“I think purpose is, by nature, transformational. I think a clear purpose can help people at all levels of the organization.” -Rilla Delorier

What purpose does your company serve?

The answer to this question might seem obvious at first, but there are also deeper philosophical questions.

Are you serving a unique purpose?

Is your company doing good in the world?

Do your employees and customers care about your purpose?

Purpose is always top-of-mind for Rilla Delorier, the board director of Atlantic Union Bank. She has more than 30 years of experience as a banking executive focusing on the omnichannel customer experience and shared her insights with James Robert Lay on the Banking on Digital Growth Podcast.

What Could Happen vs. What Has Happened

Rilla sits on two bank boards, so she’s privy to discussions about a wide variety of new banking trends. One of the boards is for a traditional, commercial $20 billion east coast bank. The other is a banking-as-a-service (BaaS) organization that operates in the fintech space.

The biggest trend she’s seen in the past year has been a shift in how fintechs measure success and drive value. Their traditional competitors focus on efficiency ratios and earnings per share involving acronyms all bankers recognize, like ROA, ROE, and ROTCE.

By contrast, fintechs build value through questions like, “What’s the opportunity?” and “Where can we find new revenue from customer adjacencies?”

To put it another way, fintech value is being built based on what could happen, not what has happened.

Sitting on two types of boards, Rilla sees two different cultures and conversations unfolding in front of her. She sees banking executives from both sides struggling with the same global issues like inflation, war, and supply chain interference. Yet they tend to ask different questions and come up with different answers.

Your Personal Motto and Your Professional Purpose

When Rilla needs to re-ground herself amid upheaval, she goes back to her personal motto. It’s been the same since she was in fourth grade when her teacher encouraged the class to come up with an ambitious motto to guide their lives.

Rilla’s motto asks, "If I'm not having fun and I'm not making a difference, then why am I doing it?"

This reminds her to question whether the work she’s doing is positively contributing to the world and whether she’s feeling the goodness it’s creating.

She also reflects on a period around 2008 when her kids didn’t want her to wear her “banker costume”–her business suit–to their school. They thought bankers were bad due to widespread villainization in popular culture. 

Related Content: Purpose Can Power Your Financial Brand Internally

But Rilla believes banking is noble work.

She says, “We should remember that bankers are actually helping dreams happen, helping communities grow, helping companies employ people, and helping people manage the stress of their finances.”

This brings up the concept of purpose in banking.

What’s our purpose?

Financial institutions exist to assist people and businesses with their financial well-being. Banking is a part of life stages that involve accomplishments, pride, and success.

So it’s essential to determine whether you’re just doing things to be doing things or whether there’s a deeper purpose.

Aside from all the doing, what are you being?

Rilla says she’s naturally wired to be a do-er, but her husband is more of a be-er. Her husband coaches people on how to build pauses into their lives and reflect with intentionality. On his Cool Change podcast, he’s fond of saying, “Every good do-er needs a good be-er.”

Here are a few examples of how to be instead of do in your daily life.

  • In a meeting, take a moment to consider how you want to be in that meeting, not just what you’ll do.
  • While correcting a child’s mistake, consider how they feel, not just what you’re saying.
  • When arguing with a neighbor, consider how each of you is feeling. Beyond what you want them to do, what do you want them to feel?

Rilla explains that what you do and say is less important than how others feel about you and the culture you’re creating around you. During tense and stressful moments, pause, and think, “Be vs. do.”

Inspiring Vision and Transformation at Your Financial Brand

You can’t control other people, but you can inspire them.

Banks are in the perfect position to provide vision and direction that helps people find new freedom, financial stability, and courage.

Believe it or not, banking can even inspire passion. With the right financial support, someone can finally fulfill their passion to become an entrepreneur and start a small business. They might find the passion to start a new relationship, get married, have kids, retire, or travel the world.

Related Content: Putting Love and Respect Back into Banking 

And let's not forget that we can inspire passion among our employees, too. Rinna believes that, “Empowering and supporting employees is, in fact, the most important work that you do.” 

Customers can sense whether employees are passionate about their jobs. When employees are just going through the motions, totally dispassionate about their jobs, the customer notices and assumes it’s not an organization that inspires passion. But passionate employees tend to spread their passion to everyone else they encounter.

Risk-Taking and Value Creation in Banking

Transformation requires a certain level of risk-taking. Traditionally, banking is all about risk management and minimization. But some of the world’s boldest fintech upstarts have strong risk appetites. 

Think about the relationship between “perform and transform.” One cannot survive without the other. It’s a symbiotic relationship of value creation. Lasting transformation requires an acceptance of risk and a willingness to overcome a potential blip in performance to accomplish transformation.

Related Content: The Dangers of Becoming Obsolete: Discussing Necessary Risk with Financial Brands 

Rilla believes purpose is, by nature, transformational. When bank employees can see the future ahead and picture the value they’ll deliver down the road, they accept changes in their day-to-day work. When banking customers can imagine a future with financial freedom, they’re willing to adjust their daily behavior to save more, spend less, make payments, and so forth.

If our job as bankers is to help people cope with financial stress, then education is central to our role. Every conversation isn’t a potential sale. It’s an opportunity to educate, build goodwill, and help people succeed. 

Over time, the result is profit. It’s a winding path, but this is how purpose leads to profitability.

What Can CVS Teach Us About Purpose?

To understand purpose in the business world, consider the pharmacy chain CVS, which stopped selling cigarettes in 2014. Their purpose was to help people preserve overall health. Selling cigarettes was contrary to that purpose.

CVS lost billions of dollars to this decision. Some pundits wondered whether it was an indication of the company’s impending downfall. But since then, CVS has expanded their Minute Clinics, and Rilla shares that she’s seen them reporting $47 billion per quarter in new healthcare sales.

What happened here?

CVS made a purpose-driven decision, allowing their purpose to drive their business strategy. The payoff didn’t come right away, and they suffered a huge loss at first. But eventually, the payoff was enormous.

Building a Purpose-Driven Business Strategy

Back in the world of banking, we’ve seen that fintechs seem to understand purpose-driven business strategy better than many traditional banks. Fintechs look at the marketplace and say, “These underserved populations have unique needs that, with a little bit of technological investment and creativity, we can serve.”

Rilla encourages executives who come from the traditional world of banking to reconnect with their empathy for the average customer. Understand their struggles and what they’re trying to figure out how to do.

  • What's the customer's unmet need?
  • What's causing their financial stress? 
  • Where are they confused? 
  • How do they need help?

Next, ask how the average bank employee can (or can’t) help the average customer.

  • What does the employee know that can answer the customer’s questions?
  • What unmet needs are still left?
  • Is it a training issue? A product issue? A policy issue?
  • Does your organization have an empowerment problem?

Training is often a source of both problems and opportunities. When there’s a lack of training, there’s often also a lack of empowerment for the employee to help the customer. Frontline employees should be empowered to solve a vast array of potential customer problems.

Rinna also suggests that banking executives listen to calls that flow into their call centers. It gets them thinking about the actual experiences of their customers. She says, “Go listen to calls in the call center on the 15th and the last day of the month and hear the stress in those customers' voices. Hear the questions that they're asking. Hear how on the edge they are with their finances.”

Even better, spend time talking with customers to discuss their stresses and worries. Ask a small business owner what happens when they’re struggling to make payroll. Talk about why they’re hesitating to arrange a loan for the equipment they need. Listen closely to their answers.

Again, it all comes back to acting with intentionality and finding a purpose in what you do. When you develop a purpose-driven mindset, it changes your entire outlook and reminds you what it truly means to serve others.