It seems like just yesterday I was a bank executive sitting on the 14th floor of a corporate building noticing the white-out conditions through my window. In no hurry to face gridlock on the freeways, I settled into my office chair and to my surprise, stumbled upon my first GonzoBanker article. “Finally,” I thought to myself, “someone who speaks my language.” Instantly I was hooked. Fridays took on a new significance. No longer just the beginning of the weekend but instead my weekly Gonzo head check – like a pod to the mothership in need of a weekly refueling.
So today, as I write this – my first Gonzo article – I feel a little like Marky Mark in the movie Rock Star. “I grew up listening to these guys and had their posters on my walls, and now I am one of them.” Well, maybe I didn’t have their posters on my walls, but I did have a laminated copy of CIO magazine with Carl (a.k.a. El Bandito) Faulkner on the cover. And let me say that joining the Gonzo team is like being asked to be the keyboard player for the Grateful Dead. But now that I think about it, the track record for Dead keyboard players wasn’t so rosy. Hmmm …
Okay, enough rambling.
During my adventures over the past six months with the mothership (Cornerstone Advisors ), I have frequently been asked in one form or another, “Have you observed many differences between big banks and non-big banks?” (Note: non-big banks are $20 billion in assets and less.) Simply put, yes … and no. Hear me out.
We’ll start at the top – the chairman, the CEO, the Head Honcho, the Big Cheese. No matter what the size of the institution, the titles remain the same. What I have found refreshing in my recent travels to non-big banks around the country is that the “untouchable” executives are not untouchable. Now don’t get the wrong idea! What I mean to say is that they share the same halls and corridors as the “lesser-titled.” They participate in meetings as visual members of the team as opposed to “ruling from the throne” from behind closed doors. They actually eat in the staff cafeteria – really. Compare this environment with that of a 50,000+ employee mega-bank, where you’re lucky if you see the chairman at all. You have a better chance of spotting Elvis. Well, maybe that’s too harsh. Of course, they usually show up at the company Christmas party or perhaps the annual cold chicken banquet as the celebratory head of state, but I only know that because I read it in the company newsletter.
At Cornerstone, we spend a great deal of time working with banks and credit unions to improve and/or change their project management process, and it goes without saying it’s our goal to see our clients achieve results. But with the implementation of new processes comes resistance and frustration – that is the nature of change. Even as frustrating as a 12-month implementation may seem, imagine the same project taking seven years. The time it takes to implement change is in direct proportion to the size of the organization. While the non-big bank is finishing the conversion, the big bank has just established the committees and has yet to attain the necessary signatures – typically more than the number required to recall the governor of California.
And speaking of the gubernatorial race, let me briefly mention politics, everybody’s favorite subject. There is no question that politics exist in every organization. But until you have witnessed the carnage and fallout of a major big bank full-on political war, you haven’t even been to battle. Again, directly proportional to the size of the organization. They don’t include Sun Tzu’s Art of War (Big Bank Edition) in the employee handbook for nothing.
So what have you learned? Implementing change and completing projects may seem tough at times for the non-big banker, but on a relative basis it’s a breeze. Non-big banks must always remember that the lack of bureaucracy and fierce politics gives them a potential competitive lead. Make sure your bank is taking advantage of this opportunity to move fast and decisively.
Let’s recap with a little jingle using your best Kid Rock impression.
You asked me a riddle and I told you what I know
About Big Ol’ Banks and their CEOs
You may not see the big guy but you believe he’s there
At least that’s what you read in corporate brochure ware.
When it comes to projects, the reward is at the end.
While the non-big bank is finishing, the other just begins . . .
And would you believe – they need more pens! (yelling)
On the subject of politics, here’s my advice to you
If you want to play in big banks, then bone up on Sun Tzu!
Word to the mothership… Peace out.