Break, Shatter and Roll—Innovate Like a Banker

By Martha Bartlett Piland

Creating a culture of innovation in your bank means you have to start breaking things apart before you can fix them. This can be scary stuff. But hang on. Before you start worrying about risk and rules, think about what requirements and conventions can’t be touched—and which ones are ripe for improvement.

Reinvention is vital, and it can take many forms. Think about things that are your current status quo. Do all your daily activities and offerings still serve the bank and its customers? To be more than a commodity and stay ahead of the competition, bankers have to do more.

Here are three ways to foster a culture of innovation.

1. Break up with your assumptions.

Breaking with assumptions is a first step to disruption. Over time, some things become so ingrained that we don’t realize they might be something other than what they appear.

Many institutions claim to value innovation. They say, “we won’t tolerate resistance to change” without truly living that value. They look at challengers as troublemakers, not innovators.

It’s easy to say that you won’t accept a change-resistant mindset, but have you actually taken the time to ask what could change?

Spend some time with your team. Take an inventory of your institutional assumptions. It’s important to fully examine your own bank’s particular assumptions, but the list below offers some conversation starters:

  • The annual retreat should be annual
  • Employee training must be done by trainers
  • Our work hours are measured in hours
  • Our marketing is only done by the marketing department
  • Free checking must include checks
  • Loan officers only promote loans
  • Every customer is a good customer

Once you have a robust list of assumptions—at least 20—start curating. Home in on the top five that fall into areas addressed in your institution’s strategic plan. Now that you’ve recognized them, you can start work on turning them on their heads to create new solutions.

2. Break up and review your product packages.

Do you offer bundled services for your business customers? When was the last time you looked to see if those services are being fully used as you had planned?

If you don’t look and analyze, then you don’t know. Take both the macro and micro into consideration to learn whether you’re wasting good time and money offering and supporting services customers either don’t find valuable or haven’t taken the time to understand and use.

At the individual level, an annual customer checkup could reveal there’s better value for you and the customer with a different solution or with some training. A conversation with recommendations will deepen your relationships.

On a system level, if you see an across-the-board trend of overuse or underuse of certain packages, find out why. Is this using bandwidth or budget that’s better used elsewhere?

Status quo, you know, is Latin for ‘the mess we’re in.’” —Ronald Reagan

3. Break up and examine your marketing mix.

Are you advertising in the same media you’ve been using for years? Or have you dropped some of your traditional media because they seemed too—well—traditional?

Either way, be sure you have a purpose and strategy for every activity. Build in metrics for your results:

  • Are you measuring each medium individually and as a whole?
  • Are you looking at results by market, or even by branch?
  • What calls-to-action are you building in?
  • How will you know if those actions are taken?
  • Are you using a one-size-fits-all media approach or zeroing in with smart targeting?

Don’t just go with your gut. Monitor and measure so you can build on what drives inquiries, applications, engagement and profit.

“A problem is only a problem when viewed as a problem. All change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end.”—author Robin S. Sharma

Take action

Once you’ve spent some time reimagining, it’s time to reinvent. Use a step-by-step, strategic approach to putting new ideas into motion.

  • Evaluate against the bank’s brand and purpose.
  • Break into steps.
  • Share with the team.
  • Set timeline and benchmarks.
  • Assign responsibilities.
  • Check periodically against benchmarks.
  • Celebrate successes.
  • Adjust where necessary.

Do you need to break some things to ignite innovation? The answer is most probably a yes. Start now.

Martha Bartlett Piland is president and CEO of Banktastic, a firm that helps financial organizations build better ROI by aligning their internal and external brands. She’s a national speaker on branding, marketing, business development and advertising. She’s presented at more than 100 events and conferences and has served on three different bank advisory boards. Martha is a regular contributor to ABA Bank Marketing. She’s also an inventor, author and illustrator.

Her second book, Beyond Sticky, is available at all major booksellers.