Ed Thurman has a different perspective – literally – from most people on banking and how the country can recover from the pandemic.
Firstly, he holds two very different senior positions at Lloyds Banking Group: managing director for global transaction banking and ‘ambassador for London’. Secondly, he is 6ft7in tall and has spent most of his working days during lockdown (literally) standing up at his home in Wimbledon.
“Sitting at a dining-table designed for occasional use isn’t good for your back if you’re 6ft 7,” he says, reflecting on the practicalities of working from home. A height-adjustable desk recommended by his physio has, he says, been a “game-changer”. For as long as home working is required, he plans to be vertical for “about 90 per cent” of the day.
The 49-year-old is talking to City AM (by videocall) to reflect on ‘The Big Conversation: Helping Britain Recover’ – 22 (virtual) events held over the past few months across the country. Thurman hosted the series’ final event, ‘Rebuilding London – Providing Great Housing For A Great City’, on 6 November.
“At Lloyds we’re in a great position to pull together stakeholders of all descriptions on a variety of different issues,” says Thurman, explaining the rationale: “We wanted to hear what people’s priorities are.”
Challenges ‘more acute’ in the capital
The Big Conversation focused on different topics for each location and, for London, housing was selected as the focus. The discussion flowed across topics ranging from the need for more affordable housing to government policy reforms. Participants agreed that the capital is home to various unique challenges.
London is, Thurman says, certainly “trickier” to navigate than other regions and cities, with stakeholders ranging from the London Assembly and 32 boroughs to the City of London Corporation and central government.
“There were definitely interesting interventions around London often being a nightmare to get things done in,” says Thurman. “Affordable housing in London is a real challenge. We know the space is there to build, so it becomes a planning issue – you get elements of that in other regions but it is more acute in London.”
London is particularly significant for Lloyds as an employer. “About 11,000 of our 65,000 staff work here,” says Thurman. “I have an incredibly diverse group of colleagues. Part of my job as London ambassador is to get people involved around big issues – the agenda is evolving and the housing discussion was a good example.”
As well as the fintech sector, the (partly related) ‘skills agenda’ – for example, digital literacy – is also a personal priority. “There is a huge synergy between digital inclusion and financial inclusion,” he says. “The more digitally enabled our customers are – whether they be individuals, charities or businesses – then the better they are able to manage their finances, and the more successful you are at raising donations if you’re a charity, for example. That then has a positive impact on people’s wellbeing.”
‘Building on the trust people have in us’
Lloyds has 10 regional ambassadors in total (the roles were created five years ago by chief executive António Horta-Osório), with all involved in The Big Conversation.
Thurman explains Lloyds’ programme of regional engagement, as embodied by its ambassadors and now The Big Conversation, as “building on the trust people have in us”.
The Big Conversation culminates in a report, due to be published later this year. “We’re using it as a platform to progress issues that are important to our customers, colleagues or our communities,” says Thurman, who hails from Nottinghamshire but has lived in the capital for almost three decades.
“For example, in the East of England, the agricultural economy is so important. We have got a big agricultural sector relationship team and, in East Anglia, you get heightened interest in the Brexit transition, subsidies from the [EU] Common Agricultural Policy and so on.”
“I think more regional thinking and engagement is important – it’s aligned to [national] policy priorities around that, too. Our view as Lloyds is that we have part of the answers [to regional challenges] potentially but how we get to a bigger solution is by engaging with lots of different people in a structured way, to put something a bit more holistic together.”
Aiming for ‘best possible’ turnaround
Separate to his London ambassador role, Thurman’s ongoing focus is leading Lloyds’ global transaction banking team.
But the travel restrictions imposed during the pandemic have inevitably paused a personal annual travel schedule that typically includes three visits to the USA and Asia, as well as forays to continental Europe. “I don’t think we’ll go back to that same [travel] pattern and I think everyone is a lot more comfortable doing sessions in videocall format than they used to be,” he says, looking post-Covid. “But I do think face-to-face interaction with clients on a regular basis will continue to be an important part of how we do banking.”
His overarching priority is helping Lloyds’ clients through the crisis but also trying to understand how their needs – and the bank’s ability to help – will evolve after the pandemic.
Lloyds’ UK Recovery Tracker, which provides data-informed insight into the shape and pace of the recovery, as well as The Big Conversation are key to helping him do just that.
“We spend a lot of time working with clients to help put them in the best possible position for the turnaround. So, when people re-start their businesses or pivot their business in different ways, the bank is there for them. That’s what matters,” he says.