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Competing by being grounded in purpose

There is no doubting that a bank's commercial enterprise, like any business is to make money and provide returns for shareholders. At the heart of the value proposition is the removal of risk involved in money and its exchange, whether at a retail, business or market level. All of this is fairly standard and has been in force since banks began.

Yet none of this is enough when a number of forcing functions are changing the competitive landscape:

  • Brand trust has been eroded through cycles of financial crisis
  • Technology is driving individual empowerment, transparency and scrutiny in an unprecedented manner
  • Decades of de-personalizing customer service has left consumers craving relationships where they are viewed as individuals and that exhibit a fuller exchange of value

In this regard it is worthwhile to establish a purpose that is bigger than managing risk and making money for the bank and more about the customer. With such a purpose established the challenge then becomes to make it an inherent part of the organisational DNA, not just on the billboard and collateral, so that it is very much a part of the customer experience.

Success in managing finances is contemporaneously very hard and very important. This is true for individuals as well as businesses and presents a great place for banks to add value, create trust, meaningful value and loyalty. The crux of the dilemma is that because money as a subject is very hard for a lot of people they largely don't enjoy it very much. The problem with this of course, is that if I don't enjoy something very much I am unlikely to pay attention to it and if I don't pay attention to it I am unlikely to be very successful with it. Dale Carnegie, respected management consultant and author famously wrote "People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing." This is because, in order to succeed people need to be diligent and pay attention. If the task is boring it is hard to be diligent. Conversely if it is fun, people are more likely to pay attention. This is evidenced by the way every important life skill is taught through play and fun.

Key to people's likelihood to pay attention, gain skill and take on greater challenges is the concept of flow and as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. According to him, people achieve a state of flow when their skills are in balance with the challenges they face. When they are in this flow, they are having fun and are paying attention and the task at hand more interesting and less arduous.

Amongst banking's challenges is the need to get customers into the flow, paying attention to their banking and building skill. Banks need to do this whilst competing not only with other banks but also with life's increasingly bewildering array of daily distractions.

Video games and games in general are enormously successful in getting people engaged and paying attention. There is much to be plagiarized from the world of games and in the application of "Flow" in not only lowering the pain barrier of the task so that people are more likely to pay attention to it but more importantly, by using the approach to build financial muscle. In this regard, a greater purpose may be harnessed by helping people become increasingly competent in managing their finances, shifting people from a state of apathy or worry and into the flow. 

Csikszentmihalyi's flow model
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