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Do vision, mission and value statements matter?

There’s one bank I regularly visit, which have their values emblazoned over their reception.  These values are:

  • Respect
  • Integrity
  • Service
  • Excellence
  • Stewardship

… or RISES for short.

It’s nice, but I always have this cynical little buddy on my shoulder, shouting in my ear: “do you think they mean it?”

The problem with the things like corporate values and mission statements is that they’re often a little bit wishy-washy.  As pointed out to me regularly, look at any bank’s mission statement and they all sound the same.

Citigroup:

Citi works tirelessly to serve individuals, communities, institutions and nations. With 200 years of experience meeting the world's toughest challenges and seizing its greatest opportunities, we strive to create the best outcomes for our clients and customers with financial solutions that are simple, creative and responsible. An institution connecting over 1,000 cities, 160 countries and millions of people, we are your global bank; we are Citi.

What about JPMorgan

Our mission is to be the best financial services company in the world. To achieve this goal, we focus relentlessly on carrying out our business principles, which are fundamental to everything we do:

  • Aspire to be the best.
  • Execute superbly.
  • Build a great team and a winning culture.

OK, so they both want to be ‘the best’, but I think we need to define what ‘the best’ means a little more please.  The best in terms of shareholder return, customer satisfaction, employee care, community involvement or all of these things?  Citi’s seems more tied to customer than JPM’s, but they both want to be the best.

What about HSBC?

Throughout our history we have been where the growth is, connecting customers to opportunities. We enable businesses to thrive and economies to prosper, helping people fulfil their hopes and dreams and realise their ambitions. This is our role and purpose.

Hmmmm … I guess some would claim that is why you connected your customers to those nice little tax avoidance opportunities, but then so was every other bank.

And there’s the challenge, which is how to create a vision, mission and set of values that you can really buy into?

I guess that comes from the top and I still remember to this day a CEO who put all their passion into their mission statement: to be first choice.  The thing is that this particular CEO defined first.  First means Friendly, Informed, Responsive, Service-Oriented and Trustworthy.  These five measures then informed everything about the bank: how people were measured; how customer satisfaction was scored; how and where the bank invested’; and more.

Unfortunately, most vision, mission and value statements look pithy under public scrutiny, especially when so much has happened that screams that the bank ignored their guiding principles but, if a CEO really invests in the values, they do become the culture and guiding light of the bank.  That’s what they should be, but I don’t always see it in practice.

Meanwhile, my favourite mission statement is a tyre company from the 1950s who were technically providing the best tyres in the world.  The tyres were for aircraft and the company delighted in having the best rubber, the greatest tensile density, the most amazing tread and more.  Until cheap competition came in and, competing in the same technical categories, offered a price point 20 percent cheaper and more.

When the tyre company analysed what they were doing, they realised they were competing on the wrong thing.  Their technical capabilities were not in doubt, but what is it the customer focused upon?  The customer was buying tyres for aircraft not for feature, functionality and technical differentiation.  No.  They were buying tyres that they hoped were safe.

The tyre company changed their vision, mission and values away from being technically the best to providing safe landings.  It transformed their business.  Now, instead of quoting their tensile strength, the firm showed that this would allow an airline to run on their tyres for a minimum 10,000 safe landings.  Instead of competing on a price point, they competed on a safety point.  It gave them competitive advantage for years.

So, when I look at the banks’ vision, mission and value statements, I guess I’d just like one that was honest and said:

Our vision is make our customers financially secure

Our mission is to deliver financial solutions that are clear, honest, transparent and simple to make our customers financially secure. 

Our values back this up and are based upon honesty, openness, persistence, excellence and service (HOPES).  These are defined and measured …

Oh shoot … just as I wrote this, I realised it all sounds like.  There is some value in vision, mission and value statements, but what we should really do is throw away the consulting guru speak template and show some leadership (am I back on that trip again).

A banks’ culture – any company’s’ culture – is set by its leadership, not by some template of formulaic gobbledygook.  So get some great leadership and the rest will follow.  That’s what the real difference is between an average versus a great bank.

 

About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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