Banks Won’t Eat Challengers’ Dog Food But That’s Not Who’s Coming For Their Lunch

<Reproduced with kind permission from Forbes>

The Bubble of Banking

“Get out of the building” was such trendy advice a few years ago and now everyone is barricaded in their building.

Being told to look at other industries elicited many a gratuitous Silicon Valley excursions from bankers around the world which were invariably sprung on by lofty aspirations of doing the same things as the champions only to be drowned by seemingly reassuring remarks on how that simply doesn’t apply to banking. 

These days those trips are rarer and rarer which is a blessing and a curse.

Is it maybe that we don’t get out so that we don’t see how far behind we are digital user experience wise?

What’s most concerning is that traditional banks are not the only ones inside the bubble anymore but challengers are heading that was as well.

It’s nothing short of tragic to see some of them having but moments ago left their privileged first-principles design position and having now gotten utterly stuck in whatever they produced, often so blinded by the reality of day-to-day operations that instead of their current offering being a first pit stop at the end of a design sprint it becomes their main offering.

There is no doubt that it’s understandable – for challengers day-to-day doesn’t only involve running a bank which is what incumbents cite doing with such sacrifice but running a small business that needs to show its worth under extreme scrutiny as well. It’s tough.

A tale of two different tragedies – the challengers having to make a start-up thrive and the bankers having to budge an almost impenetrable mass of legacy tech and legacy culture. None an enviable position. None poised to build any lasting wins for the consumer.

Where are my MoneyMomentsTM

No one wanted challengers in the UK to succeed more than me. Over the years I’ve penned a couple of open letters which aimed to keep the snark level low and the constructive advice level high. Granted, a lofty goal for me, but my delivery shouldn’t have obscured the main message a plea for them to build solid technology pillars, take aggregation seriously, buy or build extremely capable categorization and data capabilities and above all, forget about banking products as they know them and design from scratch for addictive money moments.

Needless to say and not to burst the bubble of our newly enthused American friends who celebrate the announced imminent import of some of those propositions this week, none of that happened.

If you unpack most challengers today, they are rapidly building legacy of their own both in technology and in the way they are building the organization, having skipped steps and cut corners in their hurry to put out an app with some pleasing design accompanied by the best looking card they can think of and greater a sin still, with the exception of the unrealised promise of the budding challengers who aspire to become platforms, gave us precisely the same thing high street banks did.

Not a MoneyMoment in sight. How do l know they aren’t building any? Well ask yourself, with all the permissions every app ever asks for, why hasn’t any challenger asked to read your health data or at least your Calendar or your TripIt information? How are they to build integrated, contextual experienced when their transactional data is largely untouched and unaugmented with meaning and their data from other sources inexistent?

They aren’t. Truth is it’s not necessarily more likely that they will start doing so any sooner than the next NatWest app update. 

License to snooze

It’s a lot grimmer for the success of the challengers than we have collectively hoped for in the industry with advocates faith diminishing and mass adoption lacking but does that mean that incumbents should breathe a sigh of relief and carry on with JP Nicols’ trademarked “innovation theaters” and ever stronger “business prevention” departments?

Only if they’re ready to be out of the game because the extinction threat doesn’t come from colorful cards and incrementally better digital apps but entirely new ways of interacting with finances that will insidiously and mercifully insert themselves in our every day digital lives through buying behaviour and relevant advice and the guys who can and will provide this only have to click to make it happen.

Amazon Is Not Too Big To Fail And Neither Are You

<Reproduced with kind permission from Forbes>

piotr-cichosz-414542-unsplash                                                                                                                  Royalty Free Unsplash.com

Self-awareness or sensationalism?

It’s not the first time he says it but last week Jeff Bezos has reiterated that he is convinced Amazon can and indeed will, fail.

“One day, Amazon will fail,” he said, “…we have to delay that day for as long as possible”. Framed this way, this is no longer a case of “IF” but of “WHEN”.

The metrics that show how the company founded in 1994 is now perhaps the best example of success in growing with a purpose and making money while at it, are impossible to doubt. Amazon is winning today by any measurement, its ascension the stuff of dreams not only for budding entrepreneurs but many of its competitors.

Why does it need to then concern itself with this impending death talk?

The answer lies in the myriad of examples of recent history to show that not thinking under those terms is a mortal sin. Giants that thought their size is protection enough against any type of failure have perished in many industries, most succumbing to the pressure of new consumer demands and digitization.

One could fill books with quotes from press releases and shareholder meetings from CEOs that spoke of their confidence in the future right before falling on their sword. Whatever you think of Bezos at the very least, he can always claim this monumental “I told you so” should he have prevented Amazon’s heralded demise. But how will he do so?

Amazon’s Knowledge, Passion, and Courage

Moving away from analyzing why big companies are afraid to look death straight into its hollow eyes we should instead look at what Amazon has put in place thanks to this self-awareness to prevent it.

Amazon values knowledge.

It doesn’t only meticulously insist on the highest caliber of people when bringing in each and every of its now 600,000 employees but encourages them to keep learning and demands continuous proof of critical thinking.

“Memos over PowerPoint”

It’s wildly reported but surprisingly un-mimicked in other boardrooms that Amazon prefers memos over PowerPoint. Every meeting starts with a period of silence where effectively everyone studies the problem at hand by reading a verbose, descriptive and hopefully succinctly all-encompassing memo about the topic at hand instead of looking at a series of slides with bullet points.

“Full sentences are harder to write. There is no way to write a six-page narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.” and having that clear thinking and presentation of the knowledge puts everyone on the same page from the start.

When it comes to passion it’s undeniable that Bezos thinks Amazon needs to have it as a sine-qua-non condition of success.

“Obsess over Customers”  

Reminding his employees that they have more in the way of a higher purpose than their tech giants competitors is a Bezos trademark.

“We have a good story to tell – we Improve the lives of consumers”. He bundles that with the need to elevate the concern for the consumer to obsession level as a basic survival technique and every executive in a large corporation around the world would do well to truly take that message to heart past the mere “customer centricity” empty promises to shareholders.

“There is no work-life balance”

“It’s not a balance, it’s a circle” he argued bemoaning that the idea of balance is debilitating because it involves a strict demarcation that shouldn’t be there. Going against the school of thought that advocates that employees must protect the sanctity of some extreme imaginary boundaries between work and life, what Bezos is advocating is not a state of perpetual work and no relaxation as his critics would like to claim but instead a blend between the two that brings true contentment to a passionate employee.

Finally, let’s look at how Amazon values Courage

“Every day at Amazon is Day 1”

What time in a company’s life better encompasses both enthusiasm and immeasurable courage than the day it starts? Bezos is so insistent that “Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance and painful decline. Followed by death” that he does all he can to remind his people to stay in the mental space of Day 1 and even went as far as to rename the building on campus where he works “Day 1” and reportedly when he changed buildings he had the name follow.

It would behoove executives of large organizations to even imagine “day 1” of their company’s life and role play reliving it by vividly and regularly imagining what it would be like to start from scratch – what grit and bravery it would require.

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“Disagree and Commit”

Having the courage to make decisions is the cornerstone of innovation and the foundation of speed for companies that want to keep moving ahead.

At Amazon, the focus is intentionally shifted from how correct a decision is,  to how fast it can be achieved and so velocity becomes a key success indicator that is handsomely rewarded.

“If you’re good at course correcting, being wrong may be less costly thank you think whereas being slow is going to be expensive for sure,” Bezos writes in support of the speed demand.

Nothing better signals to employees that there is enough trust invested in them and enough Google-coined workplace “psychological safety” than the expectation of decisions being achieved with speed and in the absence of all the data that would have removed risk.

Decisions are seen as being either “Type 1 – non-reversible” or “Type 2 – reversible” and a balance between the two is encouraged with velocity still being praised in lieu of proportion with passionate debate highly encouraged but cut-off points in the decision making process are encouraged early. It just means “Look, we disagree on this, but will you gamble with me on it?” asking everyone to be brave and invested.

Having the knowledge to frame a problem with considered, literate wording, the need to continuously and incessantly think of the consumers and ways to make their lives better and do so as if you’re just starting out, with the passion of a start-up founder and the courage of a rapid decision maker is what will delay Amazon’s death not its balance sheet and we can seek to stay alive by religiously applying their lessons in winning.

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!”

“Brilliant.

“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.

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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.

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.

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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 – 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.

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  • 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?

The Banker and the Sour Grapes

*Warning – the following may cause your knickers to knot. If it does so, please re-read as it is meant as compassionate analysis not mindless bashing.*

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Today’s story will be about bankers’ cognitive dissonance when it comes to consumers’ needs.

We are all “grown” here so I’m sure everyone is familiar with what “cognitive dissonance” stands for but a refresher may be in order to help us along:

In short, it’s the feeling of really uncomfortable tension which comes from holding two conflicting thoughts in the mind at the same time.

The most well known example of cognitive dissonance can be found in Aesop’s “The Fox and Grapes” fable where a fox is really keen on having some grapes but can’t reach to eat them so decides to end its internal turmoil by concluding they weren’t going to be tasty as they were not ripe yet, originating the “sour grapes” expression.

Let’s replace the Fox with our Banker.

The fox’s thought is “I believe I fancy some grapes and I think I will reach and jump and generally do what is necessary to reach them and consume them which would make me happy“. Our banker’s equivalent is “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.

The dissonant thought on the part of the fox is “I know can’t reach the grapes” whereas the banker may think “I know that I am part of a nearly paralysed monolithic structure that is slow to come up with newness and implement it, that all the agile new challengers will bypass us on the race to the consumer no matter what I do.

After having decided he can’t do it despite its better efforts, the fox thinks “‘They’re sharp and hardly worth my while!” while after seeing his first thought being uncomfortably challenged by the pace with which others are moving, the banker said no further than last week “Seen that there Tandem losing its license? Challenger -schallengers, no danger there, they won’t even make it to consumers, no need to hurry anyone, business as usual!

Having personally heard variations of the “sour grapes” thought above from the mouth of a few different bankers, I was aghast. These are uber smart, uber hard working, very knowledgeable bankers, surely they can’t truly believe that.

Surely, I thought, they know that’s generally untrue and that examples such as Tandem’s story or Monzo’s tech issues or even the delays in Starling and Atom they use to make the same point, are not true illustrations of their license to relax as the customer will get better nowhere else, yet they say it. And momentarily believe it.

Furthermore, surely they know that the real threat and why they should not start leaving the office at 5 pm again and cancel their innovation labs, is not the challengers but the huge technology giants and what they are cooking in the background in digital money experience and yet they say that.

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Don’t get me wrong, I know for a fact bankers are aware that there’s threat in the immediate propositions too – after all no one contests that the challengers and the experience-layer-banks will serve to wet consumers’ appetite for impeccable UX and really contextual functionality and once wetted it may be impossible to keep critical dissatisfaction at bay, but when you add to that same CX magic the mass that the giants have – it should keep every incumbent banker awake at night.

Here’s the kicker though – they are human beings, they can’t keep being awake every night, they work double hard without the luxuries the other FinTechers have – the freedom of expression, the speed to see results, the feeling of being part of change at a suitably innovative, fast paced rhythm so they need the momentary relief.

I’ve said this many times before – 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 in many ways irrespective what part of the industry we are in. All of us – bankers new and old, technology makers and commentators, we are all impacted by this spectacular time in the growth of digital and the money retail business. There’s no time to complacently relax into anything, deep conceptual thinking is nearly banned if we wanted to keep up, there is definite uncertainty to accompany ever growing demands and it feels like the more we learn, and the more we try, the harder it is.

FinTech these days has become like an immensely fast paced game with absurd levels of difficulty thrown in for ever-diminishing (or at least largely unclear) pots of gold. No one has to bare the stress more than those working in large incumbent banks. Spare a thought (and occasionally a pint of beer) for their painful bouts of cognitive dissonance, look them straight in the eyes and remind them “Forget Tandem, they’re not sour, keep trying to reach.”

I am a Banker – therefore I lie

 

While I came up with the Emotional Banking concept a few years ago, it’s only been a year now that I’ve waved my banking-change crusader flag and inflicted my indignation of banks not caring about their customers’ feelings, full time. I’ve learned a lot in this past year.

I have learned in utter consternation that banks have no interest in being a serious brand like every other consumer business does. I’ve then learned why this is and dissected its utter perceived lack of imperative that comes from a lack of mobility that no other industry has the luxury to experience.

Next up I questioned how banks can be neigh but blind to the imminent changes in the industry – the peer-2-peer plays, the internet players, the experience layers (neo banks), the technology giants dabbling with financial services and the new challengers. How they justified being able to afford more of the lack of care to the way their clients really felt about their money.

“I lie to myself all the time. But I never believe me” – S.E. Hinton

It turns out their blinds are handed out as soon as they become decision makers in banking. If life were a science-fiction work by Philip K Dick there would be a higher evil mastermind that keeps bank’s boardrooms topped up with pre-Y generation males and then ensures they speak McKinsey talk in lieu of real English while loosely discussing hip FinTech words they once read in the Guardian for all of 2 minutes before returning to P&L and share prices.

This would help this evil mastermind ensure there’s no regard for the consumer, no insight into his or her needs and desires and surely no understanding of how to get, motivate and keep the right people who can put that new fangled technology to good use.

Sadly this is not a novel but our reality.

More worryingly, in the past few months I’ve witnessed the famed challenger banks, a wave of new and promising structures that Britain bet its farms on, start down that path as well. Business models that were courageous and disruptive iterated again and again to at most, tamer, pale versions of their initial selves, or worse, a completely different animal that amounts to more vivid colours on a version of the high streets current accounts. I’m sure if they cared to admit this is the case, they would blame it on the FCA license grilling but I believe it’s simply normal start-up pressure to demonstrate model which in their case means go to market half cooked an half stripped of dreams.

Maybe there is still time for the UK challenger banks to turn the boat around and do what’s right for the consumer but they need to stop crowd-funding till they break servers and charming conferences and journalists for vanity and put their heads down and give us insight and action.

Insight is all but absent in the industry. We never learn anything new. The same dusty statistical tidbits about amounts of tooth brushes versus mobile phones in the world and the length of marriage versus banking relationships are repeated over and over again. And it isn’t only the establishment that is guilty of it. Of the former (as undoubtedly they are even more today) 27 founders and CEOs of challenger banks the FCA has reviewed and that I’ve heard speaking in public or private contexts, do you know how many have had any revelation to share about consumers? If not “I’ve found the holy grail of savings” at least a “We saw huge anxiety when they tap in the overdraft so we change the colour of the app and the language to reassure”. You guessed it. Not one.

The incumbents blame the immutable inertia created by tens of years of patched, spaghetti-like backend systems, for their paralysis in real interest of what would truly make consumer’s lives better from the money point of view. If only they started all over, they say. The challengers don’t blame anything as they won’t admit it, but suffer from the same unwillingness because of natural constraints of being at the beginning and having to start proving their case. If only they had systems and mass, they think.

Meanwhile, the protagonist of the consumer centric mantra falls in between and gets what is, for all our FinTech sins, a flat design version of their online banking of 3-4 years ago topped off with an ever growing dread of customer support and mistrust in its uptime and an ever more futuristic in design cow-webbed branch.

It isn’t’ just the banks (big or small) either. We’re all guilty of it in the industry. We write articles, go to industry events and pat ourselves on the back for beginning to understand AI and Blockchain but we allow basic customer research to not happen anymore. We say it politely when we should allow ourselves to be alarmed and shake every banker we ever meet into action. We hear no revelations about consumer behavior about their money but we accept that what they really want is a new currency in identity and disruptive data and trust models. We have no serious interest in how to modify virtuous monetary behavior but we wave the “millennials want instant access to information” flag as if we came up with that nugget ourselves.

We lie. There’s no point in sugar coating it. When we collectively claim all we care about is the consumer and we will put them at the center of our every thought, but we banish design to a de-facto after-thought to prettify existent cumbersome products, we lie. When we say we’re building disruptive new models that will integrate money into larger digital contexts, but we don’t have the backend technology to even begin to understand the data, we lie. When we know as a consumer, as a human, that our needs are nowhere close to met in our interaction with our money holder, but we spend no time seriously studying those needs and feelings but say we do, we lie.

I fundamentally believe bankers old and new are not comfortable with this particular lie (research clearly shows they are ok with other kinds) and given the means would like to change it so let’s start with an honest look.

Where is experience design in your organisation? How many of the products and features you offer have been designed as compared to copied and modified?

How many people and how much time is devoted on good old fashioned customer research? Not the odd focus group to prove the choice of green on the left corner of the mobile app is correct but honest, intense research about their attitudes, emotions and views about money and the interaction with their provider.

How many innovation labs, funds, in- and ac-celerators have you poured (granted, non-significant) amounts of money into over the last 5 years? What can you point to that has trickled down to the consumer? How has it changed their financial lives?

Saying “it’s about the people” sets you aside from the old and dusty ones who won’t even admit that but is that rhetoric confined to water coolers and hip events or brought into the board room and made a priority? How many of you reward knowledge if you happen to accidentally have FinTech industry voices with strong opinions and a name working for you instead of treating them as having a shameful hobby? In your list of KPIs, OKRs or any other Rs does it say “Get, keep and nurture mega smart and passionate people who put the consumer first”?

Here’s the thing, we all agree the status quo won’t hold.

We all know you could become pipes (and that goes for challenger banks as well when it comes to invisible banking). We’re up against companies who get experience intimately, have brand, have people, have an obsession with understanding the consumer and don’t have to lie about it. We absolutely must shake the lip service, the convoluted meaningless language, the excuses about too much legacy or too little funding and the hope that these other guys “would never enter banking, why would they?” because at this rate, our lying amounts to such abuse of the consumer they may enter banking as sheer compassionate charity and not in the hopes of turning a profit.

P.S. My faithful readers – hi honey!- know, I end articles with a bang so the above phrase would have been the perfect point to leave hanging to emphasise the doom and gloom but that would make me guilty of the same demagoguery. This is not in the scare mongering series we all seem to write these days. This is a call to arms. I know so many of you reading this well and you’re amazingly passionate, smart human beings who struggle with the fact customer centricity is reduced to a lie despite how you still feel everything you do is with the consumer in mind. Changing it is daunting, but it’s doable. Let’s break this down and figure out how to listen and care and tell the truth about our culture and what it needs to fundamentally change and we will eventually get there.