Saturday, February 15, 2020

Conference Watch: How To Be Successful in a Changing Industry

How many consultants go to banking conferences and attend the sessions? At least one!

I may have been accused of being arrogant once or twice, which inspires me to continuously elevate my abilities so the perception of arrogance is seen for what it is; confidence. And the only ones accusing me of arrogance are those that elevate themselves by sniping at others.

As a bank consultant, I attend many conferences. Many, many conferences. So many that I wake up in hotels wondering... where am I? Or pulling up to conference venues thinking... when was I here last?

So was the case at the ABA Conference for Community Bankers. A well-run operation where I get to know the folks at ABA better, meetup with clients and "conference buddies" (other service providers that we see at many other conferences), and learn. Because most conference presenters, although obviously trying to expand their client base, deliver deep knowledge and great insights.

If they're offering, I'm accepting.

The flip side to service providers delivering knowledge, are paid speakers for hire. At the #ABACCB, one paid speaker was Ben Sherwood, former head of ABC News.

Cue In Ben Sherwood

A little of Ben's bio for background: a Rhodes Scholar, he came up the ranks at ABC News and NBC News in the late 80's and 90's. He was named executive producer of ABC's "Good Morning America" in 2004. He left the show in 2006 but returned as president of ABC News in 2010. On his watch, "GMA" rose in the ratings to top its a.m. arch rival "Today" in 2012 for the first time in 16 years. Sherwood attributed the flip to "Today" foibles and "GMA" trying new things, such as five hosts, to change the dynamic. He headed Disney/ABC TV Group from 2015-18, when he left the network.

In his talk, he spoke of four keys to being successful in a changing industry. I think it's obvious that TV has been changing at a rapid pace. Faster than banking, I dare say. So I was interested in what he had to say. Below are the four keys and my opinions on how they apply to banking.

How To Be Successful in a Changing Industry

1.  Fighting a stronger opponent by unconventional means yields victory two-thirds of the time.

Ben gave some facts on this, although I can't recall them. I'm not a huge fan of comparing military endeavors to business. But there are lessons here. Think how Afghanistan frustrated the Soviets. And how the North Vietnamese overcame us. Both were victories for a hugely inferior force. This is why Sun Tzu's "Art of War" is such a digestible business book. According to him, 

"If your enemy is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them. If sovereign and subject are in accord, put division between them. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected."

~ Sun Tzu

Don't fight PNC at PNC Park, playing their brand of ball. 

2. In ideas, quantity matters. 

I remember at this same conference a few years ago, Marc Randolph, co-founder of Netflix, said the idea to waive late fees which set the wheels in motion to unseat Blockbuster was one of several they tried to grow subscribers. And he didn't even think it was a good idea. But they were trying something, anything! And boom! Look at Netflix now. All because of a weird idea that would reduce Netflix revenues in the short term. Yet they were willing to try it to rule the world. And rule the world they did. Ask Blockbuster. 

Banks have cultural challenges to implementing this success strategy. Failure is a dirty word. There will be recriminations, heads rolling, bonuses slashed. Sure, you can implement ideas that fail, but don't miss your budget. Better to make slight modifications to business as usual, right? Think about your culture. Is it conducive to implementing several ideas, with most of them failing?

"Failure is success in progress." 

~ Albert Einstein

3. Believe in your magic.

Nothing like a nod to Disney in a former Disney executive's speech. But as my "conference buddy" Tim Pannell from Financial Marketing Solutions points out, what company do you think of when somebody says "magic" or "magical"? What a word to associate with your brand! At any rate, I digress. Back to banking.

I believe in strategic alignment. If your vision is to "elevate our customers' self worth by increasing their net worth", then everything you do should be designed to deliver that "magic". Think in practical terms. Does your branch manager know how to use your personal financial management tool and sit down with a retail customer to set it up and make recommendations? Will your commercial lender help the local bike shop obtain inventory financing even though it might be "small potatoes"? Yet I hear some of the "help customers" platitudes like the vision above with little "hands dirty" work behind it.

Believe in your magic, and deliver on it. It requires work, both in talent management and cultural change.

4. Quit talking and begin doing.

Don't suffer from analysis paralysis. That drives back to your culture, and fear of failure. I'm not saying don't make informed decisions, but more data has declining value and is more difficult to gather. Would your bank ever make the decision to forego late fees, a significant revenue source for Netflix, in that situation? 

Do you have friends that you view as do'ers? May not be the sharpest, or the most well-read. They just do. We need more of them in our banks. Because in a changing industry, we need to be bent toward action.

Those are Ben Sherwood's four approaches to be successful in a changing industry. 

Take an inventory of your bank and culture. How do you stack up?

~ Jeff

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