I've been telling groups that it's interesting that it's taken new regulations coming down the pike to finally get many bankers to focus on "change."
I'd humbly suggest that regulatory changes are something most can handle. Sure, there will be some pain and confusion while we sort things out. But most banks can, and will, adjust.
However, I also continue to preach that the greater threat to banks remains the quickening migration of that endangered species known as "customers" away from branches. To help make my case, I give numerous examples of industries that have been transformed almost beyond recognition by evolving technologies over the past ten years.
Obviously, the internet is the driving force behind most of these changes. And Google is one of the companies I've often used as an example of an industry-changing, disruptive force. They've quickly become the 800-lb-gorilla of technology companies.
That's why a recent Fortune magazine cover caught my eye. It featured a melting Google logo and the headline, "Is Google Over?" (And sure, that was a bit of over-the-top headline hype.)
But the gist of the article was valid. While still an increasingly profitable company, Google is beginning to face the first noticeable headwinds in its bread-and-butter search business. What got me smiling wasn't necessarily the company listed as its new, dangerous competitor – Facebook.
What had me nodding my head was the reason Facebook and its ilk present Google with a mounting challenge. People are increasingly able to call upon their "friend network" for information and advice. Instead of performing "cold searches" for answers, they're relying more and more on their friends (even if they've never actually met many of them in person.)
Think about that. One of the most successful technology companies in the world faces growing challenges caused by human nature that's been hardwired in us for millennia. Given the opportunity, people tend to trust and seek advice from friends – or at least folks they feel they know. (Of course, it takes technology to make that possible, as well.)
We operate in an increasingly technology-driven industry. To survive, we must keep up with technology. But to thrive, we must remember that, in the end, personal relationships trump everything else.
Are you building relationships today?
I had a conversation recently with a group of in-store bankers that had me kidding that too many folks think the key to growing their business is "getting in front of more people." I told them that, well, technically that is true.
But, then again, some folks tend to do more damage than good when they are in front of folks.
The point I wanted to drive home is that "making" people talk to you is easy - and almost always counterproductive. The key is making people "want to" talk to you.
A recent example I shared was what I witnessed in a local warehouse club a couple of weeks ago. A young man in a golf shirt was standing near a display, peddling some kind of satellite/internet package deal. The fact that I'm not sure what he was selling is testament to his ability to get noticed without communicating much at all.
I watched and grimaced at what I call the "force field" phenomenon. Customers walking in that part of the store, upon seeing this person, would seemingly hit a force-field.
They'd duck their heads and walk 10 feet or more away from the display. Folks practically ran over each other, trying to traverse the now-narrowed aisles. It was comical.
This guy's reaction made it worse. His smile more resembled a smirk than anything welcoming. And I can only imagine that he was being paid for how many folks he could force into filling out a form.
He would focus on a customer in the vicinity and call out to him. If he or she didn't respond, he'd begin a one-sided conversation (sales pitch) that could be heard 30 feet away. And he wouldn't stop his pitch until that person was out of eyeshot or said, "No thanks!"
What did this guy care how many folks he made uncomfortable? He was likely going to be in a different store the next week, anyway.
I fought off the urge to walk up and give him the following advice: "Dude. No, seriously. Dude. Stand here and smile and hand out lollipops and see if you actually get to talk to a few folks."
Alas, I did what everyone else did. I ducked and quickly walked clear of his "attack zone."
We should always strive to be the most overwhelmingly accessible and friendliest bankers that customers have ever encountered. Too many make the mistake of only becoming overwhelming.
Are we talking to folks or at them today?