spacer
What's He Building in There? spacer Issue 5
What's He Building in There? - The Northern Bank
Donegall Square West

by Richard West
spacer
I wished to find out what happens behind the facades of the city's banks. I went to the city centre and found that the headquarters for the banks cluster around City Hall. First I went into the Ulster Bank's new HQ building and spoke to the Group Media Relations Manager. She had an appointment to see somebody from the television and so could not talk to me for long. The Bank of Ireland in front of City Hall were also unable to provide anyone to talk about what they do. The Northern Bank however was able and happy to talk to me.
spacer
While I waited in the Business Banking Reception I had time to admire the bland paintings, the publicity material of organisations sponsored by the Bank and the real plants (mysteriously sustained by artificial light). Vanessa Miller's job title is Community Communications Co-ordinator - Ireland, she works within the Corporate Affairs department. This meant she was able to talk primarily about what went on her own department. We spoke in a cubicle set aside for business meetings on the ground floor and I was not invited to see elsewhere in the building (though would have been welcome if I had made a prior arrangement).
spacer
What's He Building in There? The Northern Bank, Donegall Square West
spacer
The Northern Bank has 96 branches in Northern Ireland (with 2,500 staff) and 59 elsewhere in Ireland where it is known as National Irish. The Northern Bank is owned by National Australia Group. This explains a number of things about the ethos and language of the Bank (but not, as is commonly believed, why the five pound notes are plastic). Previously Northern had been part of the Midland Bank.
spacer
This HQ building has the job of dealing with the administration of personal and business finances over and above the the work done in individual branches. The actual processing of cheques is done in Dunmurray. Departments known as 'People and Culture' and 'Learning and Performance Improvement' are located in a nearby building. There are six floors, four up with a mezzanine and one basement. The building contains the following: a canteen, Corporate Affairs, (i.e. PR and internal communications), Global Wholesale, Executive Office, Business Development (i.e. marketing), Service Recovery (i.e. complaints), Clearing, Personal Banking and International Trade, Business Banking (where one would meet one's 'relationship manager') and finally the basement. Vanessa was not allowed in the basement but said it was 'a car park for high ranking members of staff'. All talk of money was circumscribed by concern about security not unexpected in a bank.
spacer
With the exception of the basement, which I was obviously not going to be allowed to see anyway, I was told that none of the offices were in any way exceptional and contained computers, desks and people like any other office. The day to day business of each department was not really Vanessa's concern but for example the Business Development section had just recently produced a revamped logo for the Bank, with an italicised type and a blue background.
spacer
spacer
Corporate affairs, Vanessa's department, employed eight people, two of them produced People, the bank's bi-monthly internal magazine, the department had also recently completed an employee opinion survey. The main focus however was sponsorship and community relations. Vanessa told me that the Bank's Chief Executive in a power point presentation to staff had included 'five bullet points', the second of these was 'Community'. This explained the importance of the term for the Bank (she could not tell me what the other four company objectives were however).
spacer
Outlining the objectives and ethos of her department Vanessa explained that in the past the Bank would have provided sponsorship in a more ad hoc way. The focus of the department (along with a lot of the new jargon) was a creation of the Bank's new Australian owners. 'Corporate social responsibility is now very important' she said, and is now thought of in a strategic way with focused objectives for greater effectiveness. These are broken down as 'numeracy, financial literacy and volunteering'. Vanessa went over how these buzz words converted into support for organisations, she put repeated stress on how bank employees were involved in volunteering to go and 'support the role of teachers' in schools. Volunteering had a double benefit of increasing employee satisfaction (with themselves and the company) and assisting the organisations they were sponsoring.
spacer
The two programmes of this kind (including fincancial support and volunteers) that we dwelt on were for primary schools and secondary schools. In schools volunteers assist with numeracy teaching, this was organised through an intermediary, one of two charities, 'Young Enterprise' or 'Business in the Community'. These charities give Business Volunteers appropriate training to 'play maths games and spend quality time with mid level students' to give these students confidence.
spacer
I asked about the role of a bank in education and more specifically in areas that were more normally the domain of government. Vanessa said that the Department of Education had contacted them and held meetings with them to get them involved in schools. She was clear that their programme was not intended to market the Bank to schools and that volunteers from the Bank did not mention Northern Bank products in school. However when asked about the broader issue of a private company getting involved in providing education, or indeed a government department seeking to get them involved she said that it was not their job to tell the Education Department how to do their job. She saw a general benefit; 'the world has changed' she said and that it was 'good for kids to see the world of work'.
spacer
What's He Building in There? The Northern Bank, Donegall Square West
spacer
The Bank also organises more traditional fund raising event but again with the emphasis on benefit for the staff as well as the funded organisation. Recent examples of fund raising events for Action Cancer have involved an Action Cancer Complimentary Therapist giving massages to staff members or, in individual branches, managers becoming a 'slave for the day' for members of staff. This creates a 'feel-good factor' and the Bank matches any donations made by staff.
spacer
spacer
home | information | issues | artists & writers | columns | reviews
spacer