What Banks Can Learn From An English Teacher’s Advice

The earliest definitions I learnt at school pertained to nouns and verbs. Nouns, my teacher said, indicated names of people, things and places. Verbs, the stern lady said, are “action words”. They indicated motion.  

The idea for this blog filtered in when I applied these definitions to the entity I most often deal with for my personal financial needs, and think about or relate to from a professional standpoint: ‘a bank’. Noun? It certainly is. At least that’s how I’d had it figured in my head. It used to be a place I visited to get my financial business done. It is the name of an entity I have a business relationship with. But, taking a closer look at how ‘the bank’ has evolved recently makes me wonder. Is it not after all acquiring some shades of a verb? For one, it’s in motion if I consider my mobile device with its financial apps. For another, it’s in ‘quasi-action’ if I consider a highly interactive virtual bank.

The point I’m driving at is not semantic. But the words we use and the way we use them are revealing, and can offerbank verb tweet tremendous insights into our existing mindsets. I think the same applies to businesses. Banks that first began examining and deconstructing their cherished ‘definitions’ or business models (nouns) were the earliest to adapt, change, and reinvent (verbs). They were able to waltz past disintermediation threats. Though rooted in a ‘brick and mortar’ heritage, their thinking and infrastructure were flexible enough for the digital era. While their physical premises imposed restrictions—opening hours, transaction hours, appointments, waiting time, overcrowding, processing time, clearing time, etc,—their thinking did not. They innovated. Across traditional and new-era channels, they easily slipped in customer services of a differentiated kind: spot loans, deposits with idle account balances, convenient mortgages with multiple liens or collateral, and instant payment options.

oracle bank_verbI believe the most successful banks are those that fit into the rhythm of their customers’ lives rather than forcing their customers to fit into theirs. It was true for banks that existed before the Internet era; it’s true for banks now. I look no further than UBANK, JIBUN and HBOS Germany to make my point. They are resounding successes because they are not trapped in their own definitions of ‘a bank’. They walk with their customers, rather than waiting for their clients to walk-in for services.

Back to my English teacher. She once advised me to use more verbs in my composition. Readers relate better to “action” she said. Banks too can profit from her advice. To succeed, they need to interact more. And remain flexible enough to interact with their customers.

Sonny Singh is Senior Vice President  and General Manager of the Oracle Financial Services Global Business Unit. He can be reached at sonny.singh AT oracle.com or on twitter @sonnyhsingh

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