Emotional Banking Crusade Revelations: Bankers

 

This was going to be an up-in-arms Brexit post but I’ll spare you all that (on this particular blog) and focus on something that transcends geography and get back to The Emotional Banking Crusade Revelations series that started with “I am a banker – therefore I lie”.

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 as 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 both me and the bankers in the room initially elated, and soon after highly deflated when faced with the dread of business as usual.

Now I’m not saying any of my frustration was misplaced or my ideas wrong, I had simply come to a cross road 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 over night. 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 Panowicz’s, the Roberto Ferrari’s and others, their Superman cap is likely not enough and we need many more people to achieve true change in banking and 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, and that 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.

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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 organization 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 Pillarsstrategic plans to include my “Build-a-Voiceprogram 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.

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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.

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To hopefully help the UX Banker I did “Why Human Centered 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 CxOish 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 half 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.

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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, etc- 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.

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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, Neo Banks, Identity and beyond” seminars and I talk to them about “Design as DNA” as they are the ones with the mandate to disrupt the organisation.

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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.

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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, 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 new fangled 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 and that 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” (Working title) workshop to make boards understand what these passionate techies have known all along.

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The Marketeer Banker I’ve met virtually none of. 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 that worries me.

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Seeing how my “Everything is a Brand but a Bank” – talk and articles have been some of my most successful ones 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 branchworkshops 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.

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The Neo/Challenger Banker – 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 and 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.

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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, but 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 because while they are on their way to being a bank they are also a start-up so their challenge is double.

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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 behaviour of their consumer. 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 is 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.

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I help them with “Tomorrow’s Investor – how to engage Millenials”; “Life stages and investment behaviour drivers”; “Lifestyle and Investments”; etc classes and workshops and they are the Financial industry brightest CX star designing experiences and understanding motivations.

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For the SME Banker there is little that can’t be done bless their hearts, as they are likely the most neglected of all “departments” with basic consumer needs unmet in flagrant ways.

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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.

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The Savings Banker – is maybe my favourite.

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The Savings Banker uses my expertise in “How to get consumers addicted to savings” workshops where we dissected which personality type saves for what reason, what the drivers are and how to appeal to them to drive savings behaviour.

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Finally The Non-Banker Insurer – is the most en-vogue one in the new InsureTech frenzy and they have only just started understanding relationships only banks used to have are up for grabs now, so they often ask me to come talk to them about “Trends in InsureTech” and “New Engagement Models – how to become the primary financial portal for the consumer”

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This is not an exhaustive list, there are other kinds of Superheroes-in-Waiting Bankers I’m sure, I just haven’t yet met them or figured out how I can empower them but the ones above are those I’ve built with, so far.

Now 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 in a much more positive way than simply pointing at our eternally naked banking emperor.

I am a Banker – therefore I lie

 

While I came up with the Emotional Banking concept a few years ago, it’s only been a year now that I’ve waved my banking-change crusader flag and inflicted my indignation of banks not caring about their customers’ feelings, full time. I’ve learned a lot in this past year.

I have learned in utter consternation that banks have no interest in being a serious brand like every other consumer business does. I’ve then learned why this is and dissected its utter perceived lack of imperative that comes from a lack of mobility that no other industry has the luxury to experience.

Next up I questioned how banks can be neigh but blind to the imminent changes in the industry – the peer-2-peer plays, the internet players, the experience layers (neo banks), the technology giants dabbling with financial services and the new challengers. How they justified being able to afford more of the lack of care to the way their clients really felt about their money.

“I lie to myself all the time. But I never believe me” – S.E. Hinton

It turns out their blinds are handed out as soon as they become decision makers in banking. If life were a science-fiction work by Philip K Dick there would be a higher evil mastermind that keeps bank’s boardrooms topped up with pre-Y generation males and then ensures they speak McKinsey talk in lieu of real English while loosely discussing hip FinTech words they once read in the Guardian for all of 2 minutes before returning to P&L and share prices.

This would help this evil mastermind ensure there’s no regard for the consumer, no insight into his or her needs and desires and surely no understanding of how to get, motivate and keep the right people who can put that new fangled technology to good use.

Sadly this is not a novel but our reality.

More worryingly, in the past few months I’ve witnessed the famed challenger banks, a wave of new and promising structures that Britain bet its farms on, start down that path as well. Business models that were courageous and disruptive iterated again and again to at most, tamer, pale versions of their initial selves, or worse, a completely different animal that amounts to more vivid colours on a version of the high streets current accounts. I’m sure if they cared to admit this is the case, they would blame it on the FCA license grilling but I believe it’s simply normal start-up pressure to demonstrate model which in their case means go to market half cooked an half stripped of dreams.

Maybe there is still time for the UK challenger banks to turn the boat around and do what’s right for the consumer but they need to stop crowd-funding till they break servers and charming conferences and journalists for vanity and put their heads down and give us insight and action.

Insight is all but absent in the industry. We never learn anything new. The same dusty statistical tidbits about amounts of tooth brushes versus mobile phones in the world and the length of marriage versus banking relationships are repeated over and over again. And it isn’t only the establishment that is guilty of it. Of the former (as undoubtedly they are even more today) 27 founders and CEOs of challenger banks the FCA has reviewed and that I’ve heard speaking in public or private contexts, do you know how many have had any revelation to share about consumers? If not “I’ve found the holy grail of savings” at least a “We saw huge anxiety when they tap in the overdraft so we change the colour of the app and the language to reassure”. You guessed it. Not one.

The incumbents blame the immutable inertia created by tens of years of patched, spaghetti-like backend systems, for their paralysis in real interest of what would truly make consumer’s lives better from the money point of view. If only they started all over, they say. The challengers don’t blame anything as they won’t admit it, but suffer from the same unwillingness because of natural constraints of being at the beginning and having to start proving their case. If only they had systems and mass, they think.

Meanwhile, the protagonist of the consumer centric mantra falls in between and gets what is, for all our FinTech sins, a flat design version of their online banking of 3-4 years ago topped off with an ever growing dread of customer support and mistrust in its uptime and an ever more futuristic in design cow-webbed branch.

It isn’t’ just the banks (big or small) either. We’re all guilty of it in the industry. We write articles, go to industry events and pat ourselves on the back for beginning to understand AI and Blockchain but we allow basic customer research to not happen anymore. We say it politely when we should allow ourselves to be alarmed and shake every banker we ever meet into action. We hear no revelations about consumer behavior about their money but we accept that what they really want is a new currency in identity and disruptive data and trust models. We have no serious interest in how to modify virtuous monetary behavior but we wave the “millennials want instant access to information” flag as if we came up with that nugget ourselves.

We lie. There’s no point in sugar coating it. When we collectively claim all we care about is the consumer and we will put them at the center of our every thought, but we banish design to a de-facto after-thought to prettify existent cumbersome products, we lie. When we say we’re building disruptive new models that will integrate money into larger digital contexts, but we don’t have the backend technology to even begin to understand the data, we lie. When we know as a consumer, as a human, that our needs are nowhere close to met in our interaction with our money holder, but we spend no time seriously studying those needs and feelings but say we do, we lie.

I fundamentally believe bankers old and new are not comfortable with this particular lie (research clearly shows they are ok with other kinds) and given the means would like to change it so let’s start with an honest look.

Where is experience design in your organisation? How many of the products and features you offer have been designed as compared to copied and modified?

How many people and how much time is devoted on good old fashioned customer research? Not the odd focus group to prove the choice of green on the left corner of the mobile app is correct but honest, intense research about their attitudes, emotions and views about money and the interaction with their provider.

How many innovation labs, funds, in- and ac-celerators have you poured (granted, non-significant) amounts of money into over the last 5 years? What can you point to that has trickled down to the consumer? How has it changed their financial lives?

Saying “it’s about the people” sets you aside from the old and dusty ones who won’t even admit that but is that rhetoric confined to water coolers and hip events or brought into the board room and made a priority? How many of you reward knowledge if you happen to accidentally have FinTech industry voices with strong opinions and a name working for you instead of treating them as having a shameful hobby? In your list of KPIs, OKRs or any other Rs does it say “Get, keep and nurture mega smart and passionate people who put the consumer first”?

Here’s the thing, we all agree the status quo won’t hold.

We all know you could become pipes (and that goes for challenger banks as well when it comes to invisible banking). We’re up against companies who get experience intimately, have brand, have people, have an obsession with understanding the consumer and don’t have to lie about it. We absolutely must shake the lip service, the convoluted meaningless language, the excuses about too much legacy or too little funding and the hope that these other guys “would never enter banking, why would they?” because at this rate, our lying amounts to such abuse of the consumer they may enter banking as sheer compassionate charity and not in the hopes of turning a profit.

P.S. My faithful readers – hi honey!- know, I end articles with a bang so the above phrase would have been the perfect point to leave hanging to emphasise the doom and gloom but that would make me guilty of the same demagoguery. This is not in the scare mongering series we all seem to write these days. This is a call to arms. I know so many of you reading this well and you’re amazingly passionate, smart human beings who struggle with the fact customer centricity is reduced to a lie despite how you still feel everything you do is with the consumer in mind. Changing it is daunting, but it’s doable. Let’s break this down and figure out how to listen and care and tell the truth about our culture and what it needs to fundamentally change and we will eventually get there.