Why Bank of Ireland UK's CEO is putting partnerships first

Written by
Des Crowley

08 May 2018

08 May 2018 • by Des Crowley

In this Q&A, Des Crowley, CEO of Bank of Ireland UK, discusses why the bank is taking a partnership-based approach to building new business and engaging employees. 

Why is it important for businesses to build partnerships?

Partnership is not something that’s new to us. It’s something we’ve always done well – it’s part of our DNA – and has served us well over the years, helping us develop and grow our business and our people.

Businesses don’t have to compete with each other to be successful. Developing enduring partnerships can bring real benefits, not just for each partner, but for the customers they each seek to serve. Customers, colleagues and communities can sometimes be served best when companies collaborate.

Our strategy is to selectively be the long-term partner of choice with leading and trusted brands in the UK whose vision and customer ethos we understand and share as they seek to expand and develop their presence in financial services.

We partner with two of the most trusted brands in the UK – the Post Office and the AA – as well with well-respected mortgage intermediaries and car dealerships and franchises. 

We’ve also worked with The School of Life to identify what makes partnerships successful. We’ve learnt that successful partnerships have six main ingredients. They share a common purpose, they have trust and mutual respect for each other, they bring skills to the partnership which are complementary, and they’re able to solve problems and communicate well with each other. If you get these ingredients right, partnership is a powerful force.   

How does partnership work within the business? What values and character traits do you look for from a Bank of Ireland employee?

Engaging employees in our business strategy is an essential element to building a sustainable and distinctive business. That’s why we’ve brought our partnership strategy to life for colleagues who work in and support our business, through Living Partnership – our employee brand positioning, which connects our business strategy with how we work together and deliver, in partnership, for customers, colleagues and communities.

We think it’s vital to listen to colleague feedback when shaping our future.  More than 400 colleagues have now signed up to be ‘Living Partnership Shapers’, helping to shape the next steps on our partnership journey, and strengthening the importance of partnership in the offices and branches where we work – all with the aim of creating a collaborative, empowering and successful place to work for themselves and their colleagues.

How are you futureproofing Bank of Ireland in such a changeable world?

We are always looking ahead and exploring new opportunities. Our partnership strategy helps us to do this, as we get to understand the market and consumer expectations, not just through our own eyes, but also through the eyes of our partners as well. We have to make sure we are ready to respond and deliver. 

In terms of future skills, there are two that I would especially call out as being needed for the future – creative problem solving and agility. People who are great problem solvers within businesses are often the best equipped to respond to their customers’ needs effectively, in innovative and creative ways that work in the real world. Moreover, if you can build your business around solving problems as they arise in the real world – customers will always know your value and see your worth. This is how a business can stay relevant and successful.

Those who behave in an agile way start with the customer and use insights to drive decision making; they learn fast through a test and learn approach and are not afraid to fail, they empower cross-functional teams to solve problems; they deliver value early and often by breaking problems down into components, and they prioritise the highest value opportunities. 

In a fast moving, highly competitive market, these are essential skills for the future.

What is your own leadership style, and how has it changed over the years?

In many ways how I communicate defines my leadership style. Quality conversations come from being authentic in delivering a message, but also really listening to the response – even if it’s not something you want to hear!  

I never underestimate the benefits of authentic communication, it’s essential to the foundation of any successful leader and it is key to successful partnerships too. Over the years I’ve got better at listening to feedback. At least, that’s what they tell me.

What advice would you give to fellow business leaders from your experience?

A leader with a clear and common purpose, supported by strong values, can achieve a lot by fostering trust and mutual respect. They underpin all strong relationships in business, and especially so when building successful partnerships. I’ve found that it’s important to create a way of working that allows ideas and opinions to be shared openly, where knowledge, capabilities and experience can be offered to benefit everyone, and when the achievements of others and the value they’ve added is recognised. These characteristics are an important foundation for long-term success.