The Banker and the Sour Grapes

*Warning – the following may cause your knickers to knot. If it does so, please re-read as it is meant as compassionate analysis not mindless bashing.*

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Today’s story will be about bankers’ cognitive dissonance when it comes to consumers’ needs.

We are all “grown” here so I’m sure everyone is familiar with what “cognitive dissonance” stands for but a refresher may be in order to help us along:

In short, it’s the feeling of really uncomfortable tension which comes from holding two conflicting thoughts in the mind at the same time.

The most well known example of cognitive dissonance can be found in Aesop’s “The Fox and Grapes” fable where a fox is really keen on having some grapes but can’t reach to eat them so decides to end its internal turmoil by concluding they weren’t going to be tasty as they were not ripe yet, originating the “sour grapes” expression.

Let’s replace the Fox with our Banker.

The fox’s thought is “I believe I fancy some grapes and I think I will reach and jump and generally do what is necessary to reach them and consume them which would make me happy“. Our banker’s equivalent is “I believe I am a good at my job, surrounded by good people and knowledgeable enough about FinTech that I accept fast changes need to occur in our digital proposition so I am working hard to ensure we make them fast enough to keep our customers happy.

The dissonant thought on the part of the fox is “I know can’t reach the grapes” whereas the banker may think “I know that I am part of a nearly paralysed monolithic structure that is slow to come up with newness and implement it, that all the agile new challengers will bypass us on the race to the consumer no matter what I do.

After having decided he can’t do it despite its better efforts, the fox thinks “‘They’re sharp and hardly worth my while!” while after seeing his first thought being uncomfortably challenged by the pace with which others are moving, the banker said no further than last week “Seen that there Tandem losing its license? Challenger -schallengers, no danger there, they won’t even make it to consumers, no need to hurry anyone, business as usual!

Having personally heard variations of the “sour grapes” thought above from the mouth of a few different bankers, I was aghast. These are uber smart, uber hard working, very knowledgeable bankers, surely they can’t truly believe that.

Surely, I thought, they know that’s generally untrue and that examples such as Tandem’s story or Monzo’s tech issues or even the delays in Starling and Atom they use to make the same point, are not true illustrations of their license to relax as the customer will get better nowhere else, yet they say it. And momentarily believe it.

Furthermore, surely they know that the real threat and why they should not start leaving the office at 5 pm again and cancel their innovation labs, is not the challengers but the huge technology giants and what they are cooking in the background in digital money experience and yet they say that.

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Don’t get me wrong, I know for a fact bankers are aware that there’s threat in the immediate propositions too – after all no one contests that the challengers and the experience-layer-banks will serve to wet consumers’ appetite for impeccable UX and really contextual functionality and once wetted it may be impossible to keep critical dissatisfaction at bay, but when you add to that same CX magic the mass that the giants have – it should keep every incumbent banker awake at night.

Here’s the kicker though – they are human beings, they can’t keep being awake every night, they work double hard without the luxuries the other FinTechers have – the freedom of expression, the speed to see results, the feeling of being part of change at a suitably innovative, fast paced rhythm so they need the momentary relief.

I’ve said this many times before – no other industry behaves quite like ours or has been affected by the sharp advent of technology and its effects on customer experience in quite the same fashion so we’re experiencing unprecedented levels of discomfort in many ways irrespective what part of the industry we are in. All of us – bankers new and old, technology makers and commentators, we are all impacted by this spectacular time in the growth of digital and the money retail business. There’s no time to complacently relax into anything, deep conceptual thinking is nearly banned if we wanted to keep up, there is definite uncertainty to accompany ever growing demands and it feels like the more we learn, and the more we try, the harder it is.

FinTech these days has become like an immensely fast paced game with absurd levels of difficulty thrown in for ever-diminishing (or at least largely unclear) pots of gold. No one has to bare the stress more than those working in large incumbent banks. Spare a thought (and occasionally a pint of beer) for their painful bouts of cognitive dissonance, look them straight in the eyes and remind them “Forget Tandem, they’re not sour, keep trying to reach.”

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