For the past few months, I have been in the process of splitting the all-too-broad concept of ’emotional banking’ into several products suited to various parts of the banking industry. It has finally dawned on me that the high-level inspirational workshop, where we all become entranced with the noble idea of putting empathy design at the centre of everything we do for the consumer, leaves me and the bankers in the room initially elated, and soon after highly deflated when faced with the dread of business as usual.
I’m not saying any of my frustration was misplaced or my ideas wrong. I had simply come to a crossroads where I had to make a choice: do I want to be a crier or a doer?
There were many ways in which I could simply carry on as a consultant, capitalising on my indignation of the consumer’s mistreatment, and lord knows many in the industry are already doing just that. Write a book, keep crying wolf, pointing fingers and deploring the status quo. Trouble is, I’ve never been a good victim, and I’ve always found it immensely more satisfying to get stuff done.
What is the ‘stuff’ though?, I wondered. Am I going to be able to rethink the financial services industry to let go of the forced, artificial separation between retail and investment? What about doing away with silly product silos between current accounts, savings, investments, pensions and insurance products? Can I make bankers clear slates and go back to a drawing board where they can employ empathic design and create truly meaningful money moments for their consumers, making the relationship relevant once again? Can I save them from themselves and get them to be intrinsically honest about their internal mess and external propositions that are fundamentally broken? Can I make an industry that has treated CX with contempt (despite the lip service) make it their cornerstone?
Can I ultimately get them to seriously investigate and intensely care about people’s feelings and reactions to money, so they reinvent themselves into brands that offer delightful, addictive experiences to their consumers so that they even stay in the relationship game?
I decided I can try. And since I was serious about the trying, I’ll have to take smaller bites. I may need partners. I may have to breathe in and learn patience; realise this is a marathon, not a sprint. Not expect wooden language to vanish overnight. Not expect banks to invest in ideas instead of technology as of tomorrow. Think of the smaller picture.
What does this all mean? Well it means that while I talked about my banking heroes before, the Michal Panowiczs, the Roberto Ferraris and others, their Superman cap is likely not enough, and we need many more people to achieve true change in banking. Over the past 18 months, I’ve met some wonderful, less visible, less famous bankers: ‘banking-superheroes-in-waiting, if you will, who want to help with the change in big banks. I’ve devised ways to empower them to chip at the big block of paralysis they are up against.
Since I can’t quote them by name, as this is banking and I’m (of course) “NDA-ed”, I give you:
Bankers by type
The HR Banker – They may have been my biggest revelation. I foolishly presumed that the HR departments of banks were stiff back-office-like places, where nothing but rigorous process and filing happens, and there is little in the way of care. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’ve met people in HR in some banks that will be the absolute catalyst for change in their entire group.
To help the HR Banker, I held ‘Vision and Courage’ workshops in which we talked about fintech in general, sliced and diced how to infuse passion into their organisations and watched them alight with ideas of what they can do to change culture from within. With the more advanced ones, I’m already working on ‘Culture Change Pillars’ strategic plans to include my ‘Build-a-Voice’ program that focuses on making internal fintech advocates, and my ‘Keep it Real’ program to attempt to change internal dialogue into real talk instead of the wooden language.
The UX Banker – Back in the day, I used to think the most pained of all bankers were the innovation managers. It was pitiful how glaringly desperate they were to make change when they knew so much and were heard so little. Then they were given innovation labs, VC funds, incubators and accelerators, and they started being taken seriously (at least in theory). These days, their former bottom-of-the-totem pole position is held by design and UX teams everywhere. These are people who could reinvent banking if given the keys to the kingdom.
To hopefully help the UX Banker, I did ‘Why Human-Centred Design Matters’, ‘Everyone is a Designer’, ‘Empathy Design and Money Moments’ and ‘Relationship not products’ talks and workshops – not to their teams, but to other CXO-ish parts of the bank that needed to understand why these people are crucial to their organisation and not a team to advise on shades of green on an online tab.
Aside from the grandiose organisational change ambitions, they let me lead hands-on ‘How to better segment’, ‘How to increase loyalty and halve churn rates’ classes, and even needed ‘What is PSD2 and Account Aggregation?’ half-day exercises to think of new business models (typically together with the digital strategy and innovation bankers).
The Innovation Banker – As I said above, in the past 2-3 years, life has apparently gotten better for the innovation manager. They now have resources – teams, fancy furniture, money to invest, and so on – and a place at the table when the conversation happens, because they’ve been sent out in the world to bring back golden fintech eggs that will magically change everything.
I’ve helped with the strategy of building a few of the new innovation practices of some institutions, as I’ve closely observed the birth of most others, and I’ve taken an important lesson from it all: if Innovation stays a scouting, external, collection of fintech pearls PR-ish exercise, it will prove to have been a colossal waste sooner or later.
To prevent an unpleasant day of reckoning that’s about to come for the innovation banker, I offer ‘Technology vs Culture’ talks and workshops, where I accompany them in explaining that their efforts only mean something if innovation is truly embraced. I give them ‘Internal Navigation – from spotting a new idea to POC and implementation’ workshops. I lead ‘New business models – Challengers, Experience Layers, Neobanks, Identity and beyond’ seminars, and I talk to them about ‘Design as DNA’, because they’re the ones with the mandate to disrupt the organisation.
The Techie Banker – My second biggest revelation after the HR Banker has been how much sense and sensibility I’ve found in the Techie Banker. After my many years in fintech having worked with them to implement a product, touching their most important possession (data), I thought I knew them well. Indeed, some are very close friends. What I didn’t foresee is how the passion and common sense my architect, CIO or CTO friends have, is not the exception but the norm.
I wrote ‘Why blockchain doesn’t matter‘ with them in mind. They don’t need to wait another 2-3 years for the government to mandate APIs, or for AI to rise, and for their various labs to study blockchain. They get it now. They also get that knowledge without action is useless, and that none of this newfangled technology matters at all, in the absence of serious will to change that will clean up their spaghetti back-end, and allow new business models and better people. Once the various banking boardrooms stop sending innovation scouts out, and when they hear “blockchain will change everything” one too many times, they’ll turn to the Techie Banker and ask them to make them relevant once again. This is a tragedy waiting to happen, so the only thing I can think to offer is any kind of ‘It’s not about the technology, stupid’ (a working title) workshop to make boards understand what these passionate techies have known all along.
The Marketeer Banker – I’ve met virtually none of these. I can’t say I know any banking CMO (save for the challengers), and considering most of my work is around making banks into brands, this worries me.
Seeing how my ‘Everything is a Brand but a Bank‘ talk and articles have been some of my most successful, I would have thought they are the ones who will put it all together. I’ve been offering ‘How to create delightful experiences digitally and in the branch’ workshops all along. Not one Marketeer Banker reached out to say “I’ve had enough of the term ‘brand’ being misused to mean our bank’s official font glossary. I can get UX, techies, innovation and business together to get them to create a real brand. I need your help.” I really hope marketing in banking will eventually stand up and be counted.
The Neo/Challenger Banker – This is, of course, the trendy one, the one who we all see as the likely winner. Envied by traditional bankers and hailed as the next consumer champion, the Challenger Banker has a tough road ahead. While I play devil’s advocate with uncomfortable questions at conferences, or write open letters that look like a tongue-lashing, I do it out of sheer tough love, because I dearly want them to succeed. If they do, everybody wins.
With them, I do ‘Defining Invisible Banking‘, ‘Context and Relevancy’, ‘Alerts – how to build a dialogue’, ‘Aggregation and Identity’, ‘Categorization as the cornerstone of your offering’ workshops to help them build the best product they can build. I also sat down with some to define their ‘Customer Acquisition Strategy’ and their long term brand-building plans and marketing strategy, as I have done with any other fintech company many times before them. This is because, while they are on their way to being a bank, they are also a startup, so their challenge is double.
The Business Unit Banker – This is a (arguably unfortunate) denomination to include many, many wonderful people who are sadly “in charge of X” where ‘X’ is a de-facto ‘money moment’, which has a sad product corset for now, but they all have something magical in common: they want to understand and change the consumer’s financial behaviour.
Any of the above bankers are the Current Account Banker, but what of investment, pensions, insurance and SME?
The Wealth Banker is, hands down, the most clued in when it comes to studying consumer behaviour. Be it because they have the most exposure to real-life fintech successes (there is little one can learn from how TransferWise operates, but there’s plenty to take from LearnVest, Betterment or Nutmeg), or simply because their margins of profit afford them investment in caring, their rhetoric is light years ahead of the other types.
I help them with ‘Tomorrow’s Investor – how to engage Millennials’, ‘Life stages and investment behaviour drivers’, ‘Lifestyle and Investments’ classes and workshops, and they are the financial industry’s brightest CX stars, designing experiences and understanding motivations.
For the SME Banker, there is little that can be done, bless their hearts. They are likely the most neglected of all ‘departments’, with basic consumer needs unmet in flagrant ways.
I often sit down with them for ‘Account Opening as an experience for the new entrepreneur’ workshops, and ‘Designing digital strategy for small and medium enterprise’ building sessions, where they look at basic PFM for business, accounting and employee expenses integration in their all-too-bare online and mobile offerings.
The Savings Banker – This is perhaps my favourite.
The Savings Banker uses my expertise in ‘How to get consumers addicted to savings’ workshops, where we dissect which personality type saves for what reason, what the drivers are, and how to appeal to them to drive savings behaviour.
Finally, the Non-Banker Insurer – This is the most en vogue one in the new insurtech frenzy, and they have only just started understanding relationships that only banks used to have are actually up for grabs now, so they often ask me to talk to them about ‘Trends in Insurtech’ and ‘New Engagement Models – how to become the primary financial portal for the consumer’.
This isn’t an exhaustive list. There are other kinds of superheroes-in-waiting bankers, I’m sure. I just haven’t yet met them, nor figured out how I can empower them. Yet, the ones above are those I’ve built with so far.
Rest assured, this doesn’t mean I will never stomp feet, rant and be up in arms again. Neither does it mean I believe between these bankers and I the future of traditional banking is assured, and no big technology giant or solid brand can swoop in and clean house, not in the least. It simply means I think there are ways in which we can all still try to win this for the consumer, and I for one am excited about rolling my sleeves up in a much more positive way than simply pointing at our eternally naked banking emperor.
– This article is reproduced with kind permission. Some minor changes have been made to reflect BankNXT style considerations. Read more here. Main image: haru_natsu_kobo/zhu difeng, Shutterstock.com