Road to banking rosters is a slow one

Banks are becoming the masters of panel review prevarication

If time is of the essence, perhaps those conducting bank panel reviews are using the wrong clock. In the past year we’ve seen Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group and Nationwide Building Society shuffle their feet through the decision-making process, leaving firms across the land scratching their heads over where they stand.

It doesn’t help that an increasing number of panels are cutting the fat. One of the first to play hard to get, Lloyds, teased out the process from October to November, when a streamlined panel was finally announced. While the wait for some advisers – CMS Cameron McKenna, Eversheds, Osborne Clarke and Ashurst among them – is over, a separate timetable has been devised for the customer-pay panel. How that timetable is compiled remains a mystery. Firms had been told it would kick off in January, but three months on they are still waiting.

A spokesperson says the process is “ongoing”.

Lengthy delays, however, do not always result in a reduced panel. In January Barclays told its roster of 100 it would delay the scheduled June 2013 review for a year. This was thought to be related to the work associated with running the tender process, as well as the tendency for rivals to carry out reviews at least every three years.

Nationwide too has delayed its review until the autumn because, general counsel Liz Kelly says, it needs to “get it right”.

How legal spend is divvied up is being assessed; where can savings be implemented and what does this mean for existing panel firms?

Perhaps the banking community is learning from the public sector. Last week the NHS Litigation Authority (NHSLA) kicked off the tender process for its £400m legal panels after several delays.

A spokesman said the delay was largely because it wanted the process to become the framework used by arm’s length bodies that fall under the Department of Health regime.

The way panels are being put together is changing, driven in part by economics. Those delays should be welcomed by firms as it gives them a chance to get pitch perfect.