On Brand – The Banker and the Man on the Moon

JFK asked a man he met in the corridors of NASA what he did there. He answered “I’m the janitor. I help put men on the moon”.

How many people in banking, irrespective of the department they find themselves in, would confidently answer “I’m here to better people’s finances?” or “I’m here to make money easy” or “I’m here to help people live better lives”? 50%? 20? 1%? Anyone?!? And yet it’s what that bank proclaims to customers and prospective customers on TV, isn’t it? The assurance of emotional investment from the bank jumps at us from every one pager in the newspaper, every annoying Facebook ad and every advert on the tube, we, the general public are expected to buy into it being this organisation’s ethos and true intention, why won’t its own employees?

Trouble with bank’s own employees? They don’t watch the ads.

How do we make them buy the same image that a marketing department created with the external comms guys?

But hold up, why was it these guys that created the image? Why do we have internal and external comms for that matter in banking? Shouldn’t communications just be a support operation function that cuts across the organisation? Marketing will have have stuff to communicate to the outside world as much as management and HR should have plenty of stuff to communicate to the inside and certainly they need the channel to do so but what sense does it make that the same people in charge of the processes and tools used to do so would be the ones deciding anything on message? Why do some banks allow their communication departments to craft the contents in lieu of remain focused on the delivery?

It’s just another organisational ailment. Communication being internal and external is wrong. Communication being involved in crafting the message that either builds or reveals the soul of the organisation is even worse. Branding_Strategies-351x253

Worst of all – the notion of external versus internal brand. The distinction between employer brand and corporate brand is a dangerous one born out of organisational dynamics demands and not a natural, logical one and it should never have occurred.

If we think of “external” brand as superficial image then there is indeed rom to split it into the type of image the organisation projects on the outside through marketing, built almost in a vacuum that puts it in the most favourable light and not reflecting the  “real” view of what that organisation truly stands for. If we instead give the term the justice it deserves “brand” is the DNA of the bank, what exists in its core, its very soul and as such there can be only one. (Yes, banks have souls, and that’s a Highlander reference, go ahead and laugh it off.)

Fundamentals aside, when we take a closer look atwhat is understood as “employer branding” in banking today the findings are often dire. In many banks, those in charge of “internal brand enhancement programs” (yes, that’s a real thing and no, no need for organisational FOMO, it’s not of value, don’t propose you get one of these in your next meeting) are working in isolation and must dissociate from the notion of brand being about the core of the organisation and focus on what they can actually affect – ask  questions and then timidly propose changes to improve how the employees see their bank. This is measured in the same dry surveys of the 70s that we have added an extra political correctness layer to and that vaguely tell of satisfaction regarding compensation and work environment.

None of these questions are even close to probing what these employees honestly feel about their bank, if they grasped what’s in its soul and are emotionally invested in it.

In the same way that banks don’t investigate people’s feelings about their money (which is the indignant impetus behind Emotional Banking), they don’t don’t do much at all to really investigate their own employees feelings about the brand or even each other. We’re working fervently to change that but I have to admit the more we unravel of the unhealthily tangled web a bank’s organisation has come to become, the more we sometimes wish a magic wand of cowboy-management-consulting would be waved that would nuke the whole festering structures and replace them with clean, honest, curious and empathic newness.

I say this often – we don’t have that luxury. We can’t send everyone home close the doors, give the place a deep clean and only let those back in that have the heart, the mind and the bravery to use them and desperately want to do so because they deeply believe in the soul of what the bank stands for.

Instead, we have to walk around bottle of anti-bacterial disinfectant in hand and grow the knowledge, passion and courage of the people we do have, ensure they know and love our soul, then pass them the microfiber cloth then they can help us place our own kind of moon flag – customer experience.

Trying to fix banking? Make HR Great Again

Who has “soul” on their P&L?

Let me tell you what HR does in most banks today: PR/Internal Communication and Admin. Loads and loads and loads of admin.

Recruitment and selection is a series of process driven tasks with little to no input from good old fashioned intuition; retention, talent management and performance are antiquated exercises in paper pushing with no understanding of market context that are designed to meet a quota and have no expected transformative results, and leadership development plans are almost never a profiling and bettering honest exercise but mostly ticking a box or at best, a recreational activity, etc. In essence, they do what a future version of Sage or Xero will accomplish with little to no human intervention very soon.


Now let me tell you what HR *should* be in charge of: the health of the organisation and its people. They are the keepers of its soul.

So if the organisation needs to be something aka “Brand” or be something else aka “Transformation”– they ought to be in charge of driving that. Not Marketing, not Service Design, not the Change departments (!!! – yes, some banks have separate divisions), not Operations. How this fundamental truth has gotten away from us in many big organisations but particularly in banking is the tragic mystery.

Why HR ever said “Yeah sure, you go ahead and fundamentally change people – decide on how they should work and what they should be like, I’ll be over here putting out ads and calculating vacation pay” is beyond me.

Today HR has no seat at the table when the bank talks about strategy and consumer and that’s outrageous. How will the bank deliver any of its promises to consumers if not through its greatest asset – its people? Who is the one who brings in the right people and makes the people they have right? HR. The reason lies in the above. No one thinks of HR as more than an admin function today, including themselves.

This needs to change and change fast.

Culture – less about equal gender pay, more about the DNA of the shop 

Real change to the very bone counts as basic hygiene in an organisation as complexly stuck as a bank.

If you want the thinkers and the imaginers to work out how a certain financial operation can be turned into a fun one from a drab, painful one, or how a customer may be spared pain and discomfort and instead be given (gasp!) joy by a banking product (remind me to tell you about an excellent session about “Squirrelling” we had with a bank the other day) then they need to have the fundamental freedom to do so unencumbered by the organisation.

That’s not to mean design thinking ought to take place in this vacuum of suspended reality, on the contrary, just as it’s necessary to turn everyone in every department into a designer, it’s crucial to employ designers who understand the numbers, the resources, the internal and external hurdles and opportunities.

Building a strong, clean, genuinely honest and collaborative internal culture doesn’t mean removing all impediments, but it does mean making sure none of those impediments is politics, office ego or systemic negativity and fear. This last one is where the HR of the future has its biggest challenge: how to extract fear from the organisation. Not by removing any regard for risk and throwing caution and process to the wind but by using those as foundation to let people know it’s ok to be themselves, to care and to build.

In with the New…

Almost none of what we preach at Emotional Banking is about new people. We like a challenge so we spend very little time with banks’ HR discussing our core attributes – Knowledge, Passion and Courage in the context of new employees because that’s simply a reframing then logistical challenge in the recruitment process and it’s an easy one to fix. Once the Banking Superheroes and Heads of HR are in place, they can fix recruitment to pipeline only that right type of individual in easily, by simply setting the  tone.

A bigger challenge than recognising the seeds of those core attributes in new comers, is finding them in the thousands of existing employees and then cultivating them and making them grow while ensuring them they live in a brave new world and not a PR exercise and that this world, is fundamentally better for themselves and the consumer.

…NOT out with the old

There’s no contest that the core attributes we advocate are sine qua non conditions of success and that having them be pervasive part of the culture and deeply ingrained in every individual, would project us into functional organisation heaven but the bulk of the work for that to be achieved, is in the existent employees.

No organisation has the luxury of a tabula rasa where everyone gets out and only those with the brains and the heart to match what they are building gets back in. That would make it too easy would it even be desirable which we don’t believe it is.

While you’ll hear some banks claiming they have attempted to clean their plate – in particular in light of the Agile reorgs where everyone’s job is open and up for grabs once a year, on close inspection this invariably proves to be a lot closer to a reshuffle than it is an honest clean-up and sadly the only people who don’t return into a position or other, are often those who get courageous enough to admit they want real change and are fed up with the charade.

One of the most infuriatingly puerile lines of discourse in our industry -almost as absurd as the advocacy for digital flanker brands as the answer- is the “bankers are dinosaurs – they can never comprehend this new reality where technology lives and ways of work enable it, thankfully many are not going to be around much longer so let’s wait them out and replace them with these new kids who get it“. Anyone insisting on that is far more interested in the sensationalist nature of the proclamation and possibly too intellectually lazy to explore the complexity of it being the wrong premise and the wealth of experience and knowledge these banking “dinosaurs” have being invaluable to progress.

Acquiring new stuff is always easier than fixing the stuff we previously had but should we buy the Primark jacket instead of sewing the loose button on the Burberry one?

Fastening worthwhile buttons. Battling invisible demons – the inner workings of a sick organisation crippled by years of paralysis and office politics while finding the beating heart of dinosaurs and constantly ensuring the foundations can support them jumping and reaching and taking off for flight is the only job bank HR has. Easy.

Whose job is this?

Today HR in banking is a support function with administrative tasks. All about the forms and the numbers. None of it about the growth levers of passionate human beings and the way they interact in a healthy and productive constellation.

There are only two parties that can make HR great again: management and HR themselves.

To change, HR must recognise its current position in the team first. Admit they’ve been benched and are intensely replaceable and go back to their core skills that are impossible to replicate by machines then advocate them to their respective organisations to better the perception of their role.

They must enter those boardrooms where the strategic real conversations are happening and announced they have arrived and why they must be there to drive branding and change and keep the soul of the organisation. And once they do, Banking Superheroes need to pull out a seat at the proverbial table and have their own Commander Troi’s help them “boldly go where no one has gone before” – to a bank who truly puts people first.

The Future of Work in Tech – Stop Doing the Robot


A lot has been said about empathy lately and while that’s just part of the panoply of human feelings we need to examine in the new digital engagement and ways of work paradigm, it’s also the key to unlocking so much more and without it, as I’ve written time and again, in our industry, we tend to remain stuck in our Banker hat and never remember we are wearing the Consumer one as well. So undoubtedly, empathy is the sine qua non condition to all other foray  into humanity and it deserves the attention. In fact, it deserves tenfold more attention, it deserves becoming a true priority.

Over my career I’ve never wanted to “end up being about the fluffy stuff”. I gravitated towards technology, I built products, I ran teams and developed a fetish for Agile methods, all to avoid having to focus too deeply and delve too seriously into “the feels”. If all the answers to turn the ship of customer experience in banking laid in the technology we employ it would be *so* much easier! I admit, Mrs Emotional Banking wanted as little to do with emotions and as much to do with technology as the world of FinTech allows. Which is painfully plenty.

So believe me, I get it. Examining the intangible is unsettling and the road to making the conclusions useful is treacherous. Not for the faint of hearted that’s for sure. Not for the security seekers either. Unless you’re willing to take risks you can’t do an honest open exploration of anything.

My kid is 7. Everyone’s brood is their dynamo for accomplishing anything and mine is no exception – gaining his approval gets me out of bed at 5 am most mornings and sadly, he has a raised bar in terms of what it takes to be impressed with his mum – gone are the days when he would have been tickled pink by a webinar or a radio interview, since the book was published he expects uber-excellence which is equal parts exhausting and insanely motivating.

Funnier still, he has gotten it into his head that Emotional Banking is the equivalent of a corner shop or a property portfolio in terms of being a family business which is to be passed down through generations and often speaks about growing up and taking over “once mum passes away, of course”. No matter what I’ve tried in the way of expressing the difference between a boutique consultancy born out of burning passion and a trucking company, he won’t have it, so he is firmly the next heir of the Culture meets CX exploration which probably means I should sharpishly introduce him to some of our leads to ensure his pipeline is sustainable considering the speed of some of the banks we’re trying to change.

Now here’s the kicker – I wish I could tell him “to get into something else” like any good parent who hears their progeny express interest in their firmly vocational career. The artist guiding their kids towards medical school, the footballer nudging their kids towards law, the singer hoping theirs will go into accounting. The reason being that in wanting what is best for one’s child, one hopes they will choose easier paths and guaranteed payoffs from sure, stable lines of work, of course.

In my case, more than the examples above, there’s a world of exact science to be the opposite of what uncomfortable sea of unknowns about consumer and organisation feelings we examine every day at Emotional Banking so surely, every time he mentions my passing of baton I should immediately redirect but is that still the wise and caring thing to do?

What should he do when he grows up that would give him guaranteed shelter from:





If the advent of AI is as fast and as dangerous as the tin-foiled heads of billionaires herald it, shouldn’t we immediately safeguard by teaching our kids and ourselves how to do more of our only competitive advantage? Feel?

While the time frame is disputable and we’re still smarting from how slow flying cars are to arrive, it’s also likely that at least half our young kids’ professional lives will take place in a world where the jobs we see today will not exist. Asking them to train to be an accountant is conceivably no more useful to them than having them learn how to drive horse-drawn-trams.

His father wants him to follow in his own footsteps and become a programmer. Really? Are humans the ones best poised in cornering that trade as compared to their counter-parts in the next 30 years? – Safe of course for the jobs where they guard the red button that will keep them from overpowering humanity, etc-.  Once we shortlist what the robots can and will have a monopoly on, we should next wonder what are the jobs that will remain irreplaceably human?

None exclusively so, of course. All professions rely on hard data and science and those bits will indisputably be replaced by AI faster than we can say “Black Mirror” but most, -or arguably all- lines of work have an element of being human baked in. It can be found in our passion for the job, in having and using our sixth sense based hypothesis to innovate, in how we see the bigger purpose and tap on a myriad of motivators to achieve it, and in how we deeply care about other people around us.

That is the real competitive advantage and the hopefully-irreplaceable secret sauce that we need to hold on to for as long as we can and push our little Sarah’s and Jimmy’s towards.

Not what profession to choose but how to invest themselves to it once they do. How to apply themselves fully, how to learn to understand emotions in themselves and others, how to go with their gut and have the courage and flexibility to do so, how to be open minded and even more open hearted and understanding, how to feel.

This ailment of not encouraging “the feels” is for once, not one that is exclusive to banking and can be seen in other industries as well but in ours, maybe more so because the lack of mobility meant lack of dedication to become a brand and investigate humanity, it already hurts us in terms of how we relate to our consumers.

I put it to us all that letting our kids spend 20+ years in school learning all of the hard facts and none of the tools to deal with the soft, fluffy bits is at best, irresponsible.

It may be, by and large too late for us. Few bankers will turn their outlook around and be able to overcome the stigma of “getting in touch with one’s feelings” not being exclusively a female enterprise reserved for non-professional settings.

That one empathy workshop done mostly to get out of the office is sorely insufficient and a much larger scale paradigm shift would be necessary to bring emotions to the forefront, from the generations in banks today who have been conditioned to perpetuate this charade of measuring success by using code business language based on scant numbers and data but while it may be too late for us, it’s high time we examined what skills we empower our kids with.

Out of sheer love for our kids we have to open the urgent and uncomfortable dialogue of how to best stop doing the robot and start doing the human instead.

Bank X – The one with the Bank CEOs

The main reason why we don’t even tell banks about our deep CX creation practice from the get-go- the EXnotUX and the “Money Moments™ not Banking Products” workshops before they start on cultural transformation (or betterment) is that they would be unable to internalise them if they don’t have a ballsy CEO and let’s face it, most don’t.

I’ve talked about Banking Superheroes a lot and there are some inspiring examples in the industry. Typically they aren’t CEO level. In fact, I can only think of 4 bank CEOs who would fit the profile right now. This is both sad and possibly an indicator of organisational mass psychosis in terms of the presentation of a leader and the inability of HR to do better by them that is worthy of analysis at another time.

We also talk a lot about Courage at Emotional Banking and while we are rolling out programs for product owners and tribe leaders we rarely see SVPs of X or Y or even department heads strolling into the workshops. This is presumably because they are busy firefighting and creating very important things and can’t afford the time. Things that are a bigger priority than growing the bravery to turn the world on its axis.

It’s tempting to think there are several different kinds of courage and to arrive to where they have enough to mandate that the bank supercharges emotions on top of human design practice and becomes truly consumer obsessed, CEOs need a different kind of courage, a more CEOy kind.

It would be a lot easier for our firm to sell a “Courage for Strong, Important, Lovely, Supercalifragelisticexpialidocious Bank Leaders” to ensue they are in a room where the same bravery inducing exercises would happen as the ones we pack in workshops for the plebs, but it would also be a PR lie that panders to the very ills of the organisation we accuse.

While indeed CEOs should be Banking Superheroes they aren’t special and they don’t need a different type of courage just maybe, more of it as more is perceived to be at stake on a personal level if they fail.

CEOs with courage see past this year’s commitment to shareholders. They say “Yes this is not immediately tricking down to consumers and may be all but invisible in my time here but I am doing right by this place, I am laying down foundations so that all those that come after me can do the client facing wow-ing you are after. We have purulent wounds and we can’t slap bandaids on them, we have to surgically clean and sterilise them first.”

There are no bank CEOs in position today who do not have the know-how to correctly evaluate the status quo of the bigger picture or lack the ability to know they are simply applying bandaids in lieu of cleaning wounds.


  • Revamping the mobile app in more hipstery fonts and colours? Band aid.
  • Restructuring around agile and organising teams in product tribes without changing the way they think? Band aid.
  • Adding a UXP layer to an aging spaghetti back-end? Band aid.
  • Starting a flanker brand? Band aid.

There are so many more examples.

Anytime worthwhile core concepts around experience, innovation and visceral changes such as Human Centred Design and Cultural Change are used as empty PR exercises in lieu of being fully embraced, that’s malpraxis.

In some ways it’s worst than bandaids, the lack of regard for real change means we apply solid, hard, cold plaster on top of those wounds, giving the patient even less chances for survival. They may limp out of the surgery but will they make it home before gangrene and sepsis set in?

This is not gratuitously morbid, the health of the organisation depends on the confiscation of bandaids and plaster.

videoblocks-surgeon-doctor-holding-a-scalpel-knife-with-blood-on-it_bz9yzxm_g_thumbnail-small01Hero bank CEOs armed with a golden scalpel need to scan every inch of their patient and locate every infected wound and cancer, put them under, then remove them or at the very least treat them quickly. And yes there are many and any long operation is extremely risky, there is no way to ensure they will wake up, but the truth is doing anything other would be criminal.

When a core banking system goes down and the bank is in the press for weeks that’s a glaring issue. It hurts the bank’s reputation and that of the CEO himself. It’s visible and painful but it’s also often times unavoidable and unpredictable so I personally never hold incidents as such where technology itself fails them, against any CEO, although there is a line of thinking suggesting that the right organisation has the right people to better safeguard against technology failing them.

What I find condemnable is when non-accidental failings that were waiting to happen materialise. Not urgently demanding profound change in the soul of the bank is one such temporarily invisible, insidious and catastrophic systemic failing and the CEOs that do not make this a priority are breaking the equivalent of the Hippocrates oath of doing no harm.

A bank asked me just yesterday why they can’t just jump this people betterment malarky and just go ahead and use our CX workshops to create Money Moments™. I told them it’s because even if they could create the most magical of UX while not having worked on Knowledge, Passion and Courage then it would still be nothing but a plaster on a slow festering gangrened wound and I’m hoping their CEO is on a health kick and ready to do grab a scalpel.

Who’s ready to hand it to them?

#BankWithPride – The Bank and the Hashtag

The history of Coutts and Co. reads like a romantic novel and is worthy of the silver screen – if you have never read up on it before do so now – it has all the ingredients of a success – drama, betrayals, scandal, forbidden romance and changing fortunes all set against the backdrop of holding and growing money for others.

Screen Shot 2018-07-03 at 06.29.09

Photo courtesy @CityBoyBen

As I passed its headquarters on the Strand this week and marvelled at what their building looks like in preparation for London Pride this weekend I wondered: will history think of this time and see it to be the period when Coutts reinvented itself and became a bigger and stronger player ready to shed its exclusivity mantle and open up to a wider audience?

Sadly, that’s unlikely. The million pounds in investable assets excluding property will remain the minimum requirement to join them and they probably have little ambition to reach the more modest segments (although one would claim they are the profitable, ever growing ones). So why they big display then? Was it simply to delight the LGBT community as a whole, as a positioning exercise for their clients (and if so one has to wonder why they felt it was needed) or as a box ticking formality in some social responsibility policy?

Coutts is the 7th oldest bank in the world dating from the 17th century. They have had plenty of time to have worked brand out – and, as is the case for every private bank, their exercise of doing so is certainly less complicated than that of retail banks that have to appeal to a much wider audience. So why does their reduced audience need a hashtag and to have a whole building painted in rainbow colours?

Answers on a postcard but likely the reasoning behind the campaign is appropriately mysterious and based on Bank Internal Logic – a special breed of collective thought and resulting action that often veers from strategic and intentional into random and bizarre due to the inner workings of the organisational machine-.

“Cui prodest” aside, let’s consider the hashtag “#BankWithPride“. Now that’s juicy and we should sink our teeth into it.

Anyone who read me before knows my Emotional Banking™ method is largely based on my obsession with the fact that banks are not brands. I’m not going to rehash the long dismantling of counter-arguments around marketing, nor dwell into the arrogant and/or ignorant reasons behind why this is the status quo here as much of it is on this blog and in my book but the reality stands. No bank is a beloved brand that is firmly part of their client’s identity and as I said many a times before, that is both a deplorable state of affairs and an immense opportunity for those ready to see it.

The further we move from retail banking into private banking on the spectrum of Money Moments™, the more important this intense association and its basis of trust and hope becomes, so, in the land of high net-worth, there has been somewhat more effort put into creating true brands but even there, the effort is unjustifiably insufficient and shy of making an intense impact and so much more can be done with leveraging data but that’s another story for another time.

Now back to the hero of our story. The hashtag. “Pride” in itself is a very powerful term. It evokes achievement, strength, hard work, positive reinforcement and communication all in one. To be proud of something you must own it and, depending on your moral compass and cultural sensitivities – have earned it. This is straight forward when it comes to physical possessions but when it comes to identity and ownership of what makes us who we are, things are a bit more intricate. The LGBT community have done extremely well to have claimed the term with gusto and courage but other areas of the social dialogue seem shy to use it at times.

At a more superficial level there’s clearly a hefty dose of pride in anything we do electively that we think represents us well – we drive a certain make of car with pride, we wear a certain brand of clothes with pride, we proudly support a sports team or other, the list goes on. There’s much to be said about loud pride versus its covert counterpart and how the degree of manifestation doesn’t necessarily correlate with the intensity of brand loyalty but before we get to that level we must ask ourselves – do we ever bank with pride? Does anyone? And if not, and let’s face it, the answer is a resounding “no” – why not?

A few years ago in one of my many articles on the topic I was exploring the lack of connected identity to our banks:

We’ll hear what people drive, what they wear and what they drink every day, but never who they bank with.

‘I bank with Lloyds’ should say so much about someone. It should say ‘I’m conservative in nature and careful with my money (yet, not as far backwards as to be with the biggest bank in the world) and I like my bank to give me some digital convenience (yet, I don’t appreciate the sci-fi pie charts or the all-black browser experiences, and don’t mind the maddeningly tedious password entry experience). I like how they occasionally try and keep up with the times (yet, don’t want them to be trying too hard and give me doggy treats or video banking for mortgages). I like that I can send money to my spouse (but don’t care how much it costs or how painless it is to do so), and hey, I even like green.’

If Lloyds were a true brand, customers would say it, be proud of it and expect it to mean something.

I don’t see that much has changed, in fact we seem to have collectively regressed with indicators and measurements that were going to help bankers see the effects of their hard work in constructing new, bold and addictive digital and physical experiences that would have resulted in better connected emotional relationships with their users such as NPS, Brand scoring and others having slowly faded from the discourse.

More worryingly, branding has been thrown back over the fence as an afterthought for the Marketing and Communications teams while bigger bigger themes such as “Human Led Design”, “Customer Obsession”, “Identity Fabric-Making”, etc have fallen out of favour in the boardrooms of many banks in our fickle industry obsessed with looking for answers in technology, which ultimately means consumers are further than ever being proud about their affiliation to a bank.

Pride – used in the context of the LGBT movement’s annual parades, almost every self respecting brand jumps on the waggon with Campaign magazine quipping last week that “There are a lot of rainbows out there so like any good drag queen will tell you, you have to either go big or go home” so that fits with what Coutts have done when they went big but the question is – why didn’t they go home instead as they always do?

As ever, to me, the burning question remains: can banks turn the ship around, elevate their people and their understanding of their customers’ feelings to build addictive experiences and become powerful brands we can be proud of, or will the already existent powerful brands such as the likes of Facebook and Amazon take the cake when they enter the financial services arena?

If we’re lucky and enough banks get their a-ha moments, be it caused by more luminous orange cards etching themselves in the consumer mind or Alexa learning to read our mind and take the pain out of our MoneyMoments, just maybe one day we will get follow-up hashtags to the #BankWithPride such as #iHSBC or #ProudlyNationwide or #IHeartSantander and a proud, emotionally connected dialogue of fans and advocates around them.