#BankWithPride – The Bank and the Hashtag

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

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Photo courtesy @CityBoyBen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“[…] no other industry behaves quite like ours or has been affected by the sharp advent of technology and its effects on customer experience in quite the same fashion so we’re experiencing unprecedented levels of discomfort […]”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The One with the Courage KPIs

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


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

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

Building and maintaining courage take a lot more work though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

IF Banking THEN MoneyMoments™

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The one with the bank that had the best Superheroes


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dude, where’s *my* bank?

In a time where the gap between digital offerings of all kinds and banking is widening in lieu of the much anticipated closing, it’s hard to argue that any specific type of consumer is well served.

Mobile apps and online experiences from our retail banks and, more baffling, sometimes those from our wealth and insurance providers, are much closer to one-size-fits-all than any type of special treatment and a differentiated experience depending on who we are or even, what group of people we belong to.

Back in the FinTech stone-age, circa 2012-2014, “personalisation” was the word du-jour. Every bank was clamouring over what they could do to allow each consumer to make their interaction with the newly minted mobile apps “personal and customisable”. Those of us in technology at the time had to content with  many an RFPs which were invariably asking whether or not that was possible in the product, in particular since this was a time when banks weren’t anywhere near building their own front-end but were instead happy to use whatever us technology providers had already packed for them to put in front of the consumer.


The ironic part was that, often times, the extent of our collective imagination regarding what can be done to personalise the experience was reduced to two concrete things: “Can the various features be reordered on the screen?” and “Can users choose a different skin for their app?”. Even sadder still, as time went by, it transpired doing any of the reordering was a bad idea as while doing so was allowing users to move boxes with features on the screen, it also allowed them to click them off and they quickly ended up in a panicked phone conversation with the call center as their balance disappeared off their screen and, for all they knew, out of their coffers.

Personalising using visuals such as different backgrounds was soon stripped in implementation to people getting a choice between the regular branded appearance the bank offered for their online site or the colour pink. In the more “sophisticated” banks, some UX geniuses would add a dark scheme – think Window’s “night mode” from the early 2000s. Soon, the last bastion of “user-led” seemed to be the debit cards one could upload their own dog’s face to.

Unsurprisingly, users didn’t flock to avail themselves of these extraordinarily pleasing experiences allowing them to reorder the box with the closest ATM on top of the balance on a pale screen background and they weren’t reporting the expected levels of elation so after the “personalisation craze” passed and was replaced by the new darling of the banking world,  the almighty -and surprisingly resilient!- “omnichannel” which is another FinTech story for another rainy night.

What the failed “skinning experiment” seems to have left us with today, is a unitary experience and the admission of defeat from the banks’ side that they will offer the same app or online view to everyone.

Part of that is reinforced by excuses such as “with the exception of retail where they have to do it, most of the rest of the apps on the market only have one presentation as well, personalisation is dead, users don’t expect it anymore”. I think that, aside from being debatable as a fact, as research shows that 74% of digital users get annoyed when they realise any piece of content wasn’t created with them in particular in mind, that excuse is absolute poppycock.

The huge difference between other apps and banks is as usual, the amount of information having massive amounts of data offers. These other companies do not have the luxury of knowing who their user really is, and they rely on anything from rudimentary sign-up forms, to intelligent behaviour analysis to find out as much as they can about their consumer and target the way they present them with anything from information to offering.

By contrast, no-one reading this can dispute that banks have this data, nor can they claim they truly make use of it. I’ve denounced this lack of intelligent foray into what makes a consumer tick by use of the vast information banks hold, many a times before in this very blog and recent events have, as predicted, only made banks even more reluctant to dig deep into their data coffers allegedly refraining in order to protect us, the consumers.

An aggravating factor to this is how keeping in step with the reluctance, banks have slowed down on the accompanying appetite to acquire or build analytics platforms that would allow them to even slice and dice the data should they decide to do so. As a result, many are today not only unwilling to “personalise” but solidly, unable.

Working in the very belly of the beast changing the levers that matter and seeing banks willing to perform painful and lasting transformations I sometimes tamper on my “Why don’t banks care enough to examine the consumer’s feelings about their money for crying out loud?!?” indignation when in fact, while all this work of laying foundations is finally getting off the ground indeed, customer centricity becomes more and more of an empty sound-byte and work to understand the consumer is even further from commencing in earnest.

One indicator is that less and less agencies are called upon so that they look at yet another darling word of the yesteryears now nearly fallen into relative disrepute: “segmenting”. Part of the reason is that the digital world as a whole is now learning about individuals not generalisations and groups. Nonetheless, while the world of UX and Design has indeed moved on from categorising broadly on anyone’s age or income bracket, and has found deeper ways to ensure creating relevant human connections, banking is even further out of step, firmly left behind, having never done this homework  and never asked the right questions about said “segments”

For all the obnoxious talk of Millenials, how many banks do you know who truly care about and cater to pre-Z Generations and their understanding of money? How many banks intimately understand the financial behaviour of stay-at-home parents? What about newly widowed women? Or single men in their 40s or 50s? How do these people spend and save? What do they stand for? What do they enjoy and abhor, how are they feeling about the one-size-fits-all digital experience their bank puts in front of them?

If we are to be honest, the only segment that seems to be afforded the courtesy of being studied with a hopeful and watchful eye is that of small business owners but that’s only because they have their own business units within the financial institutions dedicated to making that, one of the last profit generating relationships banks have, work. Even there, no one is spending any time understanding if gender, age and psychological make-up play any role in how an entrepreneur behaves with their money.

The above applies to incumbent, traditional retail banks across the board and the only exceptions are -in particular in the US- smaller outfits such as credit unions that sometimes proudly cater to niches and in theory are meant to afford the time to pour over their particular slice of population that they are meant to financially serve, but even in their case, if we are to honestly sit the mobile app experience of a 60 year old retired nurse from Iowa next to that of a 32 year old software developer in the Valley, they would look and feel painfully similar in their depersonalised scarcity.

I talk about the lack of consumer mobility as the main factor why banks “don’t care” enough to investigate their customer’s feelings but they reality is that there is yet another major reason why they don’t – retail banking is not truly profitable.

In other words, in the mired jungle of banking products we’ve constructed under this artificial umbrella of “retail”, there are but a handful of actions that make good business sense for a bank to facilitate and as a result there’s no incentive to dig any deeper into how to offer everything in a more pleasing fashion. SME, Wealth, Insurance, etc – they have a lot more to lose by not failing the expectations of their consumers, Retail doesn’t.

Here’s a constructive First Principles idea to save retail: when we do away with the antiquated notion of banking products (and heaven knows we have to do that yesterday, before everyone else builds real Money Moments™ but us!) why not redefine segments and categorise them not by age, income or product they happen to be most profitable buying but by a whole other classification system based on them as a human being, their personality, their affinities, their risk appetite, their moral values, their hopes, their dreams, their likes and their hates.


If and when we accomplish that, we won’t be forgetting anyone anymore and no one will delete their balance off their pale-green background but instead, at long last, we will understand how to be a welcomed companion that seamlessly enables life moments through what we used to call “financial products”.

Here’s to the dystopian future of being in a comfortable segment of one where my bank powers the moments that have to do with my money in a manner I absolutely love even if I’m not your average small business owner Millennial.

The one with the bank that “kept it real”

A few weeks ago I promised I would start on the “Bank X” series. What the series will be, is a way to talk about what I’ve experienced with various banks without of course, breaching any of the iron-clad NDAs in place. The reason why we should talk about them is because, as I’ve deplored many a times before, our industry is drowning in negativity in lieu of striving for better and there is no reason to let that stand when there are real life examples of Banking Heroes and Hero Banks who do great stuff.

In today’s episode, this Bank X caught itself digging its own grave by choosing consulting-speak over growth and did something about it.

A few days ago, my amazing friend Sharon O’Dea posted someone’s piece about the fact that brands will need to start using “plain English” to connect with consumers and I responded that’s welcomed but insufficient if internal communications are not to undergo a complete shift towards real talk.

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Of the 5 programs that are the pillars of the Emotional Banking method, the “Keep it real” program was one of the last ones I have arrived at. Designed to rapidly improve the content and truth quotient of the internal dialogue in banks, it wasn’t because the importance of it escaped me that I was delayed in arriving at it, but because the main element it aims to change, namely “language” is one of the most complex ones.

In my journey to write the book and develop the method, I’ve known early on that unless we do something radical about the cancer of “consultitis” and get people in banks back to “speaking plan English” again, the other wins I was constructing – the kernels of passion and courage, and the way they were amassing knowledge- will be unusable.

The dialogue in banks was often neigh but impossible after years of consulting jargon that laced every sentence and stunned any communication.

When I had started the “State of our Culture” assessment with Bank X, I saw from the start that they were far from truly talking to each other and I underlined it to my executive sponsors. One of them was a newly minted CxO from a completely different industry with an unquenchable thirst for “saying what you mean”.

He admitted he has been stunned by how most important meetings dissolved in acronyms and stiff, wooden language and once we both stopped rolling our eyes at the wealth of extraordinarily frustrating examples, we both agreed this was “one of the ones we have to do something about first”.

Now it’s important to note that Bank X had brought this future Banking Hero on board, along with a handful of other great minds with a transformation mandate around rebuilding their mobile proposition on the basis of a shiny new analytics engine they were plugging in on the back-end, and the pot of gold for this exercise, as well as the enthusiasm for the outcomes, were excitingly extensive.

In other words, the team had the money and the mandate to construct the most awesome proposition they could think of with a reasonably blue sky and all the goodness of a Human Design Led philosophy and the quick and effective agile way of work du jour.

Ideal, right?


Meeting after meeting passed without them moving any closer to constructing greatness even on paper and as some of the execs I had interviewed were describing it, the frustration was based on how everyone left the room thinking progress had been achieved but then realising, not long after, that wasn’t true at all and the nods around “seeing what sticks” and “getting out of the building” had little if any substance.

I sat in on a couple of these digital strategy planning meetings and I was stunned at the dynamics. There was no lack of enthusiasm to start with and people would often bring in an idea and construct a vision around it but then, not long after, something would flip and the tone would shift to nearly meaningless pretentious business talk and be covered in forced political correctness. From then on, the chats quieted, the ideas dried out and the “we are now businessy adults saying what makes us look professional” replaced the initial fervour.

Having witnessed this same phenomenon in several other banks, I find it nothing short of fascinating to dissect. The best I can describe it, is akin to a switch being flipped from real conversation with meaning and passionate intent, to the automated-pilot of a bad episode of any office parody where the protagonists speak in no recognisable, every-day word.

In the middle of the most innovative, ideas birthing sentence it often takes but one of these consulting-ly Big4-like phrases being uttered by someone in the room (often as support to an objection to some big change idea) before the mood shifts and the language becomes universally unusable and the real discussion disappears in favour of a meaningless dance where everyone takes turns using the same type of expression that they believe would sit well in an official report.

This moment of mass hypnosis towards pervertedly empty language in a group that’s there to reimagine what truly addictive experiences are for the consumer, is the real cause of lack of innovation and progress in banks because the more “unreal” the language, the lesser the dialogue and in its absence nothing but incremental change can and does happen.

Bank X’s new Hero asked me what we should do. Was he to simply instruct the teams to “not speak consulting, use real language”? Would that be efficient? I suspected it would, eventually, but what we did was first roll out a few of my “Keep it real” workshops.

In their case, aside from the fun bits such as the “Say it again in English” exercises and the “Swear-fest” practice designed to loosen and reframe that are by default packed in my program, I focused on catching the moment they glazed over and turned into corporate drones.

I’d bring up an issue still on the agenda and ask a couple of controversial questions and watch as they launched in a debate about what should be implemented next or what technology should be used or even what some segment desires over another and let the dialogue develop to that -sadly inevitable- point where someone would slip into consultitis and jargon and halt it right then and there to analyse the triggers and show them the dynamics.

A method borrowed from individual therapy, if you need a behaviour to change, the only way to do so is to identify its triggers, develop an internal narrative to combat them and then try and catch yourself in the act. In a professional setting, group dynamic is based on a collection of individual behaviours and if they each learn to stop when they hear themselves or others slip towards meaningless and to instead go back to basics, it can prevent the rest of the session being of no value.

In each workshop we ended up with a list of “coping mechanisms” to help them identify and fight “consultitis” and, while the formulation may be different, for the most part they can be found in an internal check-list looking much like this:

“Am  I saying this to add value or to look good to my boss or my team?”

“Is this the way I would say this at the pub/around the dinner table/to friends?”

“Is this acronym or piece of jargon necessary or can this be said in English in a more efficient way?”

That quick check-list alone is a good start. Keeping each other honest and true to this -often uncomfortable- practice of language honesty is then paramount.

No one, not those in tech or those in business, those in banks or consultants, no one whp wants to see good, innovative things happening should be exempt from this “no BS, no consultitis” language pledge. We must start talking to each other in an open, honest and intently constructive way.

A few weeks back I met two people from Bank X. They were young, freshly imported from a big name consultancy and from another country than the head office we had done the “Keep it real” program with, but before I could reminisce about my  time with them, they proudly informed me that their organisation is different “you should hear us in heated debates, we sound like so unprofessional!”.

Here’s to all the unprofessional bankers keeping it real for us.