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SAMI 25th Anniversary blog series: Yes or No? for Scotland and the UK

January 14, 2015

We start a new year still in a “United” Kingdom. This would have been very different had the Scottish “Yes” campaign been successful. Although Scotland never lost its separate identity after the Act of Union, few would have believed that they would be able to vote on Scottish independence within their lifetimes, or that Scottish confidence would lead to so close a result.

How times change

We reflect on the output of some creative sessions we carried out in 1992, when SAMI was invited to lead a study into how The Bank of Scotland could successfully extend its operation into England – a different sign of Scottish confidence.

The Bank of Scotland had witnessed its competitors experimenting with opening branches in key English towns but did not believe that this strategy could lead to the scale of growth they required.

Involving their Senior Management team from the outset was an essential aspect of a series of brainstorming sessions that ultimately led to three major planks of the strategy.

  • Recognition of the trust in Scottish “canniness” in finance by people in the whole of the UK and wider. This has deep historic roots and more recently was epitomized by the strength of the Edinburgh based financial services industry.
  • The telephone-banking model (then recently launched for insurance by Direct Line) would work for banking. This would allow Bank of Scotland to offer bank accounts outside its Scottish heartland to targeted groups who would be willing to use the telephone as their prime mode of interface, backed up by post.
  • Partnership working, based on the Bank of Scotland’s back office process capability combined with retail footprints across the UK.

These insights allowed the Bank of Scotland to successfully explore ways of extending its footprint in England, through telephone banking and the provision of back office services for Sainsbury’s Bank.

The Bank of Scotland later merged with the Halifax Building Society to form HBOS, now part of the Lloyds Banking Group.

As this example shows, brainstorming can be really powerful. But there are some essential factors to get right. Here are our four.

SAMI’s 4 Critical Points for Effective Brainstorming:

1.     Get full agreement about what the problem is.

This may sound straightforward but it is amazing how often organisations spend vital resources solving the wrong problem!

Ask the question- What business are we really in?

It is no good developing a strategy if somebody believes that they are in “Banking” when another believes that they are in “Financial Management”.

2.     Suggest objectives.

…. Clearly and openly.

Many avoid doing this because it takes time and isn’t straightforward. This, however, is where you need to resist running headlong into a brainstorming session. You will avoid costly mistakes afterwards! Is the objective to “open more branches in England” or to “Increase share of profitable markets in specific locations”?

Ask the question – Where do we make the money?

Nobody will thank you for replicating strategic elements that are currently not delivering. When you know where you make the money you will be able to define your true profitability by market segment, product and consumer. This will help you to replicate success instead of failure.

You can now move to brainstorming!

3.     Generate individual solutions

Before you begin you should allow individuals to come up with their own solutions. A key problem with brainstorming is that the group can become fixated with the first solution that is presented. Coming into the session with several potential solutions reduces the risk that that the group becomes bogged down in one area.

Ask the question- How good are our competitive positions really?

This is a great opportunity to have an “ego-free” view about your current strengths. Do you have the necessary capabilities to approach the problem or do you need to bring in additional resources?

4.     Work as a group

This is normally where most brainstorming sessions start (and why they are ineffective). Only if the groundwork is done can you now start to develop creative and effective ideas.

Ask the Question –Is this a good market to be in?

This can be a difficult question but is one that can determine the attractiveness of your markets and may save unnecessary investments.

Written by Gill Ringland.

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