"Just because we’re changing our tactic does not mean we got it wrong. We’re being responsive.” -John Janclaes

Team-building is a key part of adapting to change in the financial industry. When financial brands can build effective teams, they’ve already gone a long way toward embracing change and finding new opportunities to succeed in the marketplace.

Renee Newman, Industry Advisory Board Member and John Janclaes, CUSO President at Nymbus joined James Robert on the Banking on Digital Growth Podcast to discuss the collaborative efforts of businesses through the pandemic, how fintech leaders are adapting, and how better team-building can create a better future.

Leveraging Internal and External Collaboration

Collaboration is a hot topic in the financial industry lately because transformation is happening at a breakneck pace. As financial brands face intense competition from new startups and fintech companies, fresh collaborations provide a beacon of hope.

James Robert launches the discussion by pointing out that all great external collaborations start with great internal collaborations. A financial brand needs strong internal teams to ensure everything else they do, including creating new partnerships, is handled skillfully and thoughtfully.

At Nymbus, it all starts with going on a listening tour, which is an employee and customer visit that focuses on listening closely to what people are saying.

What’s happening with employees?

What are customers experiencing?

What’s happening in their worlds?

As you listen, take note of difficult issues that seem to serve as roadblocks to smooth, successful processes. Gather data and as you take your tour, reassure people that it’s okay to share this information in the name of improving systems and processes that create better experiences for everyone involved.

Remove Pressure and Add Purpose

Renee views this as the perfect opportunity to lean in and ask questions that aren’t always asked at financial institutions.

For example, you can ask an employee, “What isn’t going so well?” and allow them to share information with no penalty or shame. You can also encourage them to talk about what’s going great and what could be going even better.

John agrees and highlights the importance of addressing “thorny issues.” Tough problems are thorny because they hurt a little to handle, and that’s okay. Perhaps if you carefully remove the thorns, you’ll find something beautiful underneath.

Transformation, as a whole, is thorny and sometimes comes with uncomfortable conversations and situations. Renee reminds the teams she works with that there’s a lot of pressure involved, so it’s important to come together and focus on a shared purpose.

What’s the “why” of what you’re doing?

Why is the company looking to make a change?

Focus on that shared vision.

The previously-mentioned listening tour is also an opportunity to uncover memorable moments that make an impact on employees, customers, and members. Look for situations that exemplify how your company operates at peak performance. Similarly, look for the low points that you’d like to change.

When in doubt, Renee says, look for moments that are closest to the consumer. Make sure the customer’s voice is always heard, even in conversations that go straight to the top executive board of your organization.

FinTech is a Friend, Not a Foe

Renee and John bring up the point that before the pandemic, there was a widespread notion in the financial sector that fintech was pure evil. There was a sense of dread as if fintech companies were about to take over everything and ruin the entire industry.

The pandemic brought “aha” moments to even the stodgiest and most old-fashioned financial institutions. Maybe fintech can be a partner instead of an adversary. When traditional banks and credit unions welcome services from tech companies and find ways to work together, customers reap the rewards.

For the average financial brand, the first step toward a fintech partnership is performing a gap analysis. Look at your gaps in service and customer satisfaction, and start there. Ask a potential fintech partner how they could fill a gap and how they’ve succeeded at doing so at companies similar to yours.

Renee also stresses the importance of asking what your company wants to be known for. If it’s customer service, then focus on creating special brand moments that resonate with customers and serve their precise needs at precise moments.

No two banks will have exactly the same philosophies about the best way to operate or the best way to innovate. There are many ways to collaborate and compete, so explore fintech partnerships that go beyond the way you have traditionally addressed your core philosophies.

It’s time for a new take on collaboration, according to John. Traditionally, collaboration took a top-down approach, where a leader looked out the window at a changing world and instructed a team to address a certain issue.

Instead, today’s best collaborations start at the staff level. A team of staff members listens, learns, and discovers which issues are bubbling up around the organization. They’re empowered to make observations, move forward, and nudge the entire organization toward transformation from the bottom to the top of the organization.

Finding a Path Forward for Financial Brands Through Fear

Fear is a major hindrance at many financial institutions. There’s a huge amount of deep-seated fear of change, fear of innovation, and fear of making a misstep that will harm the organization.

Renee believes we need to become more comfortable with failing and try to shake off the fear of failure within teams and organizations. Failure is a learning opportunity and we should have the confidence to learn and move forward from any stumble.

One of the best ways to help your internal teams move past their fears is to focus on what they all agree on.

We all agree that the market is changing.

We all agree that customers are more demanding than ever.

We all agree that there’s an opportunity to make things better than they are.

Now, what can we accomplish together?

Unite a team by finding your shared “North Star,” or your guiding light that gives purpose and direction to your journey. This is a concept Renee has found quite effective at Nymbus in her work with financial brands.

John adds that it’s important to give yourself a break and realize there’s no harm in getting things wrong sometimes. Changing directions doesn’t mean you did everything wrong. It simply means you need to reassess the current situation and make a slight adjustment to stay on track.

Lessons Learned From Team-Building

In reflecting on their years of working with financial brands and building effective teams, John and Renee share two team-building takeaways they’ve learned along the way.

John says a major lesson he’s learned is that it’s important to recalibrate in real-time, rather than waiting for quarterly reviews or annual post-mortems.

He calls it “de-risking” and it’s about accepting real-time feedback that minimizes issues before they become catastrophes. Adjust, adjust, adjust along the way, and you’ll usually prevent the kinds of enormous problems every company wants to avoid.

Renee adds that it’s important to stay vulnerable. Exposing ourselves to feedback is putting ourselves in a position of vulnerability, and that’s okay.

Allow yourself and your organization to stay vulnerable to criticism from customers, members, partners, employees, and everyone else. Stay grounded in reality now, and you have the best chance of succeeding in the future.