The buzzing classroom

As an original faculty member of the IARB, I had the pleasure of being one of the first to interact with retail banking executives on many topics: strategy, leadership, new market entry and card financial management to name a few.  With an exceptionally busy schedule, friends and colleagues often asked me before I began teaching: ‘Why are you taking on this additional responsibility?’  A great question. My typical response was to simply say that I was looking to impart my knowledge of over twenty years as a global banker.  As I also wrote several modules, I thought: yes, this is what is driving me.

However, with several sessions now ‘under my belt’, were someone to ask me the same question now, I would, to some degree, answer it very differently.  While I truly believe that I have imparted a great deal of new knowledge to IARB class participants (and class feedback has validated this), the most remarkable outcome is in fact that when a group of peers gather, valuable information flows both ways! An interactive discussion of sharing and dialogue occurs, which creates not only a classroom ‘buzzing’ with excitement and input but also leads to idea exchange and sharing of best practices.  Therefore, my role as faculty member transformed very quickly from one in which I thought of myself primarily as a lecturer to one where I was also a facilitator and contributor to an interactive classroom discussion.

My experiences with the Academy have taught me a few things that I believe are important for current, past or potential IARB attendees to understand.  First, for satisfying classroom training (and, for the IARB, this is fast-track or executive), you need to attend courses which have not only like-minded people but participants that bring different experiences to the table (different geographies, business lines, etc.).  The second lesson worth noting by incoming students is that they should employ a highly participative learning style.  Listening is critical but challenging current norms and ideas is also essential for anyone to maximize their learning potential.  Thirdly, use the forum the IARB offers to develop a new network of relationships.  As I have found myself, building networks can lead to new friendships, business partnerships and career opportunities.

Now the Academy offers e-learning, in addition to classroom sessions. This new digital platform opens up IARB’s world of knowledge to a whole new segment of the financial services community. Individuals that could not participate due to travel restrictions, availability of sessions, location, etc. now have the chance to become part of the IARB as a ‘virtual’ member. As a much larger population can now participate, the opportunity for learning and making new contacts has just gotten a whole lot bigger!

Service for success

Every time I get in touch with students or retail bankers – whether in Austria, Germany, Africa or Asia – they ask me: how it is possible to sell more products to our customers?

I always answer with questions: Do your customers need a loan? Do they need a mortgage? Do they need a leasing contract?

And the answer is: No! They need a car, a home, a new washing machine and so on.

The truth is that banking products are too unemotional and unsexy to solve the individual problems and meet the particular needs of our customers. On one hand, banks’ core products are interchangeable and customers are more self-confident, knowledgeable and willing to switch banks. On the other hand, margins are at an extremely low level, the regulatory environment is becoming ever more restrictive worldwide and banks are facing increasing competition.

So how do banks react to this development?

In most European countries, banks reduce the number and size of branches, cut staff levels and increase sales targets. But do they focus on customers? They should: banks that manage to build trustful relationships with customers will be the more successful in future. Not the product but service is now the key factor for success. Satisfied customers are willing to repurchase, are less price-sensitive and will tend to recommend their bank.

Last month I trained retail branch managers of a large Pan African bank with branches in 33 countries. When I asked them how they would satisfy their customers’ needs, they answered: “We walk the talk, we go the extra mile and we answer the telephone 24 hours a day.”

The conclusion is that banks don´t have to sell, because satisfied customers will buy. So it is not important what we sell, but how we sell.