“I want to create a lender that people don't hate” said Denise Kingsmill, the chair of the board at U.K. challenger bank Monzo. Now
there’s a pithy declaration that speaks volumes about the state of the banking industry and the times we live in.
But how should we read this: are her comments simply savvy market positioning, tapping into the desiderata of a disillusioned digital generation? Or could this be something of greater substance: a refreshingly wholesome approach to rehabilitate an industry
that historically ran on trust and bankrupted itself of its own currency during the global financial crisis?
YouGov survey from 2013, a mere 4% of participants declared that they believe banks observe high ethical standards, putting the banking industry on a par with online gambling and betting. Results from the same survey indicate that only 17% of participants
have faith in their bankers to tell the truth, with the financial industry revealed as being the least trusted industry of all.
Since the financial crisis, banks have raked in nearly
$1 trillion in profits, in spite of having paid a total of $321 billion in fines related to regulation and customer redress. Is it any surprise that the public perception of the financial services industry continues to be badly tarnished? Challengers like
Monzo are tapping into this disenchantment, turning the widespread disdain for mainstream institutions to their advantage.
But here is the rub: even if challenger banks turn out to be ‘better’ banks from a customer experience perspective, is this enough? Can’t we, and shouldn’t we, expect more from the ‘banks of the future’?
Instead of just creating a lender that people don’t hate, how about building banks that people and society
love? Instead of only having a kind and caring community
inside the bank, how about creating banks that extend that spirit of benevolence to the community outside? What about building banks that not only deliver service to delight customers, but who do it with such a resolute sense of purpose that the
positive externalities generated by the bank’s business are actually the reasons
why customers stay and employees engage?
In a context where regulators the world over are engaged in a Sisyphean endeavour to tame international finance, maybe it is time to stop playing catch-up with the bankers who are intent on gaming the system and start framing the issue differently.
Given that the financial system is already so large that
its preponderance is damaging the real economy, how about
rethinking regulation and incentivizing the self-discipline that underpins banking-based-on-values, in order that there to be a reward for embedding ethics and morality into the bank’s core business?
Today, it is no longer enough to say that profit is the purpose (if it ever was); profit can only be the end-result. The time has come for banking to find a new ‘Why’. Are the challenger banks
up to the challenge of leading the way?