A Message To The Big Four Banks - Stop Selling To Us!

I’ve been following the proceedings of the Standing Committee on Economics review of the Big Four Banks with great interest recently. Watching the Chief Executive Officers from Commonwealth BankANZNational Australia Bank and Westpac appear and be quizzed about the financial scandals they have presided over and attempt to justify the questionable behaviours that seem to have become standard operating procedure inside their banks has been fascinating.

To their credit each one of the CEO’s has been quick to recognise failings and mistakes and I do get the sense their apologies are very genuine. I certainly don’t think any business sets out to hoodwink and manipulate its customers as a matter of strategy, what’s more likely is that somewhere along the way they just lost sight on their true purpose. Maybe they became too big, too complex, too greedy or just too machine like and that essential human quality that instantly recognises right from wrong has morphed into a Terminator like CPU, slavishly following pre-programmed commands. 

Of course I’m exaggerating, but there is some truth in this rather scary scenario. Let me explain. Each of the CEO’s made reference to the increasingly competitive marketplace and the need for their organisations to “stay hungry” in this dog-eat-dog world. In order to keep their people “hungry” they offer incentives, for example giving Tellers sales targets to “Sell other bank services to at least two customers per day and get an $800 bonus” for example. Which brings me to the heart of the problem. While incentives, sales targets and training people in sales techniques is certainly a well-established formula, I think we have to question whether this model is an appropriate one for banks, at least when it comes to its B2C interactions.

In fact there’s plenty of evidence to suggest this is an outdated paradigm that’s actually a very poor business strategy. In his bestselling book Drive, Daniel H. Pink discovered the surprising truth about motivating people isn’t incentives at all, but the deeply rooted human need we all have to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world. Daniel neatly summarises these three elements as Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Check out this great animated video to learn more.

But let’s step back from what the research is telling us for a moment and just think about it from our own experiences and expectations as banking customers. When I walk into a bank I don’t want it to feel like I’ve just stepped onto a used car lot. I don’t want to be sold too and I don’t want the person “serving” me to see me as a way they can hit their sales target and achieve their bonuses. Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying don’t talk to me at all, but I am saying don’t talk to me unless you can really help me. Don’t talk to me unless you are 100% focused on me and my needs. If you have a product or service you think will truly benefit me in some way and you’re bringing it to my attention purely for that reason, rather than because you will earn an incentive for doing so – then I’m all ears.

The moment there is suspicion about a person’s motives, everything he does becomes tainted.
— Mahatma Gandhi

I don’t want to be suspicious of your motivation or question your intent but as long as banks continue to cultivate this “stay hungry” culture, view their customers as prospects rather than living breathing human beings, invest millions of dollars in teaching their people sales skills and techniques and incentivise them to hit monetary targets - we have a major problem. 

Stop selling to us Big Four Banks and start Giving.

Give us help, give us guidance, give us insights, give us advice, give us time, give us support but most of all give us value. The more you try to sell to us the less likely it is that we will want to invest or do business with you. The more you give and do so without any ulterior motive, but genuinely, authentically the more likely we will be to want to invest and do business with you. 

Reading this you might be thinking isn't that a bit naïve? Isn't it unrealistic to believe that in today's Wolf of Wall Street world, where corporate scandals fill our newspapers and where dog-eat-dog competition is snapping at the heals of the Big Banks every day. In that environment isn’t it simply wishful thinking that they can give their way to success? 

The really great news is that not only is it not naïve, it's actually very practical. You see, when you can take your focus off yourself, your products and services, your targets and incentives, and instead focus solely on your customers and how you can add value to them. They will like you, they will be much more interested in getting to know you, they will come to trust you, and they will want to build a relationship with you and from there, really great things can happen, everyone wins. 

In a world where so many of us experience the opposite, where so many of us feel manipulated or taken advantage of in some way, the bank that can do the opposite by cultivating a genuine “giver culture” will powerfully differentiate itself and the success that follows will exceed by orders of magnitude any results that may have come through traditional “selling” practices and attitudes.

In the wake of the Standing Committee on Economics review of the Big Four Banks and the bitter taste we all have after successive scandals and bad behaviours, now is the moment for the banks to embrace a brighter, better future. We just need leaders with the courage and conviction to lead that much needed change. I wonder if any will step up!

Ian J Lowe is the Founder & CEO of eccoh, a sales transformation, coaching and consulting organisation pioneering a movement to change the way the world thinks about sales.

Image Credit: Wall Street movie (1987), Twentieth Century Fox.