There is a dichotomy in big companies where some people want change, while others want to keep things mostly as they are. Some people strive to find the next business opportunities and improve the user experience for their end users. Others find comfort in seeing that their numbers still seem solid. This seems to me to be a constant battle in big companies. While we need both ends of this dichotomy, banks, which traditionally haven’t had any problems making solid numbers, haven’t felt the same need for change as other industries. Being a big bank has been safe enough. To their end users’ annoyance.
But things change. We used do say that the big eat the small, but we now live in a world where it’s more common that the fast eat the slow. And banks have been notoriously slow. They've been stable. Ish. But for how long can a bank survive by playing it safe? Where are the fast banks that are going to eat the slow banks?
Norway vs. the world
If you're into financial technology (fintech), you've seen a lot of things happening abroad. Revolut, a four year old bank, now has 8 million users in the European Economic Area (EØS). How does that compare to the user growth in Norwegian banks? And how does their level of innovation compare to the levels of innovation in Norwegian banks? It feels a bit incomparable.
But I'm here to tell you, there’s hope
Around a year ago, my colleagues in Shortcut told me about an interesting project Sparebanken Vest had started called Bulder Bank. They were going to create a bank that wasn’t just mobile first, it was mobile only. While the rest of the banks in the country were struggling to create experiences on mobile that weren’t straight out horrible, these guys had decided to take it one step further. These guys were frustrated to see what banking had become. While startups in the fintech sector were blossoming, no banks seemed to bother to talk to them. The banks had so much stuff to figure out before they could start talking to these innovative people. The banks had so many services on their website, and they had only implemented a few percent of that as functionality in their apps. The innovations had to wait. The customers had to wait.
But these guys in Bergen didn’t stand to see this happening. Especially not while new international banks popped up, with a development speed that made the Norwegian banks seem like they were at a standstill.
I begged Shortcut to send me to Bergen so I could work with the only bank people that seemed to understand what no other Norwegian bank seemed to understand.
The most obvious difference is the people. When I joined the project, there were loads of work to do. The CEO of Sparebanken Vest had asked Torvald Kvamme (CEO of Bulder Bank) if it was possible to create a new, national bank within a year. He said yes. So, what do you need to create a bank? Turns out, a lot. But most importantly, you need people who think they could build a bank in a year. And not only that, you need people who believe that you could build a premier mobile banking experience in a year.
At Bulder I met people who actually seemed interested in what real people wanted. And it wasn't just a goal for the developers or designers, it was everyone. The whole team, with the tools that they had, be it code, design, marketing or networking, pulled in the same direction, towards the same goal. And they managed to cooperate. They understood each other’s strengths, and they trusted each other. When the techies decided that they needed realtime databases in order to make this work (before the deadline), no one really asked why. They just trusted that decision was correct, because they trusted the people who decided it. And in the same way, the tech people trusted the business people that the business case they had masterminded made sense. Not that they didn't discuss everything. Everyone was open to listen to each other’s concerns, even across their respective fields.
How to create real change – in 5 easy steps
- Listen to your customers. Your end users. What do they want? How can you make things easier for them?
- Listen to your collaborators. Say "yes", not "no" (or the camouflaged no, "yes, but") to their suggestions. If they don't see any change, they'll leave you to go somewhere they can create a change.
- Assemble a team who believes in your project.
- Take it step by step. You don't need to solve every problem instantly. Roald Dahl says that good writing is essentially rewriting. The same rule applies to code writing, design and product development. Retry until it is good enough. Let others test what you're working on.
- Be open to honest feedback. Seek it out, in any way you can.
At Shortcut we strive to make the ways people interact with the services we create as good as possible. In Bulder we've found a partner in that goal. Building a bank in a year isn't an easy task. But easy isn't as fun as challenging. The mentioned dichotomy that is commonly seen in big banks seemed to be differently balanced in Bulder. There was a surprising number of people who wanted change. Not only in Bulder, but also in Sparebanken Vest. This creates a room for collaboration and creation at a totally different speed. Because you have communication and discussion. Honesty and trust. If you struggle to solve tasks which seem impossible, are you sure that you give your collaborators the honesty and trust needed in order to succeed? Do they return it? And, if not, for how long can they continue playing it safe?
There might be someone quickly catching up with your company.