Dear Bank, Here’s a Growth Hack: Find, Flaunt and Use Your Superheroes

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I’ve often written about Banking Superheroes.

They were -and in some rare cases still are- the intrapreneurs who, from the deep trenches of a horrendous organisation intent on staying stuck with its proverbially risk averse heels dug deeply in a ground of relative profitability, managed to push and pull the organisation with them towards a new vision and some revolutionary moments in the life of the respective bank.

They were often times, single-handedly responsible for big achievements of those banks – maybe their first mobile app, a PFM implementation that shaped their data strategy, investing in real-life blockchain use cases, getting Apple Pay in, being the first chatbot in their region or maybe even replacing and bettering a core banking system or designing an Open Banking business case.

Any of those pivotal moments in the past 15 years can almost always be traced to one of these Superheroes and their superhuman efforts of placing a major bet and then pushing it internally to see it reach consumers.

For those not in banking the enormity of the task may be unclear and thankfully, blissfully, the full extent of it was likely unclear to themselves as well or they wouldn’t have undertaken it at all but they achieved monumental things.

When I look around today, a small proportion of them dipped their toes in FinTech and consultancy and most others are still in banks -although not on the rightful positions you’d think such achievements command-. What they overwhelmingly are not though is recognized.

Our industry is plagued with some of the worst cases of blatant disregard for the value of knowledge that I have seen anywhere else.

This is partly caused by “The Great FinTech Inflation” – the amount of start-ups in the petting zoos around the world is finally on the decline but it’s nowhere near done being reshaped into a handful of truly valuable offerings- and the wide awareness curb still means that drones of new people are entering the industry each day and they are, blemishlessly clueless and uninterested in rapid learning (see my many rants about how past Finovate viewings ought to be mandatory for anyone claiming they know anything about the industry from bankers to VCs and start-upers).

It is also caused by insufficient investment in the personal brand. Very few, if any of these Superheroes would even think about attaching a self-proclaimed influencer label to their profile and most have very little in the way of Social Media presence at all.

This is of course primarily because they were “busy and booked, honey!” as achieving the miracles they did took time but it’s also because they believed in their organizations so intensely that going into the world and even hinting at their problems felt like a betrayal.
Some of them – so few you can count them on one’s fingers- became a voice in the industry and did share their thoughts and some of their expertise and they all paid for it in this era where CEOs are so easily threatened and so faceless with not being offered roles that would have changed the world again. This is thankfully, finally, starting to change and they have stopped being penalized for being amazing and opportunities are opening for them once again but even then they are not at the level they should have been in the least.

The biggest reason why these amazing individuals are not running banks today though is their modesty. Their gross underestimation of their own value and the wisdom, knowledge, diplomacy, and skill that went into building what they did or what they are still attempting to build. Their rampant and ultimately destructive modesty.

This should be a job for every bank’s head of People whether they are in HR or a CEO or Innovation champion – recognize past heroes, pursue existent ones and bring them on board and most importantly hold relentless internal searches to find and empower the ones they still have in the organizations.

Any bank without the ambition to build and solidly support a SWAT team of past and present Banking Superheroes is setting itself up for rapid failure as the day of reckoning of the value of knowledge is approaching faster than we thought.

Of course finding them and sticking them in a fake-grass Innovation Lab or using them as talking heads at conferences is equally bad and the wider purpose must be around using their very presence to inspire the rest of the organization as each and every one of their employees needs to fall and stay in love with the bank all over again.

Every battle ever won has been inspired by a hero’s legend. A ballad, a song, a tale of bravery. Banks have those stories to tell, all they need to do is find their heroes and flaunt them.

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