Sunday, May 08, 2011

Three Banking Lessons Learned from Girls Lacrosse

Several months ago I was enlisted to coach middle school girls lacrosse. It is a relatively new sport to our area, so my learning curve was steep. We are nearing the end of our season, and yesterday we completed our first double header sweep. As I reflected on how far the girls have come, I thought of the lessons we learned along the way. These lessons apply to many areas of life, including the banking profession. I would like to share them with you.

1.  Stack the D

Easter weekend we played a game with a thin roster as many of our players had family commitments. Lacrosse is often referred to as the fastest sport on two feet, correctly implying a great amount of running. With limited substitutes, this puts pressure on the players on the field to perform while being gassed. Midfielders run coast to coast, so I had to be creative in substituting and switching player positions on the field.  In so doing, I weakened our defensive unit by moving key defensive players to midfield and middies back to D so they can rest. What I learned was that not adequately protecting our goal can lead to terrible results.

Most financial institutions are not lacking for customers. If we tallied up all customers that do business with us, a likely conclusion may be what one bank CEO stated as "there is enough 'there' there". I have been in countless meetings that the head of retail wonders why their total number of checking accounts remained stagnant while their monthly production reports show great progress in new account acquisition. The reason... customers walking out the back door while the FI tracks new customers coming in the front.  A classic tale of not stacking the D and defending your goal. Pay attention to the customers you have, and you will get more business from them.

2.  Win in Practice

How you practice drives your game performance. Lacrosse is a sport won in the trenches. If you win the draws, be first to pick up the ground balls (see photo), and disrupt opponent passes you will be successful. But having better skills than your opponent is not bestowed upon you by a higher power, as some may think. To consistently put passes on your teammates stick requires that you do so hundreds of times in practice.

The same goes for serving FI customers. If you are to tailor a solution to a business customer, it is critical you understand his or her needs, their industry, and general economic conditions. Having done your homework allows you to bring a greater amount of value to customers, an imperative in a competitive industry where one FI's money is as green as the bank down the street. If you want to solidify existing customers and win new ones, you better get serious about practice.

3.  Find the Hidden Gems

I found it difficult not to make quick judgments about my players. This girl is slow, that one is athletic, etc. To deny that we judge people with minimal information is to ignore human nature. During the course of the season, some of my early judgments proved wrong... dead wrong.  Some girls worked hard in practice, improved their skills quickly, and began making significant game contributions. This reminded me that Chase Utley and Michael Jordan were each cut from their high school teams.

Within your employee base there are unpolished gems waiting to shine. It is incumbent on us to identify them, encourage (yes, coach) them, train them, and let them show their brilliance. Most companies have varied levels of employees from stars to, well, not-so-much stars. Often, potential stars are kept under wraps by supervisors that want to keep them for themselves, co-workers that are paranoid about a star's brilliance, and general mediocrity that tends to keep people down. Do you reward mediocrity or protect so-so employees? Do stars receive a 4% raise while not-so-much stars get a 3% raise? Does longevity count more than performance?  These are some common ways that FIs keep potential hidden gems from shining.


In a rapidly changing industry, we frequently look outside of our organization to transform our FI for a sustainable future. But the lessons I learned by coaching youth lacrosse can be applied to your FI... there are opportunities to transform ourselves by looking within. First, by defending our market share and customer base we can reduce attrition and increase the amount of business we do with current customers... Stacking the D. Secondly, in a highly commoditized industry we can differentiate ourselves by being better prepared than competitors... Winning in Practice. Lastly, when product differentiation and cost leadership is difficult, as it is in our industry, then we must find and develop our best employees to elevate our game... Finding the Hidden Gems.

~ Jeff


  1. I thought your point of not tracking or even knowing why people are leaving out the back door as they count the people walking in the front door was dead on. Thank you for sharing your insight

  2. Thanks for the comment. We had one client that had a 2,400 reduction in CD accounts. In this environment where loan demand is weak, FIs are ok with CD's running off. But I wonder if those 2,400 could have been full relationship customers?

    Moments prior to reading your comment I read your post about burning money at It was an excellent read.

    ~ Jeff

  3. I might add one additional thought, also analogous to sports and coaching: Master the Fundamentals. Being very good/excellent at blocking and tackling (or developing customer relationships by identifying opportunities and cross-selling solutions) is FAR more valuable than being able to run a trick play (or give away toasters for new checking accounts).

  4. Agreed. My thoughts were that would fall into the Win In Practice, but you stated it more directly. Thanks for the comment Mike!