give to himself if he was starting out all over again is keep studying.

“Take advantage of all the opportunities to learn, especially those that appear risky,” he says.

“I have learned the most in the most risky and challenging situations. When I moved to Australia in 1994 after being selected to be involved in the integration of the Clydesdale into the National Australia Bank, I had never worked outside of Scotland.

“It was a high risk but it was fantastic.”

That said, he doesn’t see any risk in the CBI and FINSIA joining forces to promote the best in the industry.

He says: “We have a very high commonality between the two. What we see at the core is the commitment in banking to individual professionalism. Customers want to see that the person sitting opposite them is a professional and someone they can trust.”

Robert is in Australia to give a series of talks to FINSIA members as part of his role to link the organisation with the CBI - and its the advice given to him by senior fellow and former National Australia Bank chief executive Don Argus that he still recalls as being the most important of his career.
They were: “Brains are good but brains with execution is the best combination.”
Which seems a pretty good motto for all FINSIA members.


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