Bank X – The Road to Money Moments is through the Heart of your People

Bankers ask us all the time why they can’t jump over this people betterment malarky and just go ahead and use our CX workshops to create Money Moments.

Many of our conversations go like this:

“We at Bank X love the idea of Money Moments instead of Banking Products!”

“Thanks, that’s great.”

“We think that’s spot on!”


“Can you guys come in and roll out some “EX not UX – how to Create Money Moments” workshops with some best practice examples please?

“Sure… Before we talk about that, what have you guys done to challenge the status quo of the offering so far?”

“Well we have various internal initiatives and projects.”

“Excellent – such as what?”

“There’s… well a multitude of things. There’s the overall digitisation priority of course.”


“And we are launching another innovation lab!”


“AND we are nearly ready for Open Banking!”

“Right. So are you guys fully Agile?”

“No – well that’s being implemented in some teams I hear.”

“Has everyone in Product and Proposition reentered around HLD? Have you popularised design with the rest of the organisation?”

“Well we’ve always designed well.”

“What have you found when you re-examined the full proposition with a “What if we had a blank slate, what would we build?” lens?”

“We do a lot of blueskying in every innovation sprint, I’m sure we have done some of that.”

“Have you asked your customers what counts for them money wise to design those moments?”

“We constantly listen to user feedback, sure.”

“What can you tell me about your culture? How empowered do you think your people are?”

“Huh? We attract the highest percentile of top graduates in the industry,  and we recently went through a strong re-branding exercise, we even changed the name of the digital offshoot so that’s not the issue – what’s the connection to changing products into MoneyMoments?”

“OK these banking products you want to change – how many of them do you have today?”


“Can we start by first taking an honest look at your organisation?”

“What? No! Why can’t we just get some of those killer-app style quick wins a consumer would like? Isn’t that a MoneyMoment?”

Leaving aside how MoneyMoments refers to the collection of all experiences the consumer has with their financial provider, whether overt or invisible, online or in person, conscious and subconscious, and not mere specific features or interactions, the answer to that is that even if the bank could create the most magical of UX while not having worked on Knowledge, Passion and Courage, then it would simply be masking the deeper issues within and it would be futile exercise with little end value.

And that’s a big “IF” because painting by numbers when it comes to the end-user experience simply doesn’t work.


Moments of CX delight are unique and unless genuinely authentic and born of a true need to make the consumer happy they don’t resonate so they are non-transmittable.

This is why the extraordinary touch points that set Zappos, Disney and Apple aside have not become the norm cross industries.

It’s not for lack of information – everyone knows what makes the Apple store experience magical in terms of tools and processes – but while widely desirable it’s unrivalled. Everyone understands how Zappos goes above and beyond but offers mechanical copies of their wording at best. The technology Disney employs to make the experience seamless is easily accessible to any other experience provider be they a museum or a cinema and yet we don’t see it anywhere else.

What makes them unique is the intensely consumer-driven intention that built the experience. Their customer driven purpose. Their obsession with making them go “wow”.

Unless that spirit comes from the inside, unless the company  has enough good people with courage and passion who deliver against this purpose not because they read it in a white-paper, or it was mandated in their KPIs but because they live and breathe the conviction that it would make their customer’s life better – the “wow” can’t be copied and bolted on. Not consistently, not genuinely.

Supercharging emotions on top of the best of human centred design practices creates such magical experiences that we consumers fall -and stay- in love with the brands that can consistently give us that.

I ask bankers to imagine they could hook up the majority of their employees to a lie detector and ask them if they truly, genuinely, from the bottom of their heart care about their consumers.

Unless they are prepared to bet the summer cottage on how the answer would be a heart-felt, resounding “yes!” they shouldn’t wonder why their bank can’t delight and build MoneyMoments.

SME Banking Hasn’t Been Challenged – my BSTER (Blood, Sweat and Tears Empirical Report)

“This time it will be different”

So I needed a new business account.

3 years after my brush with an aneurysm caused by Metro’s form boxes demands which was so painful it even made it in the book , I found myself actually giddy at the thought of seeing the magic of functional FinTech in action and showing it to my business partner who hadn’t been part of my first journey.

Our new trendy accountants -bless their hearts- had suggested Tide and in fairness that added to their cool factor and was one of the reasons why I decided we would go with them. I did have some reservations, as about a year ago, I had test-set-up a Tide account and gingerly added the details to an invoice I sent to a bank and when I realized that a substantial payment just didn’t show up and they had it returned to them ages later so I had them use the normal path and presumed Tide were simply too young, likely in Beta and just finding their feet so this was an one-off glitch.

Seeing how a substantial amount of water had run down the Thames meanwhile and they’ve gained momentum, things must have changed, I thought, so they were my first port of call.

On second thought…

Having sailed through the authentication piece I was pleased to see how quick their API returned the results from Companies house and helpfully suggested our company so we were on a roll. A very short one as the next screen asked me to confirm the two directors of the company and when I’ve done so they proceeded to helpfully ask for her address. Her UK address.

Not that she has one. Not that she claimed she has one when the company was set up in the Companies House! Knowing how moaning to them about incomplete API calls won’t help I proceeded to try and lie to them that she lives at the company address. No dice, it didn’t map the datafield. We were now stuck. Eventually I texted them and uploaded her passport AND driving license and then they told me they are getting it checked.


To which I received a canned “everyone is different, we are working hard, give us 72 hours” response which felt utterly outrageous at this time so we decided we’re done and will instead go with someone who was actually the absolute FinTech darling of Julia, my business partner over the last two years– Revolut.

As the decision hit, I was having coffee with Devie Mohan, so I thought who better than a well-respected analyst to witness the magic of FinTech onboarding.

We sailed through the first two screens while I was explaining to her how Tide managed to get stuck and how they weren’t able to verify her address and shortly realised that Revolut had the same issue of lack of data but an amazingly elegant way to handle it – they said they needed more data but offered to email Julia to ensure she verifies herself. An obvious coup ensuring they get another sign-up AND can talk to the director directly.


Incidentally, the fact that I later discovered none of the other competitors implemented this incredibly elegant and intelligent solution just reveals a sad fact: they never saw it, never did any onboarding with Revolut themselves.

With little else left to do but wait for Julia and Revolut to get together, Devie and I mused over the various fees and whether or not the 25 GBP a month for the basic account is not a bit too much and we returned to our coffees and more pressing FinTech gossip.

Meanwhile, in the land of “no, can’t do”…

 Now with my appetite for non-Tide well and truly whetted and Revolut having me in limbo I decided I would systematically try the remaining options so I found the first list of Challenger SMEs I could find and started going through the list.

With Starling at least the pain was swift – after a few glitzy screens that got my heart racing with the promise of the most awesome free and functional account they frankly admitted they basically do sole traders only and can’t support multiple directorship. Same goes for Coconut. Sure, business accounts but only if you’re a freelancer, otherwise we should take our limited needs (ha!) elsewhere.

Monese let me “register my interest” while Monzo claims no interest in business banking at all.

With CountingUp I got stuck in an endless loop of trying to deal with two different directors and kept sending me back to the login screen in the app and while I enjoy a Beta-app challenge and normally would try my best “spot the developer-FU and try to work around the coding” game this time I was not amused.

I then fiddled with Anna – which I initially thought was a dumb name till I realized they acronym-ed “Absolutely No Nonsense Admin” which gave me the warm and fuzzies because let’s face it, who in banking doesn’t love a good acronym? Aside from how I found their graphics are a bit too cutesy – will everyone take kindly to this piglet face representation?- I made the mistake to register with the company where I am sole director and after having been through the pain of being asked for 2 different ID documents and a bill with my address on it I couldn’t be bothered to even try our two directors limited so the comparison isn’t perchance fair but I’ve included what I know nonetheless.


While all of this was unfolding –and make no mistake about it, no unfolding was instant and straight forward as it said on the flashy press releases- Revolut had managed to open our account and we were nothing if not over the moon. Only clear glitch – neither Julia nor I could escape the prison of having previously logged in as private Revolut customers in the app on our phones so we sign up with our brand new business account, and after a fair amount of deleting and reinstalling we each started messaging them (in the app, on Facebook and and on Twitter) for ideas on how to sign out of the personal and sign into the business.

Seeing how no one was answering our multiple queries (and even when they later did, it was so flippant that it broke Julia’s die-hard-Revolut –early-adopter heart!) I thought the race was still on and returned to Tide where compliance had managed to vet the documents and there was now an account! Success!

Or was it? As soon as I sent the details to one of our team and asked them to upload them to the invoice template I realized I had no IBAN/BIC or SWIFT code to add so I got back to them and then they broke my heart like this:


A package came in the mail yesterday though and it was delightful indeed. Now I have this beautiful card the useless-to-me Tide account and no faith they will be getting back to me any time in the next century.

I gave up after this and gave in. We are now Revolut business customers. I’d like to say that’s because they were the best but really it’s because they were the only ones who showed up at all.

BSTER – Blood, Sweat and Tears Empirical Report

This is what I’ve learned and if it saves even one limited, international directors company (oh the design-for-Brexit jokes!) from the pain of trying challengers or if, even better, makes any of these guys step-up then it was worth it.

Digital Onboarding using only ID and Face YES YES YES
Mobile App Existence YES YES YES YES
Accounts for Ltd vs. Sole Trader YES YES YES ?
Multiple Directorship support YES YES YES ?
Non-UK Director address YES YES ? ?
Monthly Usage Fee (aka Expensive) YES ?
Clear Communication of Features YES YES
Facial Recognition YES YES YES YES YES
Upload of Picture for Onboarding (i.e. instead of live camera access)
Easy log-in (i.e. Touch ID) YES YES YES YES
International Transfers YES ? ? ?
Speed of Account Opening YES ?
Customer Service YES ? YES
Connection to Xero or FreeAgent YES YES ? YES ?

I could tell you what went wrong with each of those steps. Where their authentication provider was poor, where the prioritisation of features was appalling, where there was no user testing, where API calls were impotent, why organisationally their customer service is crippled et cetera, but these are just excuses in 2018 and after all the hype and promise of the user centricity FinTech in general and UK Challengers in particular should bring.

Looking at the above and considering that after all this pain and suffering I only have ONE (hopefully “functional” – we have yet to see the test amounts we set over arrive) account that can take international payments that we could add to an invoice as I write this, Revolut wins the SME banking race hands-down.

Screen Shot 2018-10-02 at 06.19.31

While they were rather horrid Customer Service wise, I accept they may –wrongly- presume I’m part of a some FinTech influencer clique or other and intent on disparaging them, so that would have added to their lack of promptness in answering me so it’s possible that they would be far less painful to deal with, to others.

Ironically, a while back I was headhunted for a leadership position in one of the banks above and in my chat to the board I said something about how I would like to see the budget for “people-back-up until AI and experience deliver” and they didn’t like that much at all, they said it doesn’t belong in my acquisition strategy presentation. Uh well.

This banking was very emotional indeed

Screen Shot 2018-10-02 at 06.18.43

How did it make me feel?

Frustrated, fearful, concerned, burdened, unsafe.

All that and I’m not your average consumer, I want it to work out, I want to find the way around the lack of testing or the app interaction error, I’m a technologically savvy and hell-bent-on-getting-in user. Is that who we should design for though? Am I Customer 0? Would every other company director have the same patience and drive?

This is why we can’t have nice things

Sadly, I have a feeling that because these companies are still small and fairly defensive, this won’t be taken as constructive criticism but bad PR, but I look at it as efficiency: sending them each a long email with suggestions and complaints wouldn’t have gotten me or their Backlog prioritisation anywhere much, and would have also not let other new users go and try it for themselves.

So there you go banking, free user testing and publicity with a very restrained dash of snark considering. You’re welcome.

Now I can only hope these challengers don’t release my frustrated 5 am selfies in retaliation!

The Bank and the Forgotten Heroes

For all the commotion, there hasn’t been anything in the way of Human Centered First-Principles Design and major Innovation in either traditional banking or challengers in the past 3 years. We are still being served the same banking products in pretty much the same ways.

By virtue of the fact that we are all consumers of banking, we can all tell that’s the case and pointing to this, which is ultimately a consumer tragedy, is common in the discourse around the industry, but then most authors prefer to veer to the tried and tested themes of “innovate or die”; “banks need to use data in X way”; “AI will save the world”; “let’s get you a flanker brand digital bank”; or “we need more Blockchain”.

The reality is that once more, the consumer tragedy has little to do with those tangible themes and a lot more to do with the dreaded, immaterial topic of People. Bankers, if you will.

If it was hard for bankers before, it’s harder now. The pressure just mounted from having to deliver a delightful digital experience to monetising on data, changing rails and dreaming up new business models as well, when all while keeping the ship afloat has increased in difficulty.

Working with a bank on organising an internal “Bank X’s next Banking Superhero Superstar” I got to thinking about these heroes past and present. Who they were and where they are.

It used to be that in the industry, we’d meet the bank’s token innovation manager (or later, “Head of”) and getting to know them, we’d want nothing more than to give them a hug and a pint, in awe of their resilience knowing all the things they did about what should be done, and seeing none of that happen on the inside.

It looked heartbreaking and it truly was that, all of us around for long enough know at least 20 hug-and-pint worthy name off the top of our heads and some we can proudly call friends today.

I’ve often written about Banking Superheroes – the guys who made some of the digital magic happen or offered us our first signs of customer experience normality whether they were at the top or in the very middle. These ex-knowledge-pioneers that I’m thinking of today, they are Semi-Heroes, rarely having been the same people that were given the key to the kingdom of “tangible” and “making” in a bank and perhaps as a result, most are not with that bank anymore. Whether it’s because they lost patience too soon, or were simply not well equipped for politics, these warriors are not running a bank today. While some, (very, very, few) are “still on the inside”, most are consultants, and one would think that’s lucrative and joyful, but in an industry as overcrowded as ours, it’s hard to truly monetise on knowledge and make a real difference.

Which brings us to what making a difference actually means.

To the consumer it would mean having reliable, lighting fast, contextual, pleasant, emotionally connected experiences that flow in and out of their lives seemingly powering them with money and even –ideally- bettering them. If we apply that measurement, we can’t find any banker at all that can write that as their LinkedIn achievement. Not one.

If we lower the post and assume it means incrementally improving some significant part of a process or product that consumers come in contact with when they interact with their money, such as quicker on-boarding or video banking or offering a prettier online banking experience, then the Banking Superheroes can claim that.


What of our Banking Semi-Heroes, the ex-innovation managers, the analysts, the advisors, the initial FinTech entrepreneurs? What can they put under “real difference”?

I think they should take heed in the answer being: A lot.

A host of intangible micro-interactions that may have shaped minds. The myriad of times when they gave yet another presentation on cool new things to a completely dead-pan room. The hundreds of things they’ve written or explained in an article on the intranet, a memo, an email, or down the pub to colleagues repeating over and again what good looks like in digital, what the art of possible is elsewhere in China or what designing around First Principles brings. It may have felt like death by a thousands cuts to them when it all seemed to fall on deaf ears, but if even a fraction landed as a seed in the right minds, then that’s true influence and that’s a real difference in a more significant fashion than what anyone else could claim.

It may seem like little consolation when so much knowledge is wasted, so much enthusiasm is shelved, and so much potential lost by these amazing minds either no longer being around, or –worst still- no longer really being engaged, but I think it counts a lot and they should be very proud of themselves indeed.

The message today may seem a little grim but really it’s an ode to unsung heroes and how much they’ve done for us whether they know it or not, and a plea to those running banks today, to empower their next batch with enough bravery, know-how and heart to ensure they all end-up Real Difference Making Superheroes not undervalued, forgotten and wasted Semi-heroes and to diligently look for their remaining ones and give them the reigns.

And to the two or three still on the inside – hang in there, you have your lever long enough, demand a fulcrum and if they’re honest about wanting to see the Earth moved, they’ll give it to you.


What Banks and Apple don’t have in common: an Innovation epic


It’s easy to understand why, while we all understand innovating is necessary in theory, we struggle to execute it in practice. Across the board, irrespective of the size of the company or the industry they are in, we all believe in the famed “innovate or die” adage in the same way that we instinctively know that moving forward in lieu of standing still is necessary, but we still struggle with the imperative.

The better business as usual is, the harder it is to comprehend we ought to “mess with it”. Naturally, no one wants to destroy a good run, so changing anything of a seemingly successful status quo is counterintuitive.

Business history is littered with examples of companies which had leaders slow to comprehend they need to embrace and dictate progress and swift change, and without going through the obligatory Kodak examples, most of those companies are no longer around so innovation has made its way on the top of every agenda a few years back.

In banking, we talk a lot about innovation but arguably, we action vey little. More worryingly for us PPPs (PracticingProgressPushers (pending-TM), the chatter around innovation has diminished over the last 2 years and sadly, it isn’t because so much has been done it’s no longer terribly urgent.

There’s a fascinating collective fatigue that has set in around the term in the industry. It’s undoubtedly bad news but it’s nonetheless worth investigating how it has set in, as it would explain many other herd behaviours we witness in the field -amongst which, where the panic about PSD2 and OpenBanking vanished-.

One theory could be, that the explanation lies with the tightly-knit community around financial services which is in a constant digital dialogue on social media.

While this community is comprised of bankers, consultants, technology makers, journalists, users and -rarely- people from other industries too and it was formed around a common interest in FinTech and its cure-all promise a few years ago, the total amount of people involved in this online conversation today is probably no larger than a few tens of thousands world wide and it’s nucleus is no larger than a few thousands of people. (This is of course based on personal observation as no real stats exist, and I would welcome the debate on the numbers so please leave comments below.)

Heavily empirical as the hypothesis is, it would suggest that, given the reduced numbers involved in the discourse, theme fatigue is understandable. It gets tiring pushing the same boulder up the hill. Should this be true it would redefine what we postulate to be influence today and while individual effects on the industry are hard to come by no matter what the influencer lists will have you believe, collective imprints of the entire community do make a difference in what gets pushed at the top of the agenda in various boardrooms.

This theory would account for the lack of industry pressure to innovate. What about another type of external pressure? The consumer.

In the past few years it seems the consumer has given up as well. As if peak dissatisfaction has passed. A few years back, users of the newly born online and mobile banks were extremely vocal when the experience let them down. These days? Not so much. It is as if, the more time passes, the wider the gap between what we are offered in digital from other service providers to what our banks give us in terms of both speed, usability and enjoyment and the less willing we are to demand that gap be filled.

So in the absence of industry pressure and consumer pressure, it almost makes sense that banks seem to have hang their Innovator’s hat with the closing down of the last Innovation Labs.

Except it doesn’t make sense at all.

External pressure shouldn’t have been an impetus to begin with, but instead, as is the case in every other industry, banks ought to feel tremendous internal pressure to come up with new things to serve and delight their consumer.

Last week we had the yearly Apple show. Whether they brought anything revolutionary to the table or not or indeed, whether they are under any obligation to do so simply because they have set up an expectation, is debatable, but what can not be disputed is the existence of that event. Their yearly goal post.

The reason many of us in the Financial Services industry used to be madly in love with Finovate, is because it provided such a goal post for our industry. Yearly innovation. 99% of it was coming from FinTech companies and not incumbent banks,  which meant there was only an indirect effect – as seeing innovative ideas and features shown on the Finovate stage took years to trickle down to consumers in washed-out incarnations in digital banking offerings, but an effect nonetheless. It kept the FinTech companies honest in terms of always innovating and their work in turn, kept banks in good supply of large backlogs. Yearly goal posts.

Finovate is no longer that and with it, yet another innovation source and imperative has left banking so what goal post do they have? When do they unveil to the consumer what they owe them? Why don’t they have a yearly show to parade what they’ve been doing? Who are they accountable to outside of boardrooms and dry shareholder annual reports?

Undoubtedly there are good reasons and explanations as to why the enthusiasm for digital newness has quieted down in banking in the last few years: a lot is brewing and in the works; business models had to be re-examined and that’s no easy feat and, chief among them, most big banks are “closed for refurbishment” –  their backend systems were in no shape to carry all this digital experience magic and are being either replaced or covered up with other layers and a few very smart ones are also orchestrating cultural transformation behind those closed doors and that is a sine qua non condition to progress.

With that said, these objective reasons are nothing but excuses when in 2018, the consumer gets near-mind-readingly-helpful-level-AI in one app and the same lack of clarity as to what they can really afford to spend as they did in 2011, once they fire up their mobile bank.

Here are some user stories for the Innovation Epic – let’s stick them back on the backlog and prioritise them hard:

“As a consultant I want to stop being a demagogue, and give up using wooden language and business jargon bingo and instead be real and helpful so that I help banks progress”

“As an industry practitioner involved in the FinTech conversation I want to push the innovation agenda again with all my might so that we can all see real digital magic as the consumer deserves happen and bridge the gap between the offerings of technology giants and banks”

“As an innovative bank, I want to build delightful MoneyMoments instead of banking products so that my consumers can lead a better financial life”

“As a consumer of digital banking I want to have as simple, useful, satisfying, awesome experiences every time I interact with my bank as when I order something online so that I stay with them”

Agile – You’re doing it wrong

Thankfully, in our team, we have to waste no sleep on wondering if any organisation that has a software-connected output needs to do it any other way than by becoming intensely Agile fast.

Even more thankfully, the banks we work with, are crystal clear on that too. They are of course a small minority if we look at all the banks in the world and the only ones poised to develop true competitive advantage by using FinTech and delivering addictive propositions while their competitors still try to work out the connection.

Where we differ, even with these courageous visionaries is the definition of “becoming Agile”.

To some, as I’ve deplored many a times before, it’s a restructuring organisational effort or worse, a PR exercise, whereas the companies who really reap benefits from it in the Valley and elsewhere in the world, live and breath it.

If we imagine a continuum starting at “lip service” and ending in “religion” successful software houses are invariably closer to the latter than the former. And make no mistake about it, anyone who writes and manages even as much as a line of code in their organisation with the intention of making money is a software house. Furthermore, should your organisation be the elusive unicorn that has outsourced its every breath and is not a software house, you should still be Agile.

Nobody argues that fundamentally changing is easy or pleasant so there’s natural resistance even in these shops of best intentions.

Leadership says: “We already approved this Agile thing, it’s being done by HR and IT, we don’t need to know what it is”.

HR mutters: “We already reorganised the teams – isn’t that it?”

The former Prince certificate holders project management and development teams say: “We have a kanban board in the office/we do stand-ups/we have a Scrum master/someone is Product Owner/we are called a ‘tribe” – we’re clearly doing this”

The strategists theorise: “Why are we insisting on all these rules and processes, wasn’t Agile was about being on your toes and winging it”

At every level of the organisation there’s resistance and most of it is perfectly natural.

We are, after all,  asking professionals with years of education and experience to disregard it and go with their hearts and their guts instead. We are asking them to shake every learned habit and form new ones where they have to constantly be on their toes, constantly be curious, constantly dare and constantly and intensely dare. It’s by no means an easy ask, on the contrary it’s hard and exhausting and for now ingrate and we salute the ones who take the challenge on fully and forge ahead.


For these cool pioneers who truly want to get it done – here’s a list of what to beware of in Agile transformations, in order to get it so right that it starts paying dividends faster

If you find yourself spending on armies of Agile coaches and Agile Enterprise Coaches – you’re doing it wrong. You’re only creating a shadow organisation with little chance of it ever dissolving to see yours stand on its own.

If only “some parts of the organisation” are Agile with no plan to roll it out overall – you’re doing it wrong. As we said time and again, Agile is a frame of mind not a software project delivery method, and it’s not only beneficial, but painfully needed at every level of the organisation.

If anyone is the “Still-guy” i.e. “still has a dual role”; “is still expected to be involved in regular projects” or “still works in the old way too” – you’re doing it wrong. This is not a special interest hobby or like that time when you had some office volunteers organise the annual Christmas party.

If you find yourself ever saying “we can’t go ahead with X, the budget for Agile stuff is finished” – you’re doing it wrong. Does that mean the budget for operating is out? Should you close doors? It’s simply a sign that Agile is a thing some department does with some money thrown its direction and not the real change it has to be in the minds of your leadership team.

If anyone is uncomfortable around topics and wording such as “heart/passion”, “purpose”, “courage/bravery” and finds them to be to be fluffy and un-corporate; if you never discuss whether or not your people are trained and willing to take personal responsibility and redefine ownership; if you spent no time on the WOT (Way of Thinking) to get the WOW (Way of Working)  – you’re doing it stupendously wrong.

If you scrolled past this post and thought “not for me, I have nothing to do with Agile” – you’re likely not doing much of anything right.

Bank X Series – The One with the Flip-Flop Banker

We’re sitting in a painfully bare conference room. A few of us and two of the banking Superheroes at the very top. He’s IT. She’s HR. They want so badly to see change happen, it’s both hopeful and cringeworthy to watch. We’ve known the bank and its fabric years but we’ve been talking for a few weeks intently and have a plan on what the levers are to see lasting change that preps them for all the promise of Open Banking and new customers paradigms starting with an organisation redesign around Agile. Today’s conversation is rehashing it and ensuring alignment. Just as we’re about to wrap up she says:

“But wait. What do we do about the other main priority?”


“You know, the one saying we have trouble finding the right talent.”

Our hearts sink.

“It’s all connected, remember? You won’t be able to attract real talent -never mind keep them- if we don’t change the fundamentals of this culture that’s fearful, stifled and toxic.”


“This is why we have to quickly better the people you already have and give them the foundations to fall in love with this place and the consumer all over again.”

“Yeah no, of course, but it’s just that yesterday we lost our COO and there was an email right after reminding us of the recruitment objective…”

“Yup, we’re not ignoring that, just preparing for it. If we don’t do this ground work even if we find them they won’t stay any longer than the COO. Otherwise, and you said this yourself last week, it’s like inviting guests over without cleaning the house.”

“Yes, no, sure, just wondering if we can put a program in motion to review our current recruitment policies and show we’re working on that OKR, my P&L review is coming up soon…”

I’d be lying if I said this was surprising or singular.


When you fight for significant, meaningful change in our industry it becomes the norm for bankers to alternate between incommensurably excited and heartbreakingly despondent on an hourly basis. The concepts that link it all at a strategic level are nebulous because even at the top of banks, helicopter view and an understanding of the whole organism, is neither required nor encouraged.

This is at the heart of what creates the insidious silos. It’s tempting to think they are just an organisational issue. That, if we magically did away with hierarchies, departments, teams and P&Ls as we know them, then the segregation of thought and purpose would cease. It wouldn’t. The tendency to not see further than one’s own KPIs is now so deeply seated into the banks’ leaders, that these silos live within them.

In our practice we constantly wonder no only what we can do best to see deep change, but most efficiently, fastest. We’re likely a lot more aware of the time imperative of the transformation than the bankers themselves, and while we found it frustrating at first, we now know that a lack of understanding of urgency, along with the lack of comprehension about the overall picture, are nothing but defence mechanisms bankers employ.

Last year in “The Banker and the Sour Grapes” I spoke about this cognitive dissonance that I have observed in bankers.

” [..] the banker may think “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.” BUT they also say to themselves “I know that I am part of a nearly paralysed monolithic structure that is slow to come up with newness and implement it, and that all the agile new challengers will bypass us on the race to the consumer no matter what I do.

In this instance the discrepancy between cerebral and emotional and between hopeful and desperate that I was witnessing, was centred around the customer-facing proposition, but it’s no different when it comes to the banking leaders’ views about their organisation.

They both “get it” and “don’t”. They both dearly want progress and crave the status quo. They are simultaneously (if sequentially) courageous and utterly stuck – frozen not only by the organisation but their own thought patterns.

This dissociation is necessary for survival. Constantly keeping their eye on the ball and understanding the soul of the problem in a place that’s as slow as banking is, would be too painful so it’s no surprise bankers eschew it.

If we consider the enormity of the task at hand – “Understand and employ technology, while you simultaneously understand and better your people to create amazing experiences for the consumer and do it NOW” in an environment that is not only ingrate but possibly punitive when anything threatens the de facto status quo, it’s no surprise few put their hands up to do it. It’s even less surprising that when they do, they need constant reminding of the bigger picture, cheerleading and reassurance.

Personally, I have learned so many lessons on this quest for banking better.

I’ve learned that just because something is common sense it doesn’t mean it counts as self-evident and doable.

I’ve discovered that just because we all get intensely excited about the same fundamental truths about the organisation or the consumer, it doesn’t immediately follow we’re equally willing to do something about either.

Frustratingly, nay painfully, I now know that just because someone is the brave warrior type, it doesn’t mean they won’t have moments when the spark in their eyes vanishes and leaves way to the glazed look of “I only have 2 more years in this role, how many hours till 5pm?”.

Most importantly, my “festina lente” lesson – I’ve learned to replace my “Oh FFS!!!” exasperated eye-rolls with a half-patient “Right, let’s look at this again” then go back to helping them shake the dissonance.

Purpose, Silos, Agile – On buzzwords and real change

Organisations are funny beasts. Banks are funnier still. 

Chief among the many reasons why, the stark contrast between what we know and what we don’t know when it comes to the organisation.

On paper, we understand the structure but in practice we don’t fully understand -or care to study- the interactions. Human relationships and group exchanges are complicated at the best of times, when business imperatives and organisational status quo in terms of process and operations are laid on top, the meter goes straight to “nebulous” and sadly, insufficient effort is spent in the scientific community studying this intermingled mesh of human emotion that is working together in an organisational set-up, in particular in light of the speed technology has brought to the table in recent years.

To top it all off, banks are even more complicated of beasts than organisations in other industries. This is because, in addition to all the constraints, needs and wants of a big organisation, they sit at the firm intersection of several key concepts “finances’, “technology” and “clients” with their derived undertones of “trust”, “knowledge and strategy” and “purposeful experience creation”.

Even the most relentless of innovators and visionaries have to exist within the parameters of the status-quo that severely limits not only others, but themselves as well, within these structures. What’s worse, it does so in ways we aren’t sure about.

It’s a problem of extreme complexity and magnitude and while we all feel the need for change deep within our bones, the way to achieve it seems unattainable and distant.

This is why, when new ways of work come about and promise to speed us up, clean us up and make us finally get to where we want to be, we get collectively excited.



In this race for better, the new and different that claims to be the answer to all our prayers wins the slides battle. We call things fangled new consultancy-speak words and hey presto, they sound a lot more magical-power-imbued and far less like a lot of work.

In FinTech buzzword-ing is a never-ending trend. The source of much hilarity complete with Buzzword-Bingo cards created before industry events, the abundance of new terms is understandable as the industry is at the intersection of fast-paced technology and slow-moving banking and inflated to the gills.

On the other hand, when we do indulge in buzzwords when it comes to culture and organisations, we commit a far more cardinal sin. Understanding the drivers of what makes these monster organisms tick, untangling the webs of human connection and allowing them to re-weave around strong interests and natural abilities is a task too Gargantuan to be attainable if we allow either corporatitis or consultancy-speak to creep in.

When trying to really make a difference, examining and re-examining the core of every concept is the antidote to buzz-ing and it’s essential.

Ohhh glittery Agile!

Agile is not just “one of these new fangled ways of work” but a lens to recolour our understanding of limits, needs and intentions. If applied in the way the manifesto intends it, not the way that the myriad of consultancies want to flavour and regiment it, it’s truly transformational. A new way of thinking. A chance to re-think and re-set. Then start again with efficiency and purpose at heart.

If we allow it to become a PR tool in the “Innovation Theatre ” (JP Nicols’ TM) then we allow Cargo culture to set in and it becomes an expensive exercise in futility.

Anyone doing Agile as a re-org fix not as a religion, is signing up for a modern Sisyphus assignment as there’s no way to simply abandon the boulder at the base of the mountain and return to BAU, it’s simply so efficient when done right that it has to get back to the top and stay there.

“Purpose” – the word du jour for trendy retreats and laptop stickers 

Here’s the thing about purpose. It’s a major must. Let’s face it, everyone here reading this has it or you would be playing Candy Crush on your commute instead.

Much as it’s heart-warming that it’s becoming a main-stream conversation in mouths previously scrubbed with the soap of ROI , seeing it thrown around willy-nilly on social media these days is cringe-worthy. It cheapens it.

purpose-201701240148007851-20180123120235767Purpose, real purpose is many things. Intensely personal, unapologetic, driving, meaningful and immensely powerful. What drives us as individuals is often times as diverse as we are, made up of equal part values we can wear as a badge of honour and motivations we wouldn’t even verbalise to those closest to us or even to ourselves.

Shared purpose, the organisational cure-all is a Nirvana state where “everyone is in the same boat, rowing in sync, with a burning desire to get to the same shore” and it’s made up of bits and pieces of personal purpose fragments, that met and formed a magical chemical reaction.

The alchemy behind creating this shared purpose magic should be all that concerns us if we want functional organisms in lieu of, and above all else we’re undertaking.

Silos breaking 

Silos are one organisational villain we can all agree should be banished. We’ve been working on a software solution that does that, so we’ve been spending countless research hours and many Backlog items on understanding what we’re up against and how to redesign organisations. It’s an incredibly hard thing to do.

Humans naturally gravitate towards each other and layered upon it, the organisation enclosed them into artificial departments and teams that use their captive Stockholm syndrome as affiliation combustion for intra-organisational hunger games fuelled by P&L imperatives.

In many big organisations attempting to instil any form of higher goal is near impossible when you’re preaching to clusters of disconnected, disenchanted units of people who are functioning on automated pilot.

While dissolving these centres of mediocrity is immensely important to the health of the organisation, the discourse in the community with voices calling for the juxtaposition of “silos busting” with “Agile” strikes me as disingenuous.

There’s no either/or here. In fact, the new ways of work taken as a real change in mentality, are the only vehicle through which we can reframe the structure and allow people to leave the perceived safety of their silos cocoon.

He couldn’t have Googled that.

Last week we got asked a very good question by a very wise bank CEO: “What can I do so that we get an organisational culture just like Google’s (but with better regard for international tax law)?“. It’s a good question for many reasons including how it’s not immediately evident why that is desirable. Is Google the absolute best model of a successful big tech with impeccable internal culture? Maybe, maybe not, but it is a great deal more successful than the bank ran by this Banking Superhero.

It’s also a good question because it forces us to look at the differences. At a first glance many of them look procedural and replicable. Anyone can implement OKRs and become agile. However, when you pop the hood and really start getting to the heart of what makes them immensely functional very little is easily replicable and almost none of it is about the process or the tech.

“Ethos”; “Personal motivation”, “Obsessions”; “Psychological Safety” are all concepts Google places at their very core and why they have so much success. In principle they seem to map to “Purpose”, “Professional Development”; “Customer Centricity” and “Workplace policies” but in practice they absolutely don’t, because Google was built on good, sturdy foundations of human values and designed with these ideas at its very core and isn’t just borrowing words and trying to replicate successful models.image00-300x223

To quickly point out but one example of the ones above: the concept of “Workplace Psychological Safety” that Google has first drawn attention to, has very little to do with its application to the fervent zero-bullying snow-flake-creation campaigns that put political correctness before humanity, which many organisations are policing these days and, almost on the contrary, everything to do with empowering gifted individuals to feel supported, respected and appreciated enough that they feel they can and “ought to” experiment and grow both individually and in ever-changing teams.

So the only way to answer the CEO’s question is with another question “How badly do you want it? – Do you have the courage and ability to do a real tabula rasa exercise at least in terms of principles if not people or is this a chipping at the edges incremental change exercise?

K.I.S.S – Keep It “Spade is Spade”

The imperative of change is so great that I feel tempted to abandon my obsession for correct terms and concepts and calling a spade a spade as pedantic, but that would be a mistake.

In our practice we used to have “Language” as one of our core values complete with workshops and programs to stimulate honesty and usage of real vernacular but then we realised that’s wrong as it’s a sine qua non condition to everything else so we now have it as a mandatory part of all our “Spark!” workshops.

“Employee branding and engagement”, “Ethos”, “Purpose”, “Goals” – that’s Passion. Better yet, it’s Heart.

“Training and development”, “Professional growth”, “Technology Know-How” – that’s Knowledge.

“Ways of Work”, “Innovation appetite”, “Transformation” – it’s all about the Courage.

We collectively spend too much time playing with words be they buzzwords or consulting jargon and that painfully detracts from rolling our sleeves and making real change.

Let’s change that.