Profile: Banking on the brink

From John Major’s Government to the heart of the financial crisis, Angela Knight CBE FCSI(Hon) has been at the frontline of change for more than two decades
by Jake Matthews


Angela will be moderating the CISI's Mansion House City Debate on fintech on Tuesday 6 March. Click to find out more Angela Knight has seen the financial services sector change significantly since she first became involved in the mid-1990s when she was appointed Economic Secretary to the Treasury – a post now known as City Minister – in John Major’s Government. 

The UK has changed financial services regulators twice in this period – from the so-called self-regulating organisations of the Personal Investment Authority, the Securities and Futures Authority, the Investment Management Regulatory Organisation and the Bank of England (BoE), to the FSA, and then splitting back up into today’s FCA plus the Prudential Regulation Authority, bringing regulation back inside the BoE. Angela suspects that we will see another change in ten years’ time. Meanwhile, the sector has become more professional and this is notably the case with wealth management firms and private banks, a part of the community that she has been heavily involved with since leaving Parliament.
The financial crisis of 2007–2008 certainly damaged both the City and the sector’s reputation, but, according to Angela, it’s worth remembering two things: 
1. “The UK authorities deal with problems publicly while most countries seek to hide them away. And the UK has a regime that investigates, levies heavy fines and requires significant compensation to an extent that is simply not reflected in most other countries, despite what they may say. The result is that we sort things out quicker and gain the respect of others for doing so.
2. “The UK has a vibrant financial services sector and, in London, a second to none international centre – it has this not because we do things badly, but because we do things well.”  

Having been at the forefront of UK financial services during its most turbulent time in decades, Angela’s words hold weight.    
From graduate trainee to CEOSpeaking of her upbringing in the north of England, Angela says: “First, you weren’t expected to go to university; and second, you were only expected to do ‘women’s jobs’.” She was given career books with titles such as Susan becomes a secretary, Norah becomes a nurse and Angela becomes an air hostess.

But Angela had other ideas. She was the first pupil from Sheffield Girls High School to be accepted into Bristol University, and was one of only six girls studying chemistry. “That was considered a high number in those days!” she recalls. After graduating in 1973, Angela was determined to take her first step on the business ladder and applied for “every job that didn’t specify ‘men-only’”. She was only the second female graduate to be taken on by the American industrial gas company Air Products, training as an engineer before becoming their first female product manager.

She stayed there for five years before setting up her own business, Cook & Knight Metallurgical Processors, in Rotherham, South Yorkshire. As chief executive, she ran the company that specialised in the heat treatment of precision ferrous metal components for ten years, before her election to Sheffield City Council as one of a tiny handful of Conservatives. 
"The UK authorities deal with problems publicly while most countries seek to hide them away"One victory led to another, and in 1992 she was elected MP for the marginal seat of Erewash in Derbyshire, 40 miles south of her home. In 1995 she was appointed to John Major’s Government as City Minister. “Although the content of the role was different in the mid-1990s, when I held the job, much of my time was spent on the financial services sector and on financial regulation.” 

During her time in office, she also brought in the £2 coin; took through Parliament the regulations to enable the CREST settlement system to operate; liberalised the law governing building societies and was responsible for the legislation for Open-Ended Investment Companies (OEIC) (Investment Companies with Variable Capital) Regulations. “At the time, the pronunciation of OEICs – ‘oiks’ – was considered a little vulgar by the Treasury, but I liked it and stood my ground!”     
Angela Knight's CV: from MP to NED

2017–present: Independent board member, Astana Financial Services Authority   

2016–present: Chair, Tilman Brewin Dolphin

2016–present: Non-executive director, Taylor Wimpey

2016–present: Non-executive director, Arbuthnot Latham & Co

2015–present: Advisory board member, Oxera Consulting LLP

2015–present: Chair, Office of Tax Simplification

2015–present: Advisor, Goodacre UK

2013–2016: Board member, Transport for London

2012–2014: Chief executive, Energy UK

2011–present: Senior independent director, TP ICAP

2008–2017: Senior independent director, Brewin Dolphin

2007–2012: Chief executive, British Bankers’ Association

1997–2006: Chief executive, Association of Private Client Investment Managers and Stockbrokers

1995–1997: Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Conservative Party

1992–1997: MP for Erewash, Conservative Party

Her time in Parliament ended when she lost her seat in the 1997 ‘Conservative wipe out’ General Election. So she went job-hunting and was hired to be the chief executive officer at the Association of Private Client Investment Managers and Stockbrokers (APCIMS), which became the Wealth Management Association and is now the Personal Investment Management & Financial Advice Association. “That was the start of 20 years of real immersion in the financial services sector.” 
Out of the frying panAfter a decade with APCIMS, plus non-executive directorships on the boards of Scottish Widows, Mott MacDonald, South East Water, Logica and the Port of London Authority – “not all, of course, at the same time” – Angela was appointed CEO of the British Bankers’ Association (BBA) in 2007, just in time for the biggest banking crisis of the past 100 years. 

She says: “Running a trade association at a difficult time is hard enough; running a trade association when your members are in quite such difficulty, and where the problems are quite so great, is very tricky; and being the public face of it all made it probably the hardest job that I have ever done.”

Angela stayed in the role for five years. “It is only possible to do such a full-on job for a limited period. It never stopped – night; day; weekends; holidays; the lot. It was also very aggressive – the authorities, the media, the politicians – and while totally agreeing that behaviour had been appalling, it all became too personalised. They seemed to forget that I was running a trade body, not a bank.” 

Reflecting on her time at the BBA, she warns that the problems of any sector are inevitably magnified by its size and importance. In the case of financial services, in addition to the size issue, if something goes wrong, it goes wrong in a big way and has an impact right across the piece. She stresses that it is right to blame those who are responsible, but to condemn an entire sector and all those who work in it, “from the cashier to the call centre”, as was the case with the banking crisis, is not appropriate. She says that in difficult times, she is a fan of “balance, clear thinking and pragmatism”. 

She says: “It is not just about banking though, as unless we can debate complicated and tricky issues sensibly and in an informed manner, without aggression or seeking to silence different points of view and in more depth than the emoting of a hashtag or Facebook post, we will undermine even more the democratic structures of this country and not serve its people well.”  
Energy to spare
After stepping down from the BBA, Angela went to Energy UK, again as chief executive and with a remit to bring the sector’s competing trade associations together, improve the quality of their output, and build their relations with policymakers and regulators. Angela says: “I wanted to get the energy industry off the top of the agenda before the 2015 General Election, so it did not become a ‘political football’. I achieved that – though I appreciate that energy is in the political spotlight again. I then decided that was enough of doing those very difficult jobs.” 

She is currently chair of the Office of Tax Simplification and Tilman Brewin Dolphin, as well as serving on the boards of TP ICAP, where she is the senior independent director, Arbuthnot Latham & Co and Taylor Wimpey. She has also been appointed to the governing body of the new financial regulator in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana. 

Looking ahead, she predicts that the key challenges for the financial services firms of the future, in whichever part of the sector they operate, will be “to do what they do well, and efficiently; to be open, honest and clear; and to provide the customer with what they seek at a price they are prepared to pay”.   

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Published: 12 Jan 2018
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