Why Banks should “go and love” themselves


For the past few years I’ve been dismissing the FinTech apocalyptical statements where banks will vanish and been fervently defending them instead. I helped build a product to transform consumers lives but one meant to reach them through the bank as the best channel, so I have intimately grown to know many bellies of many beasts, so #BankBashing always meets with an eye roll from me when one of my fellow commentators reaches for it, as it’s the eternal obvious, easy to sing, villain song, but with all that disclaimer I’ve decided to get my “what’s wrong with the banks” article out of the way early this year not for populist reasons but because I believe I’ve boiled down what my top reasons as to why they deserve to “go and…. love” themselves (to quote a popular song).

Because they are self-loathing 

“My many weaknesses are beginning to show their heads. I simply must get this thing out of my system. I’m not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people. I wish I were. This success will ruin me as sure as hell. It probably won’t last, and that will be all right. I’ll try to go on with work now. Just a stint every day does it. I keep forgetting.” –  John Steinbeck’s private diaries

Many argue banks are not even remotely as angst ridden as they should be but I’m glad that’s the case, insecurity is paralysing and paralysis is the last we need. If anything, they are too quick to repent after the Occupy Wall Street moments.

The argument is that banks are organisations who, for very little effort as compared to their counterparts in retail, have achieved enormous amounts of fame and money in a short interval of time. That it’s underserved. That they were dishonest about it and that bankers got fat bonuses for no reason. Banks seem to be self-aware and readily critical enough to agree.

Yes, banks are organisationally the fraud we think they are, but if you won it all and think you don’t deserve it and it will all end at some point – what would you think if someone came and said you need to change, to do better, or others will win? Ready for action or willing to hang on to your chair, not move and not breathe until the ship sinks?

Because they lost their religion

They meant well one day a long, long, LONG time ago, didn’t they?

The branch manager listening to Trudi’s dream of taking Gary on that promised cruise before he passes, was compassionate and concerned with how to make it happen not calculating if a remortgage is more profitable to the bank and his sales bonus than a consumer loan.

The guys designing those ghastly first websites knew they weren’t to replace that bank manager but may save people a call or a trip to the bank. The execs we can never find the names of these days all started wanting to change the world one way or another did they not?

And then everyone individually and the bank collectively lost their religion.

Likely at the end of countless yet emotionally costly personal lost battles, yes, but lost it nonetheless.

Bankers are still humans who want to do well and want to do well now but in banks their ability to achieve any instant gratification plays out internally easier through abject office politics than it does externally in changes to consumers.

Because they create human tragedies

Have you ever heard a banker answer direct questions about whether consumers want X or need Y and whether others – challengers or big established digital banks are a real threat? You should. It’s a feast of inconsistency and self-contradiction in multiple sound bites.

“Oh please, as if consumers even want X!”;

“We can’t measure if they need Y, we don’t have the back-end to get that data!”;

“We know just how bad the mobile app is but without changing all our systems we can’t do any better”;

“No one would trust Z with their data!”;

“Why would W even want to enter banking?!? There’s no money in it!”;

“New banks have it so easy, ah if we could start one tomorrow we’d make it rock!”

I could go on. It’s a mishmash of excuses and self soothing internal jargon delivered with either theatrical passion or staggered words depending on how good an actor the banker is. Yes, it’s an act because no matter how we want to vilify tens of thousands of people working in the industry, we can never dispute their level of intelligence and that level sadly ensures that in the back of their minds, they are aware these arguments are intensely intellectually disingenuous and that, is a tragedy.

Tolstoi himself could write a novel about the tragedies of the Frustrated Innovation Manager, the Used-to-Care Head of IT and the Ex-Dreamer Director of Digital Strategy. Maybe call it “The PNL of Love/Hate”.

Because they don’t praise and foster BB&H

Wars, world hunger, intolerance, global warming. This is a potentially exhaustive list of things banks are not responsible for. What’s NOT their fault.

Mobile apps being sluggish and serving no real need beyond a skewed, and nonsensical view of one’s balance, antiquated back-ends causing online blackouts when customers most need their money, having built products consumers have to try and mould their needs into, instead of seamlessly fitting into the rhythm of their lives, the subprime crisis and most of world’s economical issues are all, sadly, the bank’s fault but if you sum up the above the one thing I hold them responsible for, the one thing they could change within the blink of an eye with enough good will and passion is: culture.

I wrote about this before. What I passionately believe will save banking is not new and innovative technology, it’s people. The right people with their B(rains)B/C(ourage)&H(earts) uncompromisingly on display for others to see and grow theirs in turn.

Banks do need to start loving themselves enough to give themselves a serious shake-up and breath new life into their journey. If not, they truly need to “go and love” themselves.

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