#NFC – New Financial Culture

By Bjorn Cumps (Professor of Digital Banking; Director of Vlerick Centre for Financial Services); Source: De Tijd (16/06/2016)

Optima Bank has gone bankrupt. This is another smack in the face for the financial sector. There are already enough challenges for banks today: regulation, digitisation, and governance. All these things and more have been targeted at the banks. Bankers have their hands full with new laws, new FinTech competitors, new technologies, new bank taxes, new client needs, new ways of working, and interest rates that are staying low. It's not easy.

But all these external challenges seem irrelevant compared to the continuous stream of scandals that totally undermine trust in banks. Flushed away to Panama. Mown down by Optima. Just at the point when the sector was managing to rebuild trust after the financial crisis. Sisyphus would balk at the challenge. Trust now has to be the fuel of the sector. Without fuel, even the most sophisticated engine will inevitably stop. And that cannot happen, even though the image of the banker has got another dent. If it were a car, it would already be ready for the scrapheap. Which mechanic could fix it? Well, perhaps one from the new generation. With new tools and lots of enthusiasm to get stuck in.

Let's dust off an old concept. Who remembers the term “New Political Culture” that gained traction in the 1990s and 2000s? This referred to breaking from old values, norms, relationships and behaviours and replacing them with new ones. It is not that the implementation of this is a great example to emulate. But the idea is a good one. What we are living through today are the after-effects of the “Old Financial Culture”: a culture where power, greed and megalomania were ‘normal’, and morality was sorely lacking. Are bad and badly behaved banks the cause of the financial crisis that has affected and damaged us all? No, it is not that simple.

Banks, just like all other organisations, are first and foremost a collection of different people. And that is where hope lies, as amongst these people are new mechanics that are fixing dents both big and small every day—bankers that are breaking away from the “Old Financial Culture” and building a “New Financial Culture” (NFC). This is a culture where concentration of power makes way for participation, co-creation and crowdsourcing. Where hierarchy moves aside for autonomy and self-management. Where complexity yields to simplicity and transparency. Where technology and innovation support clients. Where people are more important than numbers. Yes, they exist, these NFC bankers who are committed to change.

It would not be fitting to name names. No, wait, let's do it. Jonathan Neubourg, 26 years old and Head of Digital Innovation & Channel Strategy at Belfius. Karin Van Hoecke, General Manager Mass Retail Customers Belgium at KBC. Ward Thils, Head of Channel Development Digital Banking for Enterprises at BNP Paribas Fortis, and Johan Kestens, Exco member at ING. These are the new mechanics. Gender, age and the bank they work for make no difference here. By only naming a few people, I am not being fair to hundreds of others. And no, they are not only found at the big banks. Perhaps there are even some at Optima Bank. I wouldn't rule it out.

The sector is in the midst of transformation. From caterpillar to butterfly, out with the old and in with the new—thanks to the new bankers of tomorrow. We must continue to work on the new sector. There is a clear need for this. Can we be outraged about what has happened again? Absolutely. Indeed, we must be. But let's not start talking again about ‘the banks’. Rather, make a clear distinction in your commentaries: Fail #OFC (Old Financial Culture); Respect #NFC (New Financial Culture).

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