Disgruntled RBS Banker's Letter Captures the Zeitgeist of Powerlessness in IT Finance

A banker at RBS recently sent a scathing, anonymous letter to theBritish media: The letter is a rebuke of an IT culture at Royal Bank of Scotland that leaves employees with the sense that, in the author's words, "individual effort is never going to make any difference."

Erik Dreyer | Stone | Getty Images

A brutal and damning assessment, to be sure — but perfectly apt to describe the culture of institutionalized dysfunction that often exists in big banks, insurance companies, and other related enterprises.

In the case of the leaked RBS letter, the banker's narrative is a spot-on description of the toxic IT culture at far too many financial services firms:

"Bloated with over 100 PMO (or Project Management Office) personnel, staffed in large part by, in my view, inexperienced and frankly largely ineffective management consultants from the Big 4, North Star [RBS's technology and infrastructure investment program] remains a costly exercise in red tape and waste generation which rolls inexorably on."

Amen to that. Sadly, this is not a problem unique to RBS. This proclivity toward outsourcing problems to name brand consulting firms has metastasized throughout the financial services industry in recent years. And there is no sign that it will abate anytime soon.

At Royal Bank of Scotland , for example, the hits just keep on coming:

"Also next week, a new batch of management consultants (fresh horses) will arrive at RBS in another doubtless futile effort to bring about the changes necessary to take the bank forward," the letter says. In other words, the beatings will continue until morale improves.

To paraphrase what I was once told, off the record, by a senior IT manager: "Do you really want to know why we hire [insert the name of Brand X Big Four consulting firm here]? We knew this project was doomed to fail from the start. So now we can say: 'Look, we did everything we could. We even hired the best and brightest — Brand X Consulting — and the project still failed. It was totally out of our hands.'"

It's enough to make you scratch your head at the thought of all those wasted dollars, hours — and, of course, careers.

Sadly, as long as senior management is too timid, short-sighted, or just plain lazy to do their own thinking on enterprise-wide IT issues, the Big Four will keep up their billing bonanza — and hard working, in-house IT staff will continue to have their well-justified opinions summarily ignored.

And the soul crushing culture of IT in the financial services sector will continue — precisely as it is.


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