Not many 19-year-olds who start working at a branch of their local building society dream that one day they’ll become the boss.
But that’s exactly what Russell Galley managed to achieve following his appointment as the Halifax’s managing director last August.
“I guess it’s the job I always wanted,” says Galley.
Galley started behind the counter at the Barnsley branch of Halifax in 1982 after quitting Manchester University where he was studying law.
He decided to leave university after his father, a former Yorkshire coal miner, suffered a heart attack and he needed to take his mother to and from hospital to see his dad.
“I thought I’d just take a year out from university and get a full-time job for six to nine months,” says Galley.
“I started working at the Halifax in a big branch. Banking was a really grounded career opportunity then. I enjoyed doing what I was doing, dealing with customers and I was supporting at home in Barnsley.”
Galley started as a cashier and slowly climbed the ladder to mortgage adviser, financial adviser, area manager and by the time he was 37 he was a regional manager.
He has now worked in banking for 30 years.
In 1990 he had a four-year spell at HSBC before the Halifax approached him asking him to return and he rejoined the group in 1994.
He was head of the Halifax’s unsecured lending business when Lloyds took over the Halifax at the height of the banking crisis in 2009.
Lloyds asked him to run its worldwide global high net worth wealth and retail business in 2011 and in 2014 he was appointed chief operating officer of all three banks that come under the Lloyds umbrella – the Halifax, Lloyds and Bank of Scotland.
When David Nicholson decided to retire, Galley was offered the top Halifax job.
Asked how he finds the new job, Galley says: “I love it. I absolutely love it. I have a natural affinity with the brand. I feel like I fit. I know what works for the brand.”
That said, he knows he has challenges ahead.
“The first is embedding the right culture. Financial services have had quite a difficult time. In November we launched a very clear mission – to make our customers better off.
“We will be there when our customers need us and we will meet more of our customers’ needs,” he says.
The second challenge is to reinvigorate the brand.
“I want Halifax to get its mojo back,” says Galley.
“It’s a very down to earth brand. But with the advertising, we had become very similar to other banks.”
Under Galley, the Halifax has just launched a new TV advertising campaign featuring much-loved kids cartoon characters The Flintstones.
Created by adam&eveDBB, the ad tells the story of what happened when Fred Flintstone and his wife Wilma visit a Halifax branch in their search for a modern bank.
Fred switches his current account to the Halifax and receives a £125 reward.
“It doesn’t matter who walks into the bank, they will get a great smile and we’ll always be able to help,” says Galley.
The third challenge is embracing multichannel.
“We have a great branch network, but 65 per cent of our customers use digital as well as branches and 35 per cent use mobile as well,” he says.
When asked what the best thing is about the Halifax, Galley doesn’t stop to think.
“The best thing is the colleagues. The brand has a warmth rather than a structured feel as you walk in. Colleagues are very customer focused and down to earth,” he says.
“We call it the un-bank like bank. We’re a bit more playful than other banks.”
Despite this, the Halifax has 12 million customers, which works out at one in five of the UK population. It is also the biggest player in mortgages and ISAs.
The Halifax fully competes with its sister banks and it is winning a lot of Lloyds’ current account holders.
Galley says that Lloyds’ CEO Antonio Horta-Osorio “loves the Halifax brand”.
“He talks very fondly about it. He enjoys its different status to Lloyds. Colleagues and customers do love the Halifax.”
Indeed, the Halifax was the most switched to bank in both the first quarter of this year and the fourth quarter of last year.
In addition to his role as boss of the Halifax, Galley is also Lloyds’ group ambassador for the Yorkshire and Humber region.
“Yorkshire and Humber has 13,000 Lloyds Bank Group colleagues – that’s probably 18 per cent of the group. Halifax has the biggest proportion of Lloyds’ employees,” says Galley.
In this role he leads the education and skills agenda for Lloyds Banking Group, supporting colleagues who want to become school governors and the school-to-work programme, which helps with on-the-job training, apprenticeships and other programmes designed to prepare students to enter the job market.
“In Yorkshire we have the worst performing schools in the country. When you’re such a big employer in the region we want the best pool of talent,” says Galley.
One of the more fun parts of Galley’s job is meeting people who have won the Halifax Prize Savers Draw.
“I went to the Rochdale branch to tell a 73-year-old customer that she’d won £250,000.
“She nearly didn’t come as she thought she’d won £100 and it was a windy day. The woman was shocked, but her first question was: ‘Do I have to pay the tax man’? I said no!
“She said that the money would change her grandchildren’s lives and her children’s. We are so different to other banks.”