Company culture doesn’t necessarily look the same in trust, fund and corporate service businesses as, say, tech start-ups, but nevertheless it is one of the most important drivers for growth, and firms that can get it right have a fantastic opportunity to win and retain the best talent and customers (in that order!) So, forget the lattes and values spray-painted on the walls, we look at why firms in trust, fund and corporate services are leading the way by putting company culture at the heart of their value proposition.
1. Providers win because clients trust their people
People are the most important asset in nearly all businesses, but when servicing trusts and funds, multi-year and highly sticky contracts means company growth is founded on the relationships built. Clients’ key motivation is to work with high-quality and compliant service providers. In a space that has made headlines via the Panama, Paradise and Pandora papers, there continues to be a ‘flight to quality’ in terms of clients looking for a provider they can trust. To put it bluntly, building relationships and a culture driven by doing the right thing by stakeholders has never been so important.
2. Company culture needs to be felt at every stage of business process
When we spoke to Martyn Phillips, Chairman at KB Associates, about how they managed to create a company culture that delivered on this ambition, he stated that the key thing was that the culture was felt at every stage of the business. “We have all seen it when values are on the mouse mats, but the real question is are they seen, are they felt, are they heard?” At KB Associates, he said the key was a consistently high level of interest from the Founder, Mike Kirby, in recruitment, and how candidates would be able to fit with KB’s clients. “He understood the professionalism that clients wanted, the kind of experience they wanted, and he was fastidious at making sure that every new hire had that ambassadorial role that would suit their needs.”
For KB Associates, the same qualities were also integral to ongoing training, feedback and appraisals, and are what made the company so attractive to both employees and clients. Martyn continues, “People hear culture and think it might be endless cheer and social committees, but the culture at KB is very strong, and it’s about being driven and having very high standards. And people buy into that, the type of people we recruit want to be part of something like that.”
3. Getting the best people
The global nature of the trust, fund and corporate services industry has meant jurisdictions seek to gain advantage by building regulatory frameworks and expertise in specific niches. Expertise is often localised as a result, and as a consequence, recruiting talent is all the more competitive. So how do service providers attract the best quality candidates? And equally important, how do they retain them – high churn is an anathema to clients who are looking for trust and reliability.
Pay is clearly important, ensuring a bonus structure is in place so that those who perform are rewarded. But to really compete, firms need to create a culture that its people can get behind and create a fulfilling and rewarding work environment. At KB Associates, Martyn Phillips claims that from the start the Board sought to understand how they could attract people who normally go to the Big Four. That couldn’t always come down to price so they set out to build a high-quality reputation and to be able to offer those people something different in their career. Many individuals then went on to refer other candidates, and soon they were seeing people seeking out – and waiting for – job opportunities within KB Associates specifically. This then became a virtuous circle, as the brand created a culture that was seen as a gold standard in the management company space. Employees are proud to work there and there is low churn, whilst clients are attracted by the reputation that creates.
4. Developing your people
Because of the nature of what they do, management companies have to be at the very edge of the latest regulation and latest market practice, so ensuring your people are at the top of professional qualifications and regulatory training, is important, but not necessarily a differentiator.
But there are two other key areas where training and internal processes can move the needle for clients. One is around knowledge management and dissemination, supporting employees to go beyond the technical knowledge and give them the ability to apply what worked from one client to another. The other is around soft skills, teaching not just regulations and applications, but how people can live and breathe values in a way that directly improves the customer experience.
Martyn points out that people train positively, telling people what they can do better in the future rather than telling them what they didn’t do well enough in the past, but that this feed-forward rather than feedback culture needs to be continuous and integral to the way you do business to be a success.