How to Make Banking Cool Again

By Siya Vansia

As Don Draper in the television show “Mad Men” famously said, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.”

When it comes to our industry, that’s precisely what today’s bankers need to do. Technology is disrupting the world and as a result all industries are being forced to challenge their existing business models. But instead of embracing this challenge, I’m afraid many bankers are looking at the change with confusion, scratching their heads and thinking, “How do we take on technology? How do we build this into our business model?”

Current perceptions of the banking industry revolve around process, procedure, inefficiency and status quo, and ultimately we’re to blame. We’ve created a self-fulfilling prophecy about our industry that prevents us from charging forward into the dynamic, evolved future that lays ahead. With topics like Fintech and Millennials dominating today, much of the banking industry’s conversation is still focused on obstacles rather than outcome. And this ultimately stunts our ability to progress.

We appear to be afraid of Fintech startups when really, we should be thanking them. They’ve found a way to build transformative, efficient, user-friendly software that is forcing us to challenge the goliath-like systems we’ve had in place for years by offering solutions that demonstrate how we can do it better. We have access to new tools and resources that enable the smallest institution to compete with the very largest. And we have a new generation of talent entering the workforce that can help us mold, build, and create new opportunities.

It’s time for a new conversation about banking—one that lets the world know that we are on the brink of an exciting evolution. A dialogue shaped around the growing opportunities to impact the day-to-day behaviors of consumers and the fact that we are here to support them in this change.

I often hear bankers say, “We are not a tech company,” “Young graduates don’t want to work for us,” “Millennials aren’t interested in banking.” That might be true today, but what we are overlooking is that tomorrow we could be thought of as the tech industry is now. Our industry is ripe for change, and those coming to financial services have an opportunity to be on the front lines of transformation. They have the ability to drive significant change in their individual institutions and the industry.

Remember when the tech industry wasn’t considered so glamorous either? Two decades ago computer science and technology were not fields young graduates were pining after. In fact, we outsourced many of these positions. But today, the tech industry has evolved into one that is amongst the most coveted among the younger workforce. What changed is not the career path itself, but the way in which tech jobs are portrayed and perceived.

Millennials are drawn to tech because of the disruption it is causing; because it empowers them to impact on the world. This is what attracted the next generation of talent. From there, the industry evolved into one widely known for flexible office cultures, unique perks, and a wealth of opportunities for swift upward mobility.

Bankers need to start a new conversation—one that truly highlights the unique and dynamic environment in which we exist today. One that is opportunistic rather than defeated. A conversation that excites us as an industry and makes others want to join.

So how do we effectively change the dialogue? Let’s talk about…

  • How banking is a 200+ year-old industry, but is still poised for growth. Banking has survived depressions, recessions, and the rise of the Internet. Today’s connected economy presents us with exciting opportunities to change the course of the banking industry’s future. The question we should be asking is, “How will we use the tools of today to continue to support the growth of our local economies and last another 200 years?”
  • How we can address the disconnect between the bankers of today and the potential bankers of tomorrow. Many bankers examine Millennials through a magnifying glass, attempting to make sense of their distinctive qualities and habits. Rather than looking at Millennials like alien beings to be studied, we should embrace the opportunities they provide. This is a generation that is better educated, technologically savvy and more well-rounded than previous generations. And the best part is they are looking for jobs. The Millennial workforce has the ability to support the changes the industry will face in the coming years, will allow us to pivot quickly and effectively, and offers a much better solution than trying to get your current workforce up to speed.
  • How emerging technology should be viewed as a solutions, not as a threat and a risky investment. Instead of being afraid, we need to consider what will happen if we don’t start testing and taking on these new and rising technologies. And ask important questions like, “What are the long term benefits they could provide?” “What are the costs if we don’t evolve?”

Today’s bankers will soon find themselves at a crossroads and be confronted by two choices. The first option is to continue to feed into the prevailing, yet outdated, conversation about “boring” banking. The second is to actively change the conversation; to take on a new perspective; to embrace the changes and shape them to create an exciting and successful future for our industry. I hope you will choose the second option. Together we can make banking cool again!

Siya Vansia is Vice President of Marketing at ConnectOne Bank. Email: svansia@cnob.com

Siya is a current student at the ABA Stonier Graduate School of Banking.

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