The Banker, the Consumer, the hat and the money transfer

I haven’t yet met anyone willing to deny that ours is an industry like no other. Of the many ways that sets it apart, the one that fascinates me most is the banker/consumer duality.

I’ve written about this in the book and also here when I spoke about the Banker and the Sour Grapes

“[…] 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 […]”

At the intersection of Financial Services and Digital, for bankers, Art-of-the-possible experience wise, things are equally crystal clear as they are are mudded and nebulous. For customers? They are, for the most part, cumbersome, unsatisfactory or even unpleasant and nearly painful with every interaction.

And bankers are customers. They know both the possibilities and the impossibilities. Intimately.

This is what makes it possible that you can have a conversation with any of your friends who works in banking who would be naturally as up in arms as you are when the latest failure to service has occurred – be it something as small as a rogue ATM or something as big as a major disruption in all services- as they are bemused when you seem to think they have anything to do with either causing it or fixing it.

When we do our Emotional Banking change work with banks, one of the hardest things to do is encourage them to take on the discomfort by staying with it instead of dismissing it by swerving completely into either direction. This isn’t pleasant of course. As humans, we are wired to avoid what makes us feel uncomfortable and do our best to minimise it but realistically, nothing new or worthwhile is created in comfort, much less in our industry.

A simple exercise we do in most of our workshops is the hats one. We have two sets of baseballs hats, one marked “Banker” and one market “Consumer” and we pass them across the room, offer an example and ask participants to give us a phrase they would say about a Money Moment™ (interaction they have with their bank) either as a banker or as a consumer. Needless to say the language is abundantly more expansive and natural when the Consumer hat is on but that’s another “Keep it real” story for another episode.

What’s fascinating is that, with each passing example, the Customer hat stays on for longer but the sentences are shorter, punchier and more irreverent where as the Banker hat is swiftly and apologetically passed on after a stiff, businessy expression that sounds forced and apologetic.

Example: “You need to send a transfer to an ailing relative in dire need – you decide to do it on the train on your commute to work. The process ends up taking twice the time you envisioned it would and ends abruptly with a screen saying “Done” and you have no clue how to check if it “went” – What do you say to yourself?”

Customer: “What the hell is wrong with these people?!? Why has this taken my whole train journey and I ended up never reading the news on my phone because of this?!? Why did the app need to update before I could even log in?!? Why has it taken forever to find the “transfer to another account” button and then I had to register a new recipient for ages?!? What’s the point of logging me out of the app every goddang time that I need to flip to email to find the account details?! Why is there a bloody “daily limit” so I have to do this tomorrow again?!? How do I know if aunt Gertrude even got this?!? She’ll be calling mom and making her think I’ve not done it. Oh gosh, she said she needed it this afternoon or they’ll postpone that bypass, when is this arriving?!? Where can I see if the money was even transferred?!? Why can’t my bank at least tell me when they send it if not when she picks it up? Gosh I wonder if I’ll still have enough left for my water bill direct debit to go now that I sent it – how do I check that? I wish I went to a branch over lunch!”

Banker: “Our ability to transfer to a non-registered recipient on the go is finally ready and live to consumers with the newest release of our award winning mobile app. No other competitor executed this feature as well. We have redesigned the customer journey with the imperatives of the technologically savvy customer in mind offering them unprecedented seamlessness while maintaining the highest standards of compliance and security.”

In our bankers’ defence, the above example is sadly still close to Science Fiction for some banks who are struggling to even get their mobile apps to do anything other but point to the nearest ATM on a map.

Have you ever worn two hats? No, really. Physically. Have you ever tried it? It’s not easy. They are hard to balance, heavy and heat you up not to mention make you look rather ridiculous yet that’s what we ask our participants to do while marrying the two and asking them to portray both in the same breath and add a seemingly outlandish postulation at the end i.e. “Why the hell do I have to log in again every time I write down the numbers of aunt Gentrude’s account?!?” – We have to log the user out of the app every time they flick away for their own security. In the future, we won’t do that at all and security would be persistent no matter what the user is doing in their phone so this frustration will be eliminated.

Empathy is a powerful tool and it works both ways. We have a duty to understand the Customer and equally if not more urgently, we have a duty to understand the Banker. No matter how much of a nuisance we find this fact in a world of numbers and regulations, we can’t get away from how humans who work in banks are both and seeing how they are the only ones able to make it better for the rest of everyone else, that’s a really good thing.

As for whether or not our Customer will still have enough left for the water direct debit to go and how he could have saved more if he used his invisible savings virtual currency account to make this transfer? No one is that imaginative while balancing hats.

The One with the Courage KPIs

Today’s episode is not about a done deal but a series of works in progress. Of the banks we work with, my most favourite sort are the ones that are willing to throw the kitchen sink at doing all they can to instil more Courage in their people. A banking Superhero has to have it by the gallons.


While the other two sine qua non conditions of making Superhero-ism magic, Passion and Knowledge, are hard to kick-start they have the advantage of being self maintaining once they’ve been initiated, while bravery is not. In the banks where we have done the “Build-a-Voice” and the “Keep it Real” or even the “Everyone is a Designer” programs, we see they acted as a spark, they ignite deep industry curiosity and intense care and once they’ve done so, and the habits and processes are in place to maintain the fire, it burns – slowly and independently.

This is great news for banks – it means they get away with simply building an authentic brand that’s easy to fall in love with and then communicating to their people that it’s safe and desirable to fall in love with it and then serve it by investing in it emotionally as well as by continuously learning. Simples, eh?:)

Building and maintaining courage take a lot more work though.

In fairness, it’s the least used of the three in a professional or even personal context. While insufficiently cultivated, bank employees are seasoned professionals who are at times required to be passionate and knowledgeable about their domain of expertise whereas they are almost never expected to be brave.

By virtue of both the size and the mechanics of the organisation, it is never desirable for bankers to exibxit a willingness to take risks and experiment, and this makes up the kernel of why banks have such a tough time innovating and developing software and experiences.

Over the past few years, every new type of technology that made its way into development and every accompanying new way of work, have been created with one goal in mind: obtaining new innovative (and hopefully better) things, faster. Some of these methods and tools are nothing but pure magic and those who know me, know I have a genuine Agile-fetish myself but the reality is that none of them works in the absence of courage.

To really embrace these and make them into the silver bullets they can be, bankers -and really employees everywhere- need to reframe their entire view of a workplace that has been risk adverse and cultivating a culture of diffuse responsibility sprinkled with mediocre expectations of results and recognise that the very opposite is being asked of them now.

Where they were asked to be meek, sheep like executioners before, they are to be courageous, entrepreneur-like owners of products (or projects, programs or even opinions) that embrace the unknown, can withstand uncertainty and acknowledge full personal responsibility. Quite the leap, isn’t it?

This dramatic shift in what’s expected is why it’s so hard for banks to even recognise they need to demand and encourage Courage. Once they understand the need, the ride to obtain it from their people is far from an easy one and once they have obtained it, as said before, unlike Passion and Knowledge, it isn’t a self-sustaining resources but it has to be replenished and its flames stoked with great care.

What does that mean in concrete, non-people-development-mambo-jumbo-terms you ask? Well, in short it means that to innovate by delighting their end consumer with WOW experiences, banks needed to get faster at making good software and to do so, they have rightfully turned to agile methods of work. Which self-respecting banks can you quote that hasn’t done something about introducing it to their IT departments or at the very least promised to do so soon? The problem with that, is that in the absence of the ground work to reframe their employees minds towards courage and making it part of their DNA, these remain empty re-org exercises that are painful to implement and yield none of the velocity of good results that is expected.

Our methods allow them to retrofit a foundation of Courage, Passion and Knowledge to realise on the initial promise and as mentioned above, we find in more and more banks that Bravery is the one that needs most work. We start by ensuring everyone who is working in these new ways understands the core of their intention and genuinely falls in love with the motivation behind these methods and philosophies. Often times, this is a job for HR and Internal Communications departments and it’s fairly heavy lifting. Having people truly internalise the principles as opposed to mindlessly nod or space out as they have been accustomed to, is not easy.


With the right effort and intelligently constructed campaigns that communicate the honesty behind the bank’s newly discovered need of their employees becoming Superheroes, people start believing it and with the right “a-ha!” moments in place be them hackathons, internal ideas competitions or bank specific events, banker start awakening their appetite for risk. What we’ve learned though, is that this is not where the work stops, but instead, in some cases, this is where it truly begins because to maintain the initial spark, banks need not only to keep their Intrapreneur-star-search going by constantly thinking of new stimulating ways to engage creativity and encourage innovation, but, maybe more importantly, their top management needs to invite HR to the boardroom strategy big boys table and together get their thinking hats on and reimagine the way they quantify results and measure people’s performance.

I spoke about Courage KPIs before, in some cases it’s as easy as recognising bravery in  its many forms as part of the usual appraisals elements to keep it going. Ideally, existing P&L-based measurements should be completely abolished leaving room for ways to constantly ensure a steady supply of passion, knowledge and courage but this remains a distant desiderata so introducing Courage as one of the usual KPIs bolted on -but prioritised- on the existent employee lifecycle performance programs is, is a good first step.

An HR Banking Superhero who found themselves working with us to retrofit Bravery on a fully rolled out Agile reorg effort that didn’t have much to show for itself, asked me an ace question a few weeks ago and it’s sparked an interesting piece of investigation in our practice: “Do these Courage KPIs have to be clearly expressed or can we keep them a secret?“.

At first I was up in arms, immediately defensive presuming this question to be part of the ongoing semi-subconscious resistance to introducing these uncomfortable values and re-engineer them in the bank’s DNA. Then I realised their question wasn’t trying to minimise the importance of courage but rather wonder about recognising it where it occurs naturally without the overt KPI being the driver that makes people pretend to be courageous for the sake of it, instead of actually embody it in their actions.

We’re in the midst of researching with this bank if the answer is not perchance, a combination of overt and covert measurements when it comes to Courage. Some we communicate clearly and expect and some we reward when they naturally occur because that employee was Superhero-y enough in ways we haven’t even anticipated.

So answers on a postcard please- if you were Mega-Bank-CEO and decided to change your bank’s DNA to be built upon encouraging heart, curiosity, honesty, expertise and above all bravery, would you always tell your employees what you are looking out for, or ask to see the one who had the impromptu initiative to change something/didn’t ask for approval/stood up to their boss/disagreed with a senior colleague/made a prototype/put together a work team/started a side-company/inflated a backlog/helped another team/etc/etc/etc, and give them a raise telling the they smashed their secret courage KPI?

IF Banking THEN MoneyMoments™

In our own FinTech bubble, last week’s news of Monzo integrating with IFTTT has caused many a geek outs. For good reason – the possibilities are actually endless and here is the first intelligent way to do automation that may finally bring the consumer closer to having what they always wanted and never got from their bank: being served when it comes to their finances, in a way that makes actual sense to their every day life, in a fast and easy manner.

Once the sense of extreme gratitude for any actually useful technology being awarded to us plebs has washed over me, I must confess my extreme excitement left way to some concern and I’ll tell you why.

For those of us lucky enough not to be familiar with either challenger banks or the IFTTT mechanism in itself, the former is an alternative to your usual incumbent banks and the latter stands for “If This Then That”, and it is a free web-based service to create chains of simple conditional statements, called applets and you can think of it as a standard maker, a way to enable disparate parts of the internet to work together in a manner that’s automated according to a certain user’s instructions.

Creating automation is not a new concept in financial services of course, over the past couple of years we have spoken of little else than AI even if we seem to have mainly focused on the least exciting -in my opinion- of its applications – Voice Banking. Nonetheless, the promise of AI is much greater than that in its potential to read our minds and ensure smooth sailing through our life moments where money is concerned.

Many years ago at Meniga, with our eternal obsession for the consumer’s feelings and needs and our sense of being bound by the amount of trust and data they were entrusting us with, to offer them what they could truly find of value, we built something we called “Peace of Mind Banking”  This was in essence a way to have some of the usual, mundane tasks performed by your bank automatically in the background on regular basis, without you as a consumer needing to expand any more effort than the initial set-up. The same principle as regular payments and Direct Debit only for many more actions such as automatic fund transfer between own accounts to always avoid bank penalties, etc.

For all of Meniga’s wins this nearly bombed at Finovate (and by that I mean we haven’t won Best of Show that particular year 🙂 partly because banks couldn’t reconcile what being that customer centric and avoiding penalising their customer would do to their bottom line, and partly because, in 2012, it was far too early for its time and the excitement around automation hadn’t begun.

This is now thankfully starting to change. The best example of how transformative automation can be in financial services, has emerged and quickly became stupendously well adopted, over the last 18 months – automated incremental, and often invisible savings.

Companies such as MoneyBox, CoinJar, Acorn, etc are but a few examples of FinTech providers who directly to consumers, or in partnership with banks, have provided a way to round up purchases to the nearest dollar (sic!) and squirrel those savings away in a saving account that provides its holders with immensely positive emotions when checked, and gives them a way to painlessly do an activity they otherwise loathed: saving. (Look out for a full article on the mechanics of the psychological process that makes automated invisible savings so addictive soon.)

Monzo already rolled out a CoinJar integration earlier this year showing they understand the extreme potential.  Which gives me hope that they also understand their share of responsibility in the game, the layers of better they should provide to all consumers – automating payments in general and Direct Debits in particular and harmonising that with notifications and predictive cash flow; creating context for transactions; helping them avoid overdraft and other fees by performing automated transfers between accounts, etc.

Every bank is in debt to the consumer as compared to other technology driven service industries. The equation is painfully simple: Banks’ Moral Debt to Consumers = Technical Debt * Experience Standards in the Digital World and  this debt’s interest rate is compounding by the minute and translated directly into loss of relationship but with moves such as this integration, Monzo are tackling that debt and widening the gap to the incumbents who do not.

As I keep repeating often, much of that technical debt remains a problem as more and more banks -challengers included- still have trouble admitting the importance of fundamentals around data analysis and seem to hope against hope that they will avoid having to lay that groundwork, but for the purpose of this article I won’t go into that again and will presume that Monzo’s core pillars of categorisation, aggregation and data analysis are in better shape than anyone else’s so they can focus on the experience as they do with this integration.


This part from what Monzo says is really good news: “We’ll be rolling out more functionality based on your feedback, carefully considering how to make sure this integration is safe, useful and fun.” but the reason I’m only cautiously optimistic is that I need to see that promise materialise into what the consumer needs in lieu of having that outsourced to the community or the consumer themselves. Let me explain.

There is no contest that what’s needed is a far superior technologically and personally relevant experience with one’s finances, but what that should entail has at least two layers: one that is generally the case for all consumers and one that is intensely personal and only relevant to the individual. IFTTT and other mechanisms to further personalise one’s MoneyMoments should count for the latter only, while the former is a responsibility a bank shouldn’t attempt to delegate.

This was, incidentally, my objection towards the fad of app stores popping out at every self-respecting incumbent bank since Credit Agricole’s in 2011, a tendency that has become the norm with the advent of our saviour – Open Banking, and that objection has always been that banks must stay firmly with the -admittedly uncomfortable- knowledge that no amount of technology and openness absolves them from “doing right by the consumer” by constructing the foundations of what the delightful experience should be.

Without that intent, Monzo is simply building another app store open to external developers to do their job for them in an effort to avoid deeply thinking of what needs to be done, and potentially absolving them from the obligation to create emotionally relevant experiences across the board themselves.

So call me cautiously optimistic now that the unicorn dust is settling.

For this to be substantial and neither a publicity stunt for purposes of B2B, or securing another investment round, nor an attempt to proclaim care about the consumers while outsourcing any design thinking and sound technology building, banks that follow their examples -and I have no doubt this could easily be everyone very soon, such an integration can easily become the standard-, must do a lot better in constructing valuable MoneyMoments for us than making Alexa play “Money Money Money” when our salary hits our account.

Only then we will move from “If Customer Dissatisfaction at Gap between Banking and Rest of Digital Services then IFTTT integration” and into “If Banking then Money Moments™”


The one with the bank that had the best Superheroes


We held a couple of workshops lately called “A  Banking Superhero’s Guide” and as I was constructing the last one I had the chance to reflect on when I included the Intrapreneur workshops in the Emotional Banking™ method. It was a clear cut necessity from the get-go to address courage in the same way that I was addressing language and honesty if I wanted us to achieve lasting change in banking and see the consumer achieve his well deserved MoneyMoments™.

Banking needed more brave, internal Superheroes. I knew there were plenty around, I talk about the Michal Panowicz’s of the world often, but I also knew that their numbers had to grow fast for the challenges ahead. After all, all the sensible voices in the industry were asking for First Principles-level redesign and a new paradigm of understanding one’s customers and that required an army of Superheroes.

In a world where we truly want to make the consumer’s experience radically different and finally pleasing, the non-Superhero has to be the exception not the norm. It was imperative to create bravery at scale.

Nonetheless, courage is not the only quality an intrapreneur needs to have. To win at any corporate game one needs deep knowledge, strength of opinion and a relentless willingness to pursue them. Most importantly one has to have hefty amounts of nearly all-consuming passion. Being half interested in a topic won’t do. Being remotely down for innovating won’t move any mountains. Being somewhat of a catalyst of fast growth isn’t possible.

As with every other workshop and program in the method, the first initial ones were constructed with the banks that were going to use them and while they could easily see the needs for the “Everyone is a Designer” ones and were excited about the “Money Moments™ not Banking Products” deep CX dives, the “Intrapreneur Factory” was the hardest to “sell” to my existent Superheroes.

Some couldn’t understand the need for new Intrapreneurs at all. They claimed they had enough of them starting with their own hat thrown in the ring. On closer inspection, this proved to be them being fiercely protective not of their own position, but of their people and what treacherous road being an Intrapreneur was going to be.

A handful of other banks just didn’t want to touch the term at all while some couldn’t reconcile the idea with that of cultural transformation. Superhero X once told me: “We shouldn’t have to build more risk-takers with an appetite for rapid change if our whole ethos changes and we are all courageous and innovative from cleaner to teller!“.

It was an argument that gave me pause. If an Intrapreneur is someone who manages to create meaningful internal awesomeness in horribly stagnating huge organisations why not believe that role would be superfluous once those organisations were transformed?

And perhaps it would be, eventually, but while our industry is in the throes of change as it is today, that dichotomy of creating individual impact while working towards overall impact is perfectly necessary, our work too vast to allow any less, so I went back to Superhero X and said we needed all hands on deck if we wanted the change of DNA he hoped for.

We then set out to figure out “how”. In speaking to the HR in Bank X, while they had never had “courage” and “initiative” as stated goals, they believed strongly that they were “part of all job descriptions”. They also couldn’t point to anything to have practically encouraged these qualities in particular outside of generic compensation and retention techniques.

So we got to work and while we rolled out a powerful internal communications campaign heralding this new era where we’re looking for “Bank X’s Next Best Intrapreneur” in a fun X-factor-style and scheduled hackathons and ideas-making sessions across the organisation, we frantically worked in the background to identify what to do, to make this more than internal PR.

Our main task was to underpin the “Intrapreneur Factory” by heavy internal anchors and the ones we came up with were:

  1. “(Psychological) Safety First”
  2. “Emotion and Courage  – The KPI Edition”
  3. “Our Superheroes are the best Superheroes”

The first one was surprisingly, the hardest. The concept of Psychological Safety at work is vastly understudied but is the sine qua non condition of building high performing teams as underlined by studies such as the one Google performed a few years ago. The concept does what it says on the tin, one has to feel safe to experiment and grow. According to one definition, it is “being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career”. (Kahn 1990) Sadly, while most organisations understand the necessity, few have an answer as to how to effectively create it.

Employee engagement programs today, as the modern day equivalent of old school retention and talent management techniques seem to stop short of being efficient in this respect. In Bank X, one of these employee engagement programs was just being designed at the time of this story, but when I looked at it, it seemed to reflect the self-inflicted second-rate-citizen status HR seems to content itself with, in that it listed all kinds of courses, fruit basket and bean-bags additions and karaoke nights to build the teams, but touched on none of the big themes of how to create an environment where people feel safe from being fired or being ridiculed. It wouldn’t be fair to Bank X to give you a blueprint of how they sorted this, but suffice it to say they used the other two anchors in an intently smart way that gave them a whole new perspective and a steady foundation.

The second part was straight forward. Thankfully, Bank X understood fast that they had to change the mindset around measuring the output and results of their people and instead of the P&L numbers they were scrutinising at the time, they had to instead, measure for emotion and courage. This didn’t mean scrapping all the performance indicators they had previously, but rather think of them again in light of the immense speed of ideas and execution the new agile ways of work were bringing and then add to them tangible KPIs around new areas such as “creativity”, “risk-taking”, “innovation spirit”, “emotional investment”, “authenticity” and more.

The “Our Superheroes are the Best Superheroes” anchor was the most hotly debated. There’s a strange sense of modesty in banks these days that serves no one. Perhaps born as a counter-reaction to the horrible image problem banking and bankers in particular have found themselves stamped with over the past few years, these days, everyone shies away from blowing their own trumpets, Banking Superheroes included.

I knew that was the case by how every time I would speak about one, they would invariably cringe and wish I stopped. Many were entrepeneurs-come-intrapreneurs and there, a sense of non-belonging to the banking world kept them from being “out and loud”, while some were indeed afraid to lose a position that requires a daily act of tight-rope-walking. Most were just run down by the sheer effort of upholding the hardest type of change – that from within the belly of the beast, but collectively my Superheroes suffered from a lack of willingness to talk about their achievements and daily struggle. This meant that they couldn’t model their winning behaviour and their tremendous passion to their people and as a result they couldn’t attract other Superheroes and it all snowballed in a soup of relative mediocracy inside the organisation when what we were after, was the opposite – excellence.

To help fast, we rolled out emergency “Build-a-Voice” Emotional Banking bootcamps where we basically gave all our existing Superheroes the forums, tools and most importantly support to build their own brand and comfortably, openly and laudably, be their awesome selves. That added a much needed extra layer of security to build passion on top. Clearly knowing your worth is liberating and necessary to have courage and strength of opinion in a healthy work environment.

We then asked them to roll it out with their own teams and “Pay the cape forward” to new sets of Superheroes. We also came up with #BoastingIsHealthy #MeritorcracyFTW hashtags to reward pride and encourage a winning mentality while in the boardroom we asked the tough, politically incorrect questions of “What does “the best people” mean and how do we get and keep them before our competitors?”

If I told you who Bank X is in today’s episode you’d know them. It would be an “A-ha!” moment which is to say, if you’re in the industry you’ve likely noticed their growing armies of Superheroes coming out of their “Intrapreneur Factory”. They’re poised to show you even more winning to the consumer than most other banks (one of their mobile efforts in particular will be a game changer, I would bet the farm!) and hopefully one day they’ll tell you their own story about how they’ve found their inner warrior and how their bank gave them a cape and let them grow their b….ravery.

They didn’t have all the answers at Bank X but you know what they had? All the courage to try and find them.