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Katherine Burger
Katherine Burger
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Bankers Can't Jump

Culture remains by far the biggest obstacle to the ability to sell financial products and services in banking organizations.

Something that has really struck me in the couple of months since I (re)joined Bank Systems & Technology is how much, for all the innovation, change and upheaval in the financial services industry, really has not changed at all since I covered the industry in the late 1980s/early '90s. Allow me to list just a few comparisons:

THEN: Third-party processing.
NOW: Outsourcing.

THEN: Savings and loan scandals.
NOW: Enron/accounting/analyst scandals.

THEN: Seizing opportunities for cross-selling in the branches.
NOW: Seizing opportunities for cross-selling in the branches.

THEN: Thirty-three percent ATM "wall" (what appeared to be the limit of consumers willing to use ATMs).
NOW: Continuing resistance to e-banking, e-payments, e-whatever.

THEN: President George Herbert Walker Bush.
NOW: President George W. Bush. (Couldn't resist that one!)

Obviously, to say that nothing has changed in 15 or so years in banking is quite an over-simplification, but as with any generalization there is considerable truth. Let's take a look at the concept of cross-selling in the branches. In the 1980s, there were three main obstacles to cross-selling and basically making more money off of retail customers: technology, regulation and culture. Technology was perhaps the biggest challenge, with branch automation systems just beginning to gain critical mass, and proprietary in-house developed systems proliferating.

The Holy Grail was creation of the Customer Information File. Clearly, even with the mixed performance of CRM technology the industry has advanced far beyond those days, in terms of the effectiveness and availability of enabling technologies such as database management systems, storage and contact centers.

And, with the elimination of Glass-Steagall restrictions and passage of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley legislation a few years ago, the regulatory hurdle-if not eliminated-became much smaller.

That leaves culture, which remains by far the biggest obstacle to the ability to sell, much less cross-sell, financial products and services in banking organizations. Whether it's because relationship managers are loathe to share valuable customer information with other branch personnel (or, even worse, with insurance agents or financial advisors who theoretically are the bank's distribution partners), or because staffers who are really clerical are unrealistically being pushed to sell, the expectations continue to be unrealistic and the realities disappointing. It remains to be seen whether the statement "Bankers can't sell" is an immutable fact of life or a concept whose time has not yet come.

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