“Culture” is not a dirty word

I’ve never done a guest blog post on here before but everything I wanted to say about what the essence of “culture” was better expressed in her piece by my friend Dr. Julia Furedi.

Yesterday, during a podcast speaking about Emotional Banking and the book, we also announced how terribly lucky I am to have Julia – an amazingly smart and overly qualified, ex HR SVP bank exec and former client of the method join me in changing the world of banking.

Aside for the overwhelming amount of supporting comments we got the usual reaction of virtual eye roll when we mentioned “people not tech” and in particular “culture” and it struck me that with confusion in terms running a-mock in the industry there’s a real chance people no sooner understand “Culture” than they understand “Brand”. I’ll leave Julia to clearly break it down in this post below.



by Dr. Julia Furedi

Yoghurts have a live and active culture and promote health. You can have that too.

But how do you know if your company has a healthy culture that is resilient and lively that would promote longevity for all in it?

Here is how to be a ’YOGHURT’ in your corporate culture:

1. Yes, you do have one

Whether you are aware of it or not, your company -big or small- does have a culture.

Let’s de-mystify the term ‘culture’ It is simply a set of behaviours that each and every employee shows when at work. Now of course each and every individual behaves in a different way but if you can pinpoint a set of behaviours that is mostly demonstrated and considered to be the ‘norm’, there is a thread of the fabric of culture for you.

For example, what happens when somebody makes a mistake? Is there a common understanding about the severity levels, possible actions? Are there no consequences, are people afraid to face up their mistakes or is it a learning experience for all that is embraced, talked about and no shaming takes place? Is there a common understanding and conduct among managers when a mistake is being made?

Another example is success. What qualifies as a success? Does your company celebrate successes and who are involved in that? Are there instant feedbacks?

So first, let’s be clear on what you have and assess the major behaviours of your company.

2. Owning it

Once you are aware of what your culture consists of, you need to own it. By owning it, I mean to be fully aware of how it helps or hinders your daily business, the interactions with your clients, your internal processes and the overall well-being of your employees.

It is way more complex though than starting an employer branding campaign.

The way your culture is being cultivated it strengthens the behaviours that have an overall positive effect on the colleagues, while weeding out the ones that are detrimental.

It is a continuous job that is needed to be done by everyone no matter where they are in the corporate hierarchy. More often than not we see the best intentions of the management die quickly when employees do not feel they can identify with them. Just like in a family walking the talk is the most effective way.

3. Growing it

A culture -see yoghurts- is alive by nature.

That means that culture needs to be approached as something we live with and adjust, alter, nip and tuck along the way. Culture is not a project with a deadline when we can announce it is done. It is never done. A healthy culture is in which everyone feels safe, motivated and is able to grow. The good and bad news are that each culture is unique and certain things that work well at other companies or even in yours with a different management five years before, might be a dead end her and now. However this is also the beauty of it.

4. Heat

Have you ever put yoghurt in the microwave? I can assure you that you will have a warm yoghurt but you can also be sure there will be no culture in it. Too much heat kills it. Translating it into the corporate lingo, conflicts are good and help growth however too much of it will destroy your people.

How much is too much, I hear you ask. I can not answer that but you will feel it in your guts when you witness it in meetings, there are harsh words spoken and personal agendas surface. Trust me, you’ll know.

5. Ugly stuff

I have a bad sense of smell. So if I want to know if my yoghurt is off, I ask my husband to smell and tell.

People surveys, engagement assessments even exit interviews might be the way to ‘smell’ what is going on within the corporate culture but there are more down to earth signals along the way that will show you the red flag. The flaring of gossip mongering, losing key people, appointments of people that does not make sense from either a professional or managerial point of view, some managers cumulating excessive amount of power upsetting internal balance.

Only if these are isolated incidents, a healthy culture will win them over and the system will recover.

6. Re-work

What would make you change the corporate culture? A new CEO, a different business strategy, high employee turnover, market challenges? All of them or any of them could be a good enough reason to start assessing it (see 1.point) and define the direction. However changing corporate culture does not happen overnight and it is hard work. It might involve changing communication, organisational structures, processes and sometimes even people. But the result is well worth it!

6. Thrive

Once I saw a quote that said, find your tribe and love them hard. I found it especially appealing as it brings positive emotions into a corporate environment. People thrive in a culture that appreciates them. I have come from an industry where the customer is king. I could never identify with that. I do believe that our people are first because if we do not take care of our own, what does it say to our clients? Being proud, happy, feeling connected, celebrating each day will surely transpire and will attract customers. Let these positive emotions be the backbone of a corporate culture!

So, be like the yoghurt!

A word to “FinTech Thought Leaders”

Dear new FinTech Thought Leader/Commentator,

(Note: this is only written for those who actually contribute, create and participate and not just amplify. Retweeting, adding a picture and hashtagging may be useful self promotion but it’s valueless and doesn’t register at all as a voice in the industry in my book)

We must stop talking *at* bankers. I realise it pays the bills at times but it’s not helping anyone create real value.

I would have thought as the industry matures the amount of bank bashing would decrease because we would have less and less to point out. To be fair while the industry matured in knowledge that has not trickled down to consumer (yet) and the MoneyMoments/experiences/interractions the banks put out there are objectively sup-par and that needs expressing, but pointing and laughing at a hole in the road never made it magically plug itself.

Ours today is an industry so interwoven there is no black and white, no way to pick a side to either “help the banks” or “fight the banks”. Let’s face it, there is no B2C pure-play grass-roots FinTech financial services provider that single-handedly wants to take on the world. If that unicorn existed then their job would be to do nothing but show how useless incumbent banks are. Everyone else, the big names that go to consumers directly, the lenders, even GAFA, they all work *with* the banks for now so helping should be on everyone’s agenda.

Some would say I’m equally guilty, that I used to complain incessantly and I would like to say I thought I was always just on the side of the consumer – that with the banking customer hat on, I’d just report on bad experiences and with my professional hat on, I’d come up with ideas on how to help bankers fix those experiences hence why I built the Emotional Banking method, but I can’t claim my hands are clean, at one point I did feel like I was slipping towards just negative criticism and then I reminded myself that beyond evidently useless and not constructive, it’s part of why we are stuck in this place and I have to do better.

Sure there’s a living to be made by just deploring how bad things are in banking, but are we turning every conversation into a carrousel of same complaints as 2002 with no intention of really rolling our sleeves at the end of the moaning session or b!tch fest? Are we not part of the problem then?

It’s not about “if you have nothing nice to say don’t say anything” but about the essence of constructive criticism which is pointing out a problem only if you can come up with real ideas as to how to solve it and 90% of the pieces I read or listen to these days in the industry from the new contingent still have absolutely nothing in the way of a suggestion.

Do we expect to change banking by the magical powers of catharsis? Some top bankers will read something we wrote or hear us at some conference and they will have an “a-ha!” moment of such magnitude they will champion immediate cultural transformation and use tech to make addictive banking experiences? Is that the goal? Well darn, then let’s carry on. Anything but that, we’re making the problem larger.

In the era of gender and pay parity pledges shall we do a FinTech constructive criticism one and see if we can actually all use our minds for positive outcomes? What good are we if a new bank CEO with plenty of passion and “a-ha”s looks at us for hands-on examples of how to turn his ship around and gets diatribe instead?

My turn: how about we construct a database of positive examples from incumbent banks. Let’s face it, we still reference mBank as the poster child for digital transformation 5 years later. Let’s find and popularise the rest of the wins.

I know most of us old-timers who have been in this long enough, have a host of examples of actual change -we have at times been part of creating ourselves!- with incumbent banks, let’s champion them instead of holding those cards close to our chest for our boardroom exec presentations. The opposite of “name and shame” – “name and praise”.

We should also encourage the bankers we’re working with right now to tell us more of their story as well, there must be loads of goodness they can see around them they never talk about partly because the problem is too big to be sorted by those examples and partly because let’s face it, misery loves company and the level of commentary we provide is a lot more conducive to them joining in the bank bashing themselves.

In my book I wrote extensively about DBS’ cultural transformation. That’s an amazing example and a good blue print and there are others.

The “FinTech Constructive Criticism Pledge”. Who’s in?

Meet your new MoneyMoments Provider: the Bank of Amazon

One of the major themes in my upcoming book “Emotional Banking: Fixing Culture, Leveraging FinTech and Transforming Retail Banks into Brands” is the fact that banks are so far removed from the concept of experience and that of truly investing in consumers’ feelings that they insist to think in terms of “products” not “MoneyMoments” and that intelligent retail brands have an open corridor to leapfrog them in that area should they not change fast.

After banging on for years that Banks need to become Brands before Brands decide to become Banks, last year I wrote about how Facebook could be the first big brand bank. Now, as I’m sure you’ve read, it’s Amazon’s turn.

This very insightful article by Jim Marous at TheFinancialBrand not only frames it beautifully but brings in the perspective of many great minds and some absolutely hit the nail on the head helping us understand the business model behind it, the value of data, etc.

To me it’s very clear: Amazon is a brand and they will use all that it encompasses – the knowledge, the passion, the vision and use technology to translate these into becoming the most insightful provider of MoneyMoments we’ve had so far.

They won’t worry about “products” – what is the “type” of “account” that enables the experience. That’s what they are getting a banking partner for. So they can focus on enabling their consumer’s life with purchases.

The possibilities are endless and the discussion on data privacy and automation comfort level should be raging but beyond whether or not their financial account customers will be offered access to a special episode of their favourite show for signing up, I think the most exciting angles to unfold will be around reframing around emotions in lieu of traditional banking interactions.

Imagine if this data-meaning-constructing-giant decides to redefine categorisation around the feelings that a certain purchase or payment have elicited. No more “council tax” or “groceries” or “shoes” but “mandatory”, “weekly”and “luxury”. And then if they correlated that with the degree of satisfaction (or absence of pain) a certain purchase causes the consumer and its necessity, its affordability, its need of instant gratification and turned them into “mandatory and painful, insured by income protection, can be improved when credit score grows”, “needed weekly, slight variation week after salary with extra items”and “cherished luxury with huge satisfaction quotient and big social media impact impulse buy credit pre-approved”.

This is a company that not only invented recommendations but enabled consumer near-instant-gratification with next day delivery, the Dash product button and was ahead of the pack in understanding the emotional value in creating a near human interface to data insight. This is not a company that will bundle a mortgage suggestion but will map your purchases for the next foreseeable future and adjust your credit and spending patterns for them before you even know you’ll be making them.

So soon enough, don’t be surprised if you answered an absent-minded “sure” when Alexa inquired if you wanted your groceries replenished and hours later found an extra box of chocolates that the babysitter you use likes, a dinner and theatre reservation, and a bottle of bubbly to celebrate the promotion your lady just received but hasn’t even had a chance to tell you about.

Oh and of course, you never once “made a payment“.