The banking industry confronts countless deadlines every day. Sometimes lost in that shuffle is a crucial one. The deadline for a wholesale change in banking is coming soon—and in some instances it's here.
Thankfully, more and more bankers agree. There are plenty of reasons to believe that banking culture will undergo a serious transformation over the next few years.
The term “culture” has gone from obscure to hot. It now elicits debate. That’s a great improvement over how the banking industry could ignore culture altogether not long ago.
The adage “people not tech” used to regularly appear on conference slides. However, it has not turned into the honest rallying cry it should have. If you persisted in discussing it, you might be directed to HR.
But today, the discourse is opening; it's no longer a footnote of non-essential, fluffy programs designed to increase employee satisfaction. Forced by society at large, the conversation has grown to embrace more fundamental moral themes such as gender and fairness.
Even with this progress, I feel as though we've only scratched the surface of some potentially major issues.
What are those? In short, we lost our heart. In banking, we no longer dream. We no longer dare. We no longer feel or care deeply enough to nourish curiosity and learn.
This doesn't only persist at the leadership level—although heaven knows it would be a good place to show more heart and courage—but it can permeate an organization.
Along with losing heart can come losing the will to discover, progress and learn. And we collectively, as an industry, allow for shocking levels of lack of knowledge. We hire people who don’t know a thing about the things they need to work on. We fail to encourage colleagues to keep learning and experimenting. Grand visions can get lost in the daily grind: deadlines, reports, punch lists.
Fact: Technology moves at breakneck speed and keeping up with it requires extreme amounts of curiosity and care. Every other industry that must employ technology knows this. Everyone involved strives to know more, faster. In banking that is not a prerequisite. But in this age of energized high-tech, static organizational deadlines cooked up decades ago are dead on arrival.
Consider how many banking professionals truly understand fintech and all its facets: blockchain, robotic process automation, machine learning and the like.
Or how many bankers, be they tellers or risk managers, know anything at all about the collection of systems that comprise the entrails of the bank. Or even how many bankers know what user experience (UX) is or why customer experience (CX) matters. It’s an appallingly miniscule portion and there’s no objective reason for that. You can find all there is to know about fintech through public information accessible to all and sundry.
Fintech knowledge needs constant chase, constant reading, debating, testing, innovating and, most importantly, caring. Passion and knowledge connect inexorably. Losing one means losing the other.
A culture marked by lack of passion—and therefore lack of knowledge—is what we need to combat in banking. Those deeper themes demand a sense of urgency: to mandate and demand courage, exploration and deep care, fearless interest, open dialogue and honest language.
If we are serious about change in banking, we must get back the heart. This is not the job of committees, not the kind of slogan we can relegate to slide decks and deceive ourselves that we’re doing the best we can.
This is, after all, a deadline banks literally cannot afford to miss.
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Duena Blomstrom is a banking industry veteran and author of Emotional Banking: Fixing Culture, Leveraging Fintech and Transforming Retail Banks into Brands.
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