The banks in Europe are back in the news this morning – paying fines (again) this time for misdeeds around “dark pools,” a well-known but mysterious trading practice. The pattern has inured many of us to a “ho-hum bad behavior at the banks” attitude. In fairness to the banks, good news about progress isn’t newsworthy enough to make the papers. But there are some lessons for us all beneath this familiar pattern.
First, massive organizational and cultural change is hard. Banks are being asked to change at their very core – to embrace a new set of values they did not select for themselves. In the wake of last decade’s financial crisis the governments and their regulatory bodies woke up to the massive influence banks have over our lives. Since the beginning of time, the ability to get some money to speed up a commercial endeavor, acquire a business or home have created the need to handle money in ways we as humans have been drawn to and been resentful towards in equal measure.
So the message of this wave of reform has been clear – be more transparent, follow the rules (most of which are designed to make it hard to do anything wrong – not to be confused with doing things “right”). In order to remain commercially viable, banks have had to reduce costs while hiring large numbers of people to meet the new regulatory standards (and with them bring new skill sets that create competency and compensation gaps with which the banks must also battle.) Due in part to the complexities of labor laws in Europe, European banks have been slower to respond to the change than their American counterparts.
But there is much more at play here. What really seems to be holding up the banks is the lack of insight about the changes required at a cultural level. A shift from an informal, relationship-based business to a highly regulated, standardized, transparent business has felt to the bankers like an assault on their character – an affront to the community and wealth-building heroic model they have always held for themselves.
It is at this level – deeply held va