Tuesday 4 March 2014

Our troubled banks: self-serving or serving?

This is a question that one could tackle philosophically, morally or even ideologically that could go to the very heart of our identity and sense of purpose. Nevertheless, I will try to tackle it pragmatically or humanely thrown in with a little common sense. Although as someone amusingly pointed out to me the other day that nowadays the idea of common sense was a rare commodity to come by and appears not to be very common these days.
The more I write about the subject of service, a bygone phenomenon in our European culture, I see it as not such a dissimilar word to one of interest. By this I mean that one could ask one selves when working for a large organisation such as a bank, whose interest are you acting or working for? Is it your own or the company? The shareholders or the customers? Are banks working in the interest of each other, or even the Government?  It is important to distinguish this fact first and foremost with a goal or purpose in mind, to help you define a more coherent path ahead and before really believing whether you are a service orientated bank. To act in all the differing above interests would be inconsistent and ultimately create too many conflicting interests which results in continuous value breakdown and we will never change public perception and move forward.

Putting myself into the position as a paying customer or client with a need, nothing is more satisfying than when your service provider acts or behaves or works in my interest. That for me is essentially the art of serving or a reflection of a service minded business even if mistakes are made. One might say we are paid to serve, to deliver and to contribute to our customer needs. This may require more work in each other to become more selfless whereby avoiding our very own needs. Service does not mean you are here to invent what we think our customers want or by convincing them that this is what they actually need as gone are the days that we enforce new products down their throats. It is not for the customer to fall under the delusional hoax and clever tactics of the service provider simply for the providers own benefit. Remember what the ex-Goldman’s Sachs employee said ‘we saw our clients as muppets!’

No- a customer need is a gap that truly requires filling or a requirement that is visibly missing or requires changing or improving. A customer will actually have a problem in which it is up to the service provider together with the customer to work through the solution together and ultimately be paid for that solution. That is service. That is how we re-instil trust. It is linked to our deeper sense of purpose and belief system.

Self-serving in contrast, is selfish by nature and is simply a reflection of human fear, weakness or failing and is a result of a breakdown in our own belief let alone value system or lack thereof. We are likely to fall into the club of the stressed, the aggrieved, the beleaguered, the greedy and the aggressor, not to mention the low integrity, low self-esteem one is putting oneself into. Self-serving implies your own interest, it means that almost certainly that in the long run you or the other party will lose and you will never find fulfillment. How can you be serving in the interest of the paying customer when your sole interest is one’s own? Therein lays the conflict?

Another word that often corrodes all our common sense is profit or worse of all short term profit as that brings in the essential element of time. Many people may give the impression that time is something in our attitudes we are running out of or even running away from as if we are fighting something greater out of sheer fear, almost to the extent that it has become a limited and valuable resource. Is it this valuable resource that is the only answer to re instil long term belief, trust, synergy and integrity? I don’t know about you but I am tired of such uninspiring and negative business headlines such as profits have risen due to cost cutting or layoffs. Neither is it a reason to pay out higher bonuses. I am longing for headlines such as business profits are up due to … real changes, better creative products for real needs, sound investments, increase customer satisfaction...you know what I am getting at. We all understand that profit is important, nevertheless at some point common sense has to prevail that surely profit is the positive result of a well-managed, customer orientated business offering good products and services supported by a motivated and quality work force?

I was a little disconcerted that having discussed with a private banker who was made redundant by Barclays, a bank that I often write about, one that I believe was to be making headway in change and with a strong CEO. She held the belief that good work pays off to the benefit of the customer in which she had always proved and showed. Together with her deep sense of service she was still made redundant. ‘Don’t believe what they all say.’ she said
Banks such as Citibank during the build up toward last Christmas were advertising on Television their credit cards by offering an interest free credit in the first month. The question is how can you offer debt, or pay later system at a discount to entice consumption? We already live in a debt culture that requires repairing not worsening.

Another discussion I had, with a slightly more cynical customer of a bank. ‘What has changed?’ He remarked. ‘If anything we the customer are now doing all the work. All payments and now done by us at home on the internet. It was never like that before. What are they charging us for?’ That one certainly got me thinking. Self-serving or serving, there may be a long way to go yet for a positive change and solutions that encompass a stronger belief system, sense of purpose in our business culture or will a weary impatient public get there first?

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