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Will the new banking generation change the bank?

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As millennials reach C-suite positions, they bring with them new eyes, new skills and new outlooks. In particular, they get technology, the internet, the digital world. Does this mean that banking will evolve and change naturally, due to new leaders with new eyes?

Possibly yes, maybe no.

The thing is that it is clear that the next generation of leaders will have a different view, but will they be able to break the handcuffs of the past? This has been the challenge for all of their predecessors – will millennials make that change?

There are two big factors in play here, and many more nuanced ones, but the big headlines are that the organisation hires people who are like them. The people who rise to the top of the tree are people who are like their predecessors. Their predecessors must like them before they get promoted. As a result, the organisation ends up with more people like those who went before.

If you are a little radical, a little bit different, a little bit more challenging, then you get ejected. I should know, as it has happened to me a few times. The organisation wants yes people, not people who challenge their system.

That first factor means that the new C-suite will be dominated with attitudes that existed in the old C-suite. There may be a few more CxOs who demand change, but they have to do it in a political way that fits with the cultural framework of the old organisation.

Now, let us say that someone has risen to the highest level, understands the politics, believes they can change the organisation and has the right thinking … then, the second challenge is faced: how to do it?

After decades of laying technology structures over legacy structures and finding an organisation that needs a complete restructuring of their backbone digital foundations, how do you do that whilst keeping the organisation alive and looking like it is seamlessly running without failure.

For me, the second challenge is far greater than the first. Sure, the new CxO may be far more tech savvy than their predecessor, but it is nothing to do with how well the new CxO understands tech. It is how well the new CxO understands change and, specifically, changing an organisation that has been cemented firmly in legacy structures.

Breaking apart legacy structures is hard. I guess the nearest example is moving into an old building. A building that has rattling pipes, leaking ceilings, electrics that sparkle at night and holes in the walls. Of course, you can upgrade a building, fix the pipes, cover the ceilings, change the electrics and plaster the walls. But how do you do that whilst servicing customers in a way that they don’t see the sparks and holes being fixed?

It reminds me of something discussed many times these days: Bankenstein’s monster. Bankenstein is a bank that has been built over the past century with core systems never replaced. Those systems are now dead parts full of data that are purely kept alive through electricity and middle and front end technologies which disguise how old they are. How do you refresh an organisation full of dead parts that need replacing without any impact on customers?

That second challenge is more than just being younger and more visionary. It is the challenge of transformation and change. This is what we refer to in the digital transformation journey and, specifically, it is more than just a technology challenge. It is a people challenge.

I often say that digital transformation has nothing to do with technology. It is about culture and mindset. How far does digital extend into the organisation as something of import, and how urgent is the commitment of the people in the organisation to change?

As can be seen, none of this is simple, and it has little to do with demographics. It has far more to do with ability, specifically the management’s ability to change the bank.

Chris Skinner Author Avatar

Chris M Skinner

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