Interview with Leda Glyptis: Analysis on an Industry in Transition
In our latest series of Executive Interviews, we met with Leda Glyptis PhD. Leda is the Chief Client Officer at 10x Banking and regular columnist with FinTech Futures. Her new book ‘Bankers Like Us’ is released in February and has a unique perspective on the industry.
We met with Leda to hear her thoughts on an industry in transition and how to solve the big problems facing banking.
Can you tell us about the book and why people in the industry should be reading it?
The readers of my Fintech Futures column have long joked, ‘when is the book coming?’ At least, I thought it was a joke and I wasn’t serious about it until Tanya Andreasyan, the Managing Editor of Fintech Futures, said ‘it’s time for the book.’
She originally suggested we should create a weekly column and I didn’t think many people would read it. Six years on, she was right and I was wrong. So work began on the book about two years ago.
The premise is that economies are digitising faster than the banks.
The reason for this?
The book explains why banking is slow to transform and offers solutions for making innovation easier.
So why is banking so slow to transform?
It starts from the fact that banks tend to hire an overwhelmingly uniform demographic, and I don’t just mean visually. Even when you have some diversity, behaviour is aligned, either because it’s beaten into you or because the same way of working perpetuates itself.
The industry might have moved away from what was called the ‘male, pale and stale’ approach and now has a more visually diverse team. However, people are hired from the same socioeconomic backgrounds, the same educational institutions, the same internships. This creates structures that are quite rigid.
Add in the bureaucracy and hierarchy, and the combined mix creates something which looks immoveable. I’ve tried to break this down and define a pathway to success. The first bank that cracks it will be well positioned for the future.
What are the main problems within the culture?
One of the things I pick up on in the book is that management in all big companies, but particularly banks, operates at half hour intervals. I call it the Cult of Busy – people have 12 hours of half hour meetings back-to-back.
Their diaries are booked out months in advance, and you get the attention of a senior leader for half an hour. You’ll speak to them again in two to three months. In that half hour, you must remind them what this is about because they haven’t seen you in 90 days. Then you have to maintain their focus. You don’t know what the last meeting they had was; maybe they had to fire someone or deal with something critical which makes your meeting seem trivial.
You have to remind them what you do, give them an update, present an overall sense of progress and maybe secure a decision. All in half an hour.
And how big a failing is this?
This means that middle-management are making decisions about what you’re not going to share. In some ways, the most important decisions are made by people who are trying not to waste their half hour.
I have a whole chapter on this.
The big difficulty is that this happens unchallenged, because that’s just the way it is. You have half an hour with the executive sponsor. Get on with it.
This creates a reality where analysts and junior Vice Presidents are making strategic decisions about what is and what isn’t important, sometimes without even realising that they’re making these decisions.
I think the ways of working, the organisational structures, the habits and what good used to look like in terms of behaviour for promotion have all been inherited from a pre-digital world. This is affecting the way institutions engage with transformation and the timeframes. How quickly can you move if you’re making decisions and assessing progress at three months intervals?
How far behind do you think the banks are right now?
The regulators have now become super savvy. Back in the day, bankers were saying things like ‘we don’t need to understand cloud or open source as the regulator will never permit it.’ However, the regulators are actually leading the transformation in quite a lot of regions around the world.
The economy has become digital. My parents are in their late 70s and they watch Netflix, do their grocery shopping online, use digital identity and never carry ID or a driving licence anymore. That this is so ubiquitous tells us a lot about where the economy is. Meanwhile, you have banks that are still on COBOL-based mainframes and batch-based systems. The book asks…
why is that?
…and the answer is not technology – it’s people.
As the title suggests, bankers like us who bring habits from the old world into the new and hold on to them. Sometimes holding on to habits and structures is sinister. It’s now about retaining personal power and personal advantage. It’s humans not knowing the context and not knowing any different.
The first half of the book looks at the ways in which we get into these patterns. All things – big and small. Everything in the workings of a bank.
The second half of the book says that whilst bankers like us are the problem, we are also the solution. The second half addresses the things we can do practically, immediately, on an individual level, a team level and an industry level.
How easy is it to change such culturally ingrained thinking and behaviour?
The point I’m making is that there are things that you can start doing now, immediately. Everything from calling out bad behaviour when you see it, to never going to a meeting that doesn’t have an agenda.
Those small acts of resistance have a major impact on culture. And then there are things you can do at a team level in terms of how you manage talent, or how you maintain knowledge retention after a bad decision.
In the past, big organisations, not just banks, would put everything in the closet and if something failed, you never talked about it again. How do you change that at a team level?
The big changes that digital capabilities can bring also need to be understood. This could really move the needle on financial inclusion, and cannot be an individual act of resistance. It has to be a societal, industry-wide initiative. That is 100% in our capability.
I genuinely believe the solutions I present can be instigated immediately.
No matter what level, you have the power to make change. So if you’re the CEO, you could do all of it. If you’re someone who manages a small team you could do part of it.
But there’s a very, very specific call to action, which doesn’t require a degree of career sacrifice. You should read it!
We will! Have you heard decision makers in the industry talk about the problems in the way that you’re presenting them?
I’ve not heard anybody else talking about it in this way. Not much of this is unique insight and is potentially stuff we all know. However, we either don’t know we’re allowed to say it or we’re so used to it being part of the landscape that we don’t say, ‘this is weird.’
I’m lucky enough to occupy a unique niche. I’m often labelled an industry influencer or futurist, but I have a day job. I’m not an influencer. I’ve been in banking for almost 20 years and I’m the Chief Client Officer of a core banking system.
I’ve always had a day job. So I think that closeness to the day-to-day means that my analysis is never theoretical. Right now I’m in the middle of a bunch of RFPs. Sometimes I speak to people who write books and do this full time, and they say:
“Oh, it’s so nice that you write from an emotional point of view.”
I don’t think of it like that. I write from the front line.
I think there is a lot of value in people who write from a more futuristic and abstract, industry-wide vantage point. There’s loads of them out there and they’re doing a lot of good work.
But I’m writing from the trenches, and there’s not much of that about.
When you talk to people in the industry, what’s the reaction?
It’s funny because I’ve never, in my entire career of talking and writing about this, had anyone come up to me and said they fundamentally disagree, although I’ve had some very senior managers dislike what I say.
I did a talk a few months ago to a large team and the Director was in the front row. He didn’t look entirely comfortable with what I was telling them. There were 200 mid-level managers in the room going, “Oh my God. Yes!” and their boss was saying, “none of this is relevant to us!”
I was pretty sure it was relevant and presented the reasons. It puts people in a place of discomfort and that’s where being a practitioner is relevant because I can go down to the detail of a very real-life example. Then you can’t deny it because it’s happened to me, and I know what happens to your teams. That provides credibility.
Can you give an example of where your experience brings the problems to life?
At one bank we did a full day workshop about how a particular team were measuring KPIs. And the reason we did that workshop is that it was realised that the team were being measured on the wrong thing.
This was a post-reconciliation queries team. They were deep into operations and being measured on how quickly they closed queries. In the course of our long workshop, we realised that a lot of the queries were very similar. And the reason they could close them quickly was that they had seen them before.
If we stopped measuring how quickly they closed the queries, and started measuring how they eliminated patterns of queries, we could solve the problems at source, and they would cease.
The workshop took almost the whole day, because the hardest thing was to get people to talk in front of their managers. But what was really happening?
One of the things that the team had been told was to cut down on overtime. So they had changed their way of working, which meant that they were sequencing tasks in a way that didn’t leave time for thinking. All of these things are pretty obvious when you look at them.
But it took an awful lot of time and effort, and loosening up exercises, to get to what we really needed to do.
At the end of the workshop I gave a sort of triumphant little talk about how, while it may not feel like a big victory, being able to talk about the reality of what we’re doing is how we get to do things better.
We were about to leave the room when one of the girls turned to her manager and, in the spirit of the day, told him that she was allergic to the plant on his desk.
I deflated like a balloon.
I asked, and he had had that plant on his desk for two years.
These were perfectly nice people. The manager was a perfectly nice guy. And the team was a perfectly nice team. And the bank was actually one of the nicest places I’ve ever worked in.
Yet there was a ‘keep your head down and do your job’ culture.
You can’t champion radical change with your head down.
What are the critical actions that will shift the culture and unlock genuine transformation?
Read the book and you’ll find out!
I think the biggest thing is a realisation that everything matters. Big and small. Culture dies when you let things go because you’re too busy. So, someone behaves really badly, or perhaps makes a bad decision. And you’re flat out and you don’t have the time to take it on.
That’s when your culture loses credibility.
I think if we’re talking about cultural change, we must approach it thinking that everything matters. Nothing is too small. Consistency is key.
You cannot have initiatives that drive inclusion, diversity, digital, freedom and the ability to express yourself over here, and an organisation that penalises over there. And so everything matters and consistency is key.
Everyone has a part to play and my aim is to bring that to life if you pick up the book.
The book provides ways from which, at an individual level, you can make change that creates space for freedom. At a team level, you can shield it or at an organisational level defend it all the way up.
I think the other thing to be honest about is that we’re not starting from a blank sheet of paper. So banking has to do a lot to persuade the people who work for us that the change is real, material and lasting – that’s the reality.
If you want to be one of the first people to read the book, it is available for pre-order here