I hosted a banking dinner the other night, where we were talking about the FinTech scene in this particularly vibrant and innovative country. It was under the Chatham House Rule, so I can’t say too much about who and where this dinner was, but it did amuse me half way through when we were talking about banks trying to be innovative.
I made the comment that you have this can do and can’t do culture, and how it’s very hard to be innovative if everyone shouts you down. I’ve experienced this personally many times, and it is incredibly frustrating when you come up with ideas and the older, more experienced person in the room says no, that can’t be done … we’ve tried it before and the authority wouldn’t allow it. What authority? Really? Have you asked recently? It’s just bloody annoying really to have the sceptic in the room always shouting everything down.
That is to me how banks work, so how do you overcome it? At this point, two of the banking representatives in the room shouted we’ve worked it out. What did they do, I asked? They both said their banks had had senior management away days with no agenda issued. Apparently, the senior bank management team were really nervous about this. We’re having an away day and there’s no agenda!!! OMG!!!! They weren’t sure what to expect, and half of them imagined mass sackings whilst the other half believed a merger was going to be announced. They were all wrong. The day was focused upon customer-centricity and they were told to design a customer app at the outset. WTF? That’s the IT guys job? No, it’s not, they were told. Try designing a customer app. After an hour, the teams had an outline of what they thought would work and were then told that a customer would be coming in two hours, so they had to get it developed. The developer team were in the room and took their ideas into a prototype to try out with a real, live customer.
I loved this anecdote, and that it came from more than one person in the room. It kind of reminds me of the cultural change bankers are going through. From rigid rules and extreme oversight to lighter touch management and easier operations, the change from formal bank to cool start-up is something many banks are trying to encourage. I see it regularly as I look at the styles of the leadership teams. Gone are the formal suit and ties, and more informal jacket and shirts are the order of the day. They haven’t quite got to t-shirts and jeans yet, but dress-down Friday is now dress-down every day. It’s hip to be square.
The challenge is that this cultural change does cause some confusion. The number of meetings I attend where one or two people in the room didn’t get the message no tie needed is very funny. There’s me in my jeans, shirt and jacket; the boss in his suit and shirt, no tie; and a couple of the millennial aspirational high fliers in their rigid suits and ties. This will change, but it’s indicative of the times we are going through.
Banks and bankers are trying to become cool. They are competing with the likes of Facebook, Uber and Alibaba for talent and don’t know how to get it, so they imitate the Facebooks, Ubers and Alibabas to try to show that they too can be hip and modern. It doesn’t work – it’s kind of like watching dad dancing on the nightclub floor – but at least they’re trying.