Assets, habits and the wand that chooses the wizard
How many times have you heard that incumbent banks have amazing strengths?
Assets of great value.
Customers. Coveted operating licences and symbiotic relationships with regulators. Resources. Skills. Footprint. A distribution network. Know-how. Deep pockets. Vast repositories of data.
And how many times have you seen that play out in a way that helped in any meaningful way?
Fantastic beasts (and where to find them)
It ain’t no lie.
Banks have all those assets.
But they don’t come unencumbered. And they don’t come captioned.
Which means that when you find them, they may not be easy to leverage. And that’s assuming you can find them in the first place.
It’s not what you think.
Your data is messy.
Your distribution network is creaky.
Your clients don’t like you. They don’t dislike you, don’t get me wrong. But they don’t love you. They won’t take anything you throw their way. They won’t necessarily be interested in your innovation or forgiving of your iterations.
Having customers carries misleading finality in the sentence structure. There are customers. But you don’t have them. They are neither possessed not retained. They are most definitely not yours to leverage in an uncomplicated manner.
Your assets are there, in theory and raw potential, but the situation is not as good as you think it is. And not as uncomplicated.
It’s not where you think.
It’s not that your assets aren’t valuable. It’s that they are not straightforward.
They are wrapped in bad habits. Manual workarounds and stiff marketing. Compliance burdens put nonchalantly on the shoulders of the client, because everyone else was also doing it. Short-sightedness, legacy infrastructure and past greed, creating a heavy burden of projected earnings and heavy expectations of profitable continuity and continued profitability.
Sure, all the things you think are valuable, actually are, but the stuff they come with isn’t. And unless you can separate the two, you are nowhere because the asset is there but you can’t find it. You can point at its general direction. But you can’t find the handle that will allow you to use it. It’s too obscured by bad habits.
It’s not as clean as you think.
Can you really extract the asset from the quagmire of “the way we have always done things”, assumption and the comfort of familiarity? Can you have the argument about who owns the client, at the same time as fighting the control departments to put the onus of compliance on the organisation, not the client… at the same time as advocating for higher investment in delivery capabilities and lower margin to drive down cost and reveal client value? Can you have that argument. And win?
The truth is you have assets.
But they are diamonds in the rough.
Can you polish them without damaging them?
Can you expel all that holds you back? Can you tell what is useful, what isn’t, with honesty and contrition?
Do you know which bit of the generalities “we have data, customers and scale” actually holds value for the future and which is wishful thinking, too generic to be wrong?
I am not, for a second, suggesting those things have no value.
I am, however, suggesting that they are all wrapped in bad habits. Dated systems and static risk models. Decisions made long ago, the reasons for which are forgotten and possibly no longer applicable and yet they reverberate like oracle pronouncements that can be neither challenged nor altered.
I am also suggesting that, assuming you can find those assets, the actual value in the grand narrative, you may not know how to expel the bad habit. You may not actually know what to do next.
The wand chooses the wizard
You know that prayer? Lord give me strength to bear the things I can’t change, courage to change the things I can change and the wisdom to know the difference? That. Without the God bit. Nothing supreme being-y about banking. This whole mess is man made and that’s the beauty of it. What man made, man can change. And if man doesn’t, woman will.
But you can’t get yourself a clean slate, and neither should you wish for one.
Let water find its own level. And just as harry Potter’s wand chose him, let the solution to the problem of survival find you.
The right asset will emerge and respond to the market need.
Just be alert to the fact that it may not be what you are wishing for. It may not be as glamorous as insight-driven market-making. It may not be as heart-warming as clients choosing you and forsaking all others. It may be your scale becoming viable infrastructure for a segment of the industry (plumbing is beautiful, people). It could be your customers giving you a second chance (never knock that. It is not nothing). It could be your deep pockets buying you talent or your talent changing what you look like entirely.
Whatever it is, let it choose you.
Actually let it.
That is the hardest part.
And when it does, choose you, and you let it… also let it drive away what used to define you. The wand chooses the wizard and once it does the wizard is made.
That means forget what you used to be and have. You are about to be and have new things.
This is not a free pass. This is not a golden ticket to a chocolate factory (that is a different story altogether that doesn’t end well for gluttonous children anyway so count yourself lucky). It is a second chance. It comes with hard work to break bad habits.
It comes with spending some assets as well as building on them, to create new assets.
It comes with breaking bad habits so you can acquire new ones, good and bad, and in the process become something new, different and continuously viable.
And that viability is more than a sprinkle of magic. And the only asset you need to worry about habitually preserving.
By Leda Glyptis
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption as chief of staff at 11:FS and CEO of 11:FS Foundry.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!