Banking on Change
London Institute of Banking and Finance 

Ouida Taaffe editor (2019)
John Wiley&Sons, London

First, a year-long commemoration of an important centenary. Then, 40 years later, an equally important similar year-long celebration of the same institution’s 140th anniversary. I wonder whether there are other bodies within the banking, finance, accounting, laws, economics, and similar callings anywhere in the world which, like the London Institute of Banking and Finance, can lay claim to such a proud commemorative pedigree.

It was undoubtedly a very far notion from that original group of bank workers’ minds that celebrations such as these were to follow in the subsequent mists of time, when, in 1879, they first met in City coffee rooms to discuss a structured education body that would be the profession’s leading education organisation.

The extensive literature which eventually evolved was also unplanned at birth, but one only has to pay a short visit to the institute’s library in London to see how this literary worth has become treasured reading for all those who militated either as members or officials of that institute, or even just held positions within the profession.

In 1979, when the institute celebrated its centenary in London, recognition of the event’s importance came even from overseas, including from many centres (also Malta) wherein the institute’s professional education models had been enthusiastically taken up as the profession’s sine qua non basic qualifications.

Edwin Green, who wrote the classical Debtors to their Profession history of the institute up to that time, lost no time in making clear in his book that the achievement of sound professional qualifications was the only acceptable route towards professional acceptance worth its worth.

Time has of course changed much of the realities of financial services, and of the format of education for them. The development and future of financial services is being hammered by events, and people, that draw many descriptions. One is Andrew Hilton’s (Centre for the Study of Financial Innovation) “this is a ferocious gale of creative destruction”. So certainly unenviable was the difficult exercise undertaken by the compilers of this other new book brought together for this 140th anniversary.

Banking on Change is indeed a title that emphasizes that this change is simultaneously, and no doubt strangely to many, both backward and forward looking.

Twenty writers have contributed articles in this absorbing collection.  These are structured into four groupings that cover, firstly, the nature of the business of banking in a context no different to that of medieval times’ uomo itinerante; competition, the demise of Libor society and what in it keeps the banking motor going; regulation, that old myth of sustainability as eternal growth; and, yes, even such things as disruptive banking. These all make this first part of the book a really fascinating and absorbing read.

The next two parts of the book each contain a smaller number of papers. One concentrates on the important issue of people and skills in the profession, and the other is another inspired look into the future of banking through the eyes of technology.

How long will it be before the present craze with technology’s impact on how banking is done will settle down? This would have irreparably grappled with and solved all the problems of identity, the future of payments, of having a steady centre (core) that can hold up to even the most criminal of minds.

The year of the book’s publication, 2019, is seen by one contributor as a year in which blockchain was expected to come to maturity. Has it? Much current defensive writing is certainly not making people happier, and so here too we may yet be banking on change, on a change where clarity is not the most reassuring of qualities.

There are many issues that currently hover over the profession, and which no political strutting can ever dream of knowing all the answers to. All the papers in this wonderful collection will place the calm and sedate reader in a state of wise appreciation.

As the train moves endlessly forward, it is of utmost importance that all individual practitioners realise there simply is no ending to the educative process, with an auspicious body such as the institute inevitably at the core of it.  

Congratulations to the institute and ad multos annos.

John Consiglio teaches in the Department of Banking and Finance of the University of Malta.

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