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Too Big To Change, Seagull Management and The Yes Team

Forget Too Big To Fail (TBTF), the real issue is that the global universal banks built between 1995 and 2015 are Too Big To Change (TBTC).  They are changing, but it’s not easy.  Think about it.  These banks have built themselves up into global powerhouses, operating in over 100 countries and offering everything from retail and commercial banking to wealth and asset management.  In reality, that means hundreds of thousands of people all working under a global megabrand that now needs to change.

The culture in these megabrands has become sour thanks to rate fixing, schmoozing wealthy clients to launder money and helping them avoid paying government taxes that we, the masses, have to pay.  Now, the governments are beating them up, the regulators are calling for change and the shareholders are worried about their pretty profits.  What is a bank to do?Most are raping their structures for reform.  They’re laying off thousands of people, selling off non-strategic assets, closing the parts of the business that might be dodgy and, in so doing, making black and white decisions that impact not just a few retail clients but, in some cases, whole countries such as Somalia.

The black and white decision making is the easy part however; the far more difficult challenge is how to make the change happen when you’re TBTC.  Take any of these massive global, universal megabrands with their hundreds of thousands of staffers.  How do you make that change?  Those staffers are structured into lines of business, product and service.  Those lines of business are matrix managed across countries and functions globally.

So you have 100’s of mini-despot country managers who think they own their operations, whilst their risk and finance and sales people have to kowtow to Mothership Bank in some far off state.  What that means in reality is that you end up with Seagull Management and The Yes Team of Yokels.

I experienced the Seagull Management syndrome in a large, global American IT firm.  As a Senior Vice President, I would fly around the world to spread the word of the Head Office honchos.  Landing in some far flung outpost, the whole country team would come together and the Head Office honchos would lay on a day or two of country review and motivational arse kicking.

On one such jaunt, the local country manager was a friend of mine and he explained to me that this was the annual Seagull Management moment.  “What is Seagull Management?” I asked naively.  “It is when the people from Head Office fly into my country, drop a load of shit and then fly off again.”

I laughed nervously and asked him how he dealt with it.  “I just tell my direct reports to be The Yes Team of Yokels”, he replied.  “What is The Yes Team of Yokels?” I wondered.  “It is to make sure that whatever happens, the Seagull Management team must fly away with smiles on their faces so just say yes to whatever they ask.  Then, when they’ve flown away, forget everything they said”, he told me.

Oh dear.


About Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, TheFinanser.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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