We have to talk about Organizational Design

<Reposted with Permission from Forbes>

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Organizations – Not By Design

We all nod and agree whenever the topic of old dinosaurian organizational structures is mentioned. Everything from homogenous boards and lack of diversity to rampant politics, misguided incentives, a disregard for the new paradigms of the new ways of work, lack of authentic vision, fake purpose and no real regard for the power of technology or respect for people.

We all have the stories to illustrate the issues. Cue the eye rolls and the heavy sighs. We all instinctively all know organizations are tired, sick maybe even terminally ill.

Bizarrely most discussions about this abruptly stop once there’s agreement on the burning issue, and they rarely culminate with a call to arms to see a fundamental change by redesigning if they are so clearly wrong for our evolutionary scope these days.

The origin of the topic can be traced to Peter Drucker’s examination of General Motors tens of years ago and was refined and studied when the Star model surfaced from Galbraith in the 90s along with a few other notable publications at the beginning of the 2000s but realistically, if one wanted to study it in detail, there wouldn’t be much of it to look at since.

What does it mean today, though? What has happened in the meantime? How does it differ in nature from one industry to another? How can it help us enter a new age where it all comes together – the technology and the humans that employ it?

Let’s look at banking in particular – Who designs the organization in banks these days? Does anyone? And what does this organization look like?

To go any further we have to leave the debate on the role of HR out. Dissecting why HR doesn’t have the weight and the seat at the big boys’ table that it should, is not an easy feat and it deserves separate and careful consideration.

For the purposes of this article, let’s presume they did. That they were part of the really significant strategic conversation and human capital was more than a PR claim. If they were firmly sat at the top of the decision-making table, what is their point of view when it comes to designing the organization?

By and large – non-existent is what it is.

They may peripherally touch it when they refer to the antiquated tenants of the organization in terms of people – the Recruitment, Retention and Development functions-, but never in a meaningful transformational way.

When do they stop to say “Hold on board, you keep banging on in earning calls about investment in people and I don’t see anyone having stopped and wondered if we have the right structure.” When do they knock on the CEO’s door and say “This may sound crazy but we need to rethink this entire thing.”

When do they start on the arduous road of rebuilding the pillars of the way people are working together?

Why should that happen? Because we are being equal parts deluded and conceited to believe anything will change in banks and that they can compete with the tech giants, until such a time that they fundamentally change the way they are organized internally.

Genesis Of Teams

In banks, we have Groups, Departments, Divisions and Teams and in the progressive banks, we have the labs, the Agile experiments, the Tiger teams, the SWAT people. Both kinds are composed by one of two methods:

The “Looks Good On Paper” Method

This is where HR recruit internally or externally by looking at skills off a CV and matching them with the requirements by sophisticated methods such as heavily relying on keywords or even aleatorily choosing off an excel table from a multitude of individuals who all seem equally qualified. Reinforcing semi-educated guesses with stiff, corporate and in-authentic interviews conducted solely to underline how solid the initial choices are.

This is, in particular, the method employed for initial team formation when a new structure is needed to be built from scratch, and as such, it’s most likely to be the way the “innovative” structures for new projects are built.

The “Finger In The Wind” Method

This dimension comes into play in particular when teams evolve, so existing structures are more vulnerable to it. Accidental nomenclatures to fill in a qouta; “I’ve known Bill for years” vouching for specific individuals; and the “meh, I’m sure Mary would do” throw-away mandate, they all come in under this “method” like a finger raised in the wind with consequences neither considered, nor held in high regard.

Ironically, seeing how it involves a much more human element, this method is not all bad news and some parts of it could be valuable if they were geared towards a specific outcome and their power was genuinely harnessed.

Not Fit For Purpose

Aside from how flawed these methods of creating collaboration are, we have to consider that the purpose of having people come together in a team has changed over the past 20 years and it is now on a path of even faster evolution.

The technology employees are expected to utilize, -as well as the one they are expected to deliver if that’s their mandate- is inexorably more complicated and more empowering than any other time in history.

The methods above simply can’t deliver structures that are free of the conventional and deliver better than the paradigm which is what we should be aiming for.

First Principles Design For Organisations

We have to get back to the drawing board and wonder what makes the organization efficient, flexible, reliable and above all, simple and solid.

We have to ask what makes people willing to share knowledge, lend a helping hand, collaborate truly, be themselves, dare, care, have drive, work hard, invest, apply themselves, bring others along, embrace change, trust, learn, burn with some type of inner fire and move at a pace that makes it all possible.

Leadership has to have the courage to re-examine every assumption and then work really hard to imagine a new world where people come together around a common purpose, interest and need to succeed not floor space.

They have to look up from business projections and be curious about the way the new ways of work impact the psyche of their people, their aspirations, their needs, and strengths and start investigating the ways to get the best versions of these people to interact with each other rowing in the same direction. Where and when is it that people gravitate towards each other and bring bits and pieces of value together, because they believe in themselves and their company, and they believe in the intent of these leaders that have let them find the best way to achieve.

The organization’s ROI will from here on, only come from a place where they have achieved real workplace chemistry and serendipitous cultural alignment a la’ the likes of Apple or Google.

The answer no longer is “stick them in an aleatory “Looks Good on Paper and Finger in the Wind” team.

Empty Rhetoric Versus Rolled Sleeves

Some claim the age of information has now been replaced by the age of purpose. This sounds aspirational on paper but it assumes we have, as organizations, done anything to have adapted to the information part. We have not.

Tools and processes have evolved and the canvas of the organization has stood still, frozen in the 80s, unwilling and unable to come along on the evolutionary path. Consumer expectations have grown and thinking of how to put people together so they are best equipped to meet them has shrunk. Technology is running at a million miles an hour and organizations are crawling along to the tune of the same KPIs and Departments.

In most industries but in particular in banking where the urgency is palpable, we can’t afford to let organizations just happen and then just fester and deteriorate.

We can’t afford to not make this topic first on the agenda. We can’t afford to wait and eschew.

We have to stop paying lip service to the notion of people being important and ask the hard questions, examine the existing structures of the organization and be willing to take a can of kerosene to the status quo.

We have to rethink, re-dream and redesign the organization. Only then can we compete.

Only then can we truly grow.

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

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I’ve often written about Banking Superheroes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How the Tide is turning for the challengers’ Revolut-ion in SME banking

Some of you remember the saga of a few weeks ago where we tried to get a new account for our business. If you don’t, or, if you’re a FinTech masochist and want a reason to feel despondent again you can find it here.

I promised this next instalment and I’ve been ruminating over how to put it to make sure it’s fair and yet captures how we felt going through the adventure. Seeing how I am writing this from the other side of the planet and I’m all traditional-banked-out I’m in an unforgiving mood so I’ve dropped the impartiality requirement and will settle for authentic and honest.

In short and to save you the suspense if you’re too busy to go through the play-by-play and usability dissections of the other players, here’s the gist of it: at the end of the other story we had concluded that on balance we had to choose Revolut and we were going to stick with them as they are the least of all FinTech SME banking evils – we were wrong.

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As of today we are the owners of two other intensely functional accounts that do all the things we needed them to: an incumbent – NatWest and a challenger that we had discarded at that time – Tide. No, I’m lying, we are also the owner of a Revolut account which we suspect just won’t die. But let’s rewind.

The Good

Right after our article hit, both Anna and Tide were amazingly communicative and we felt valuable to them as a result. As per a research often cited, they absolutely proved the point that correcting a negative client interaction with a positive one buys the provider even more brand capital than getting it right the first time.

Despite a personal and kind manner, Anna wasn’t quite sure how international transfers even work, at one point they assured me I could still receive international payments in their account despite the fact that they couldn’t provide an IBAN, BIC or Swift number and I had to let them know that’s incorrect but in their defence they openly corrected themselves and also made a concerted effort to augment their chatbot experience and insert humans in the process -be it to correct or explain- which is incidentally the type of sensitivity to one’s consumers and flexibility all banks should have when they start experimenting with chatbots in lieu of following a blind script and trying to fit their customers into it with the same impunity with which they forced us into every other banking product. Not to mention that their card is very cute. Sadly they don’t yet fit the bill for us.

Tide, our now primary account pulled the biggest rabbit out of their product hat and within 24 hours of the article we were informed we now had an international account – in fact a few of them in various currencies!- complete with the magic IBAN/BIC, etc which they couldn’t provide before when we were forced to discard them in favor of Revolut.

We aren’t conceited enough to think we have sped up development of a major service for a challenger bank with our needs, and this surely must be simply a very happy coincidence that they were hours away from releasing the product when we needed it, but either way, it’s nothing short of magical and we are looking forward to making them a lot of money and exploring their features including the direct integration with the accounting software, the invoice maker and the receipt bank. All they need is a business credit card, better categorisation and cash-flow calendar and they will be full stack in terms of basic business needs. Major kudos, if you need an SME business account and are considering a FinTech don’t even think twice, Tide is absolutely the way to go.

Do you know who is full stack already? NatWest. A much fuller stack than we dared hope. In fact, while yes, it took a minute to open the account – from application to confirmation it was around 10 days but that includes the call they made to chat through the model and the purpose, etc and 10 days is no longer than what Metro took a couple of years ago, and certainly not longer than the challengers took between the issues and the glitches- everything else was nothing short of amazing.

Granted, lower expectations are miraculously useful when it comes to the way we experience any banking experience in particular us jaded veterans but by Job they are a joy.

The screenshot-to-show-partners-and-spouse level of delightful features from NatWest include:

  • Double Personal vs. Business views in the app a la mBank (better 5 years later than never!);
  • Receipts scanning type functionality from the same app (although for us the ReceiptsBank app is more nimble to be fair)
  • A credit card that arrived as an almost surprise as it was a mere tick in the application process and has since seen its fair share of usage in various continents already!

 The Expected

Nothing more happened with some of the other ones we mentioned in Part 1– Monzo, Monese, Coconut, etc proceeded to ignore us and not even email us to say they’ll get back in touch or ask why we haven’t completed our registration. The only notable exception is Starling who answered us on Twitter and said they are working on Ltd’s and international transfers so we’ve made a mental note to give them another try when the time comes.

The Downright Ugly

And now for the painful event. How has Revolut managed to fall so far down out of favour?

Before I tell you I’d like to again underline that I had no preconceived ideas about them as some other people in the industry before all of this happened and have often defended them when they had PR disasters (although the latest one where they possibly conned people out of work and time for free is indefensible) and my business partner was a massive fan who had been using them since inception and has often tried to pay me through them even when she was a banker client so there was no a priori ill-will at all. In fact, with how much of an underdog they may have transformed into over night, I actually am still rooting for them because should they succeed by whatever measurement they are applying, it would be a story of learning from mistakes.

What have they done to us then? Not much, just lost our money and didn’t answer us for days.

When we opened the account my partner sent two international payments to test that all is well before we change our invoices to banking clients to ask them to use the Revolut account – one of a symbolic 10 GBP from her Unicredit account and another from her own private Revolut account.

Seeing how you read so far, there are no prizes for which one made it 2 days later whereas the other didn’t make it for 2 weeks straight while their account laid there bare and devoid of any trace of the money we sent and greeted us every morning with a heart-breaking “-15 GBP” (that’s a minus because you see, they grabbed the transfer that did arrive, and fancied we owe them another 15 to make up the 25 a month they decided they would charge us for the privilege of biting our nails and pulling our hair).

That’s right. The money we sent from Unicredit made it, the ones we sent from their own Revolut account did not.

What’s worse? She has had to learn the very hard way that her love had been misplaced all along, as she was the one trying desperately to get them to answer her as to where the hell the other transfer vanished. And try she did. On every possible medium, in every possible tone before at long last, days later, she was told “they don’t know”. Flippantly and with disdain at that. How it made her feel is her story to tell so I’ll see if I can get her to write it for you guys, but you can imagine it.

It will be interesting to see what kind of a struggle we will have on our hands to get them to release us from the yearly contract now that we know they are a joke and want the non-existent service cancelled, and I expect we will be met with no answers and it will end up costing us 300 GBP for the privilege of having found out first hand how far they are from being a real bank with any respect for their consumer.

So it’s farewell Revolut, Tide has changed and to paraphrase my own open letter to Santander a couple of years back – it wasn’t us, it is you.

The Future of Work – the Machines and the Purposeful, Talented Humans

This week I am in Sibos in Sydney speaking about a number of things but the topic closest to my heart is the Future of Work and we’re slicing and dicing that on stage in front of nearly 8000 bankers. I fully expect we’ll be unpacking far too little with so many big topics swirling around when it comes to trying to imagine what the workplace looks like in 2050. I also expect it will be an awkward session with hard truths shy to come out and same old eager to fill in the blanks.

Who is it?

As we were preparing this it became clear there is simply so very much to touch on. With it being one of the very few sessions regarding our biggest asset in banking – our employees, it’s evident that collectively, it continues being so much more comfortable overall to speak about technology, numbers, standards and the theoretical threat of a distant AI future.

Even with the best of intentions we have to wonder how to best spend our limited floor time to drive the right messages. We have such an extensive backlog of “stuff we haven’t talked about but needs doing” from discussing true diversity to unpacking big notions such as organisational structure and culture, banks’ soul and employee engagement and purpose, ways of working and general work canvas across all industries as machines come in.

If I had my way we would leave diversity out of it. Not because it isn’t important but because it IS important and an overall layer of decency and morality that should be undeniably understood as mandatory part of whatever future we are creating. There shouldn’t be anything to convince anyone of, nothing to debate. Work in the future in any industry will be as wonderfully diverse be it from a gender, nationality or personality point of view as to reflect society in general and everyone would be equalised not by that which differentiates them but that which unites them – their hearts and their brains.

What is love?

Knowing me, the ones that will be listening to the session tomorrow know that I will be adamantly obsessive eternally bringing it back to our PeopleNotTech core values of Knowledge, Courage and Passion not so for the sake of a gratuitous pitch but because it is the essence of what it should all come down to.

When you do big Don Quixote level battles you learn to quickly seize up the windmill and all too often the problem bankers have stars straight from hearing our mission when they first come across the terms. They are the opposite of the direct, plain, numbers based conversations they have elsewhere. They seem fluffy, hard to grasp, painful to analyse and so intangible in results they avoid or dismiss them.

In rooms much smaller than SIBOS’, with bankers who aren’t sure and shift uncomfortably at the mention of these three simple terms I like to play a game of “inhabit your discomfort” and press the point. Say the words clearly and with aplomb. Deliver with pauses. Wait out the uncomfortable silences. Seek out their eyes when they shift their gaze and eventually, if still necessary, ask them to tell me what other words would they use for what really matters.

They sense the challenge and the point I am trying to prove so all of a sudden they reach for what must class the most far-fetched “mission-like” word they can find and out come things such as “experience and know-how”, “emotional intelligence”, “talent”, “cultural fit”, “bravery”, “engagement”, “internal branding” and “purpose”.

I match each and every one with its corresponding value “experience and know-how” IS “knowledge”, “engagement” IS “passion”, etc. They start to get it and accept that we spent a long time searching for these deep and fundamental common denominators that are so intensely human and ease into the terms. I repeat them, they repeat it back. Hurdle one overcome. This technique won’t help at all at SIBOS so we’ll have to hope everyone in the room is accountable to themselves and holds the discomfort independently.

Changing the narrative to focus on intangible topics in lieu of numbers has always been challenging. The best example of this is when in 1975 in San Francisco – Tom Peters and Richard Pascal sat down to work out what can be done to change the dire situation of American workers in recession. They are both in awe of what the Japanese are doing to turn their loss into an industrial revolution win by work ethics and methodology and they propose the difference between them and their American counterparts lies in a the lack of a higher sense of mission.

They are certain that people and tools are no different and the competitive advantage of different processes is the result of one major gain they have: a sense of shared value that runs down the organisation to the employees. A mission to match a strong vision.

They both go on to write books but Pascal’s is met with reticence and raised eyebrows – what’s this talk of mission and shared values? So what if the Japanese went to work for a higher purpose? Peter’s “In Search of Excellence” has a different tone if it touts the same concepts and as a result lands better popularising the idea that a company must have values and a real vision and not simply offer jobs.

Nowadays everyone has a marble plaque in the hallway with the vision carved out and laid bare for all to see and we can debate its effectiveness and reason d’etre all we like but having had that introduced back in the day has shaped the way we view work and elevated the economy when the focus shifted from employed worker bees to invested partners so it stands as the first example of the idea of “purpose”

We have to move past the discomfort and advance to discussing the crux of the issue which is “How do you make employees genuinely love you? How do you avoid ever mandating it and instead nurture and painstakingly build it within your people until they are all owner-level invested? All in. All heart.

What is talent?

Some argue the term in itself comes from how in 1997 – McKinsey reacts to the emerging personnel crisis where mass brains migration is happening from corporate to Silicon Valley jobs by creating a strategy by the name of “The War on Talent” where in a nutshell, they propose that employee performance can and should be measured more accurately to only retain the valuable and purge the non-performant. With examples from other giants such as Enron or GE, they sell the idea of there being three types of employees A, B and C and they are each more or less valuable, desirable and worth keeping.

If we go back to the beginning of the 00s the term was on everyone’s lips. Having the right talent was seen as a sine qua non measure of success and more and more valuations were starting to take into account tangible measurements around the human capital. Sadly, against a backdrop of economical unrest the overall rampant political correctness society is moving towards has modified the discourse. One needs only look at an HR strategy these days to know the term has fallen out of favour presumably on charges of being elitist and exclusive.

To attempt to leave at least some major moral topics out of this “hey y’all look what we’re talking about over here at Sibos” supposedly light hearted article I won’t enter the debate on how the only effective measure of inclusivity is true meritocracy but I will say that shunning the term of “talent” is a dangerous trend we must stop. If we find we must redefine what is valuable in an employee – whether it is still what they know or how they apply it and whether they apply it then we most definitely should do so – initiate an open and ultimately helpful dialogue on what makes up real human capital but we can’t, for the sake of ill understood political correctness pretend every employee we have is equally valuable and there are no desirable attributes as that is business suicide.

Here too we are stopped by our own  collective limitations when it comes to phrasing the discourse and we must find a way to call a spade a spade and carry on discussing not what we should call it but the really important questions around whether we should seek out talent or build it.

What is “human”?

A lot of the discussion will be focused on one of our favourite subject that feeds the collective nerd SciFi kid curiosity: will machines replace humans in the work place.

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No doubt in the panel, people will liberally quote Brett King as he’s thankfully the foremost voice to have spent time examining this in his book Augmented, people will mention Hawkins and Musk and go on personal tangents about this one experience they once had calling to move a direct debit and dealing with a bank’s chatbot.

None of the above has been rehearsed of course, they are simply an educated guess on how it will all go, the result of  my observations of all other conversations I have been part of lately. It’s an exciting and intensely personal topic and everyone has an AI fear or an AI fetish and a vision on whether machines will take over and when.

I’m not exempt from talking and writing about the topic – in this piece called “Stop doing the Robot” I argue vehemently that irrespective of the when and how, the only defence we have against this apocalyptic future of potential destruction is to empower ourselves and the future generations with emotions and attributes that remain – for now -the apanage of humanity and outside the ability of machines. Empathy, complex emotions translated to data, shared purpose, intuition and common sense.

Make no mistake about it, this is a race and one we should take seriously – at some hospitals they are testing bedside manner for kids ran by Watson in IBM’s medical solutions suit – if that isn’t a sign that empathy itself is soon to cease being the apanage of humans I don’t know what is.

We can’t stop machines coming in and replacing a vast majority of the jobs we used to do. In fact, we’re working very hard on doing the opposite and are fervently working to build them and invite them in but we can, and ought to, focus on what is it that will remain “ours” and necessary. What is exclusively and deeply human.  

I’m not sure we have much to talk about on this “Future of Work” panel as it’s crystal clear:

The “how” is not under question. How should we work in the future. By ever growing and adapting. Agile-ly, Lean-ly. Intently. Diversely Non-Silos-y.

And the “who” is not under question either. The robots and us. All of us who use our minds and our hearts to their full potential, who dare to know and care and speak up, and be passionate, and have gut feelings and the drive to act on them.

The machines can have the jobs, us humans will hold on to the talented purpose.

On Knowledge: Curiosity – would it kill the banker?

Why does it matter to stay curious?

We lead such immensely busy lives that reading and learning often appear quite the luxury. We do everything at a million miles an hour in a technology highway that pushed the need to achieve more and above all, achieve faster, further up on each and every one of our agendas.

Breaks are few and far between. When they happen they are precious moments when rightfully, we want to be with that and those that make us happy and furthering one’s knowledge on their respective domain doesn’t fall under any of those categories.

Nonetheless, pleasant or not, keeping ridiculously up-to-date is a sine-qua-non condition in most industries and in Financial Technology even more so to atone for its complexity.

Best cases and industry milestones

These days, most of everything is public knowledge but do bankers know what’s the latest, what’s top of the range, what is the golden standard today?

We get asked to include best cases in our workshop content all the time. Most of the time it’s because someone somewhere can recognise they don’t know a lot – enough?- and ask for it and sometimes it’s sadly only because they think it ought to exist in a the agenda so they demand it with no real interest in its content.

The motivation behind the interest is arguably irrelevant but we do wish we saw more genuine intellectual, probing curiosity to learn and create better in lieu of sheer banking-FOMO.

In fairness keeping a bank running and tending to the corporate jungle at the same time is no easy feat and the topics bankers should ruminate seem to multiply by the day so what reigns supreme is kinda-knowledge and very little in the way of curiosity when it comes to basic market research.

Chatbots – all bankers know they are all the rage and they remember reading some report somewhere on stats but how many can benchmark their technological value at the drop of a hat or even know who of their competitors are employing them and which one is the best one today?

Open banking – everyone -at long last!- understands what it involves but the state of readiness of the other banks and what creative business models they created around it? How many bankers know that?

Transactional data – there isn’t one bankers who doesn’t know it’s “the new gold” but what that really means, if there is any other bank that intelligently employs it for the good of the consumer, in what fashion and to what NPS – how many bankers can answer those basic questions?

Know your own

On a more granular level, every banker and associated contractor in the industry has brushed against a product over the past few years and has been associated – be it at arms’ length- with the making of either an app, a product line or at least a feature that eventually reached the consumer.

It would stand to reason that while they do not have the time and means -if we disregard the real culprit: lack of deep interest!- to canvas the industry in its entirety, they surely are subject matter experts in that one particular slice.

That they can tell you when it was first invented and deployed, its entire history in other implementations of other banks and quote all its decision milestones, the various incarnations and how the deliveries’ history went in their own bank. Not to mention know for a fact, what reception it got and what the North Star of said product, app or feature is.

Right? Wrong. Look around you, grab a banker and shake them for the past, present and future information on this one product – the one they are involved in the making of. Very little falls out of their pockets. Then ask yourself: of the consumer-reaching things you’ve been involved with how many were you able to go on and lecture on? How many have you come to know inside-out?

Part of the reason why this occurs is that there is a lot of dialogue that happens in bankers’ heads in what could be safely called “Assumptions-Land”.

First they assume most people do better than their own bank in terms of their proposition which is a presumption that, if left unchallenged, is very disquieting and paralysingly self-defeating. .

Then they also presume it would take superhuman efforts to prove or disprove their presumption and replace it with up-to-date knowledge be it only because they judge by the informational jungle that is out there.

Lastly,, a lot of times bankers presume “it doesn’t matter, even if I knew for sure where we stand I wouldn’t know what to do that is transformational with this knowledge and even if I tried no one would listen to me anyway”. This last presumption in this story is sadly painfully grounded in bitter experience.

Education versus Knowledge

Formal education can only take us so far when it comes to industries that depend on the diabolically fast pace of technology and despite universities all over desperately trying to match real life with the curriculum, they haven’t managed that and they likely never will as we have no reason to believe the target will stand still from hereon.

The body of what needs to be known to create meaningful experiences for the consumer is growing by the day, and the only way we can keep up with it, is to redefine the old and dusty concept of “continuous education” into an imperative across all levels of every organisation where it’s part and parcel of every employee’s routine and then encourage, celebrate and even demand it by including curiosity as a metric in a manner that challenges the concept of one’s education stopping at a point where their work life begins.

Learning works best when it comes from an internal impetus as opposed to an external mandate though and that is why we need bankers to intensely care to find out and discover on their own. To be inquisitive and curious, to probe and to dig, to seek to figure out and know.

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The Knowledge Party

In 2015 – which at times seems to me to incidentally be the last time that anyone came up with anything earth shatteringly innovative in FinTech- a bank expressed to the company I was with at the time, that while they were desperately sad that none of the guys in their Digital team got approval to travel to Finovate from their Australian bank, they did the next best thing, commandeered a cozy bean-bagy room, ordered mountains of take-away and beer and did a Finovate demos viewing marathon party instead..

The same way some people would have done a binge-watching session amongst friends of a season of Doctor Who, or, a more appropriate comparison – Game of Thrones. Because they were fans. As were these bankers. Of new. Of the promise of technology. Of the amazing experiences it can create. Of the magic it could bring to the consumer of finance. Of FinTech.

Those bankers, wherever they are today, even if the only Finovate they had seen was that 2015 knowledge-party are guaranteed better off knowledge wise, than most of the report reading-and-writing consultants they employ to tell them what’s what.

And that type of information is not restricted or accessible only to the privileged. There’s no obvious reason why this hasn’t been common practice over the years in every bank.

More so, there’s no reason why  this hasn’t become mandatory fundamentals-building in every Innovation lab and incubator seeing how these are hundreds of people mandated with bringing something new to the consumer and they expect they are capable of doing so with no concern over what parts of the ocean have already been boiled.

This call for learning and intense curiosity is not for banking only, undoubtedly many other industries could stand to do the same, but in our case it’s as urgently and chiefly important as is finding one’s passion and building one’s purpose and if we collectively managed them all we could give the consumers the experiences they daren’t dream about.

 

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.

The Bank and the Forgotten Heroes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which brings us to what making a difference actually means.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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