Banking for humanity: a land of unsung heroes
I love fairytales.
Not only that.
I believe in them.
Not in princesses and happy endings. Not in spells and curses. But in the power of human will to change the world. I believe in second chances, In hard graft and happy middles. Because who wants this ride to end? The whole point is to make it better, to keep it going. Be it life. Or our slice if it.
I am a banker.
Making money for people who already have it is part of what I do. But it is not all I do.
I was blessed with being born in a time when technology created by others (I remain incapable anything remotely useful. If the zombie apocalypse comes, I am food) allows us to blast the boundaries of what is possible to hell. We can do things that were never possible before. What we choose to do is up to us.
Money is not romantic or heroic.
But I don’t come from money and I can tell you that secure housing, healthcare, opportunities, education, a lifeline that can add a decade to a loved one’s lifespan, all have dollar signs next to them. As does trade, infrastructure, education, clean water, affordable medication, access. Democracy is not free, freedom is not free. Dignity is not free.
In our small way, we have choices to make. Yes from our grey offices.
And I believe in fairy tales and heroes. I believe that the wood cutter can save the world. I believe what we do matters. Even when we wear suits and deal with spreadsheets.
Fairy tales teach us the formula. How you implement it is a matter of choice and personal perspective. But don’t be fooled. It’s test after test. And you have to be worthy. Which means willing rather than amazing, when the chips are down.
Test one: you need to believe
No hero is entitled.
Remember that as you go into board meetings and investor pitches.
From superhero to unlikely wonder, every self-respecting tale starts with a reluctant front man (or woman) who doesn’t feel big enough for the task. Who knows their limitations, the constraints of their environment, the times they totally messed up, the times when they could not even be bothered, the times their faith was not strong and not even proof would turn it around.
The hero doesn’t believe they are all there is.
They hope there is more. They want there to be more.
There is a process by which they come to realise that maybe there is and maybe there isn’t but neither matters as much as what you do with the time you have. If you are lucky, you are part of a team. If you are not, you still get your own story. But you need to believe in your right to write it yourself first.
And our lives as bankers is no fairy tale.
You won’t get to fight a monster, solve the Sphinx’s riddle, free the kingdom or tame a lion. You will have to look up from your desk, full of hopes and dreams that go much beyond your end-of-year bonus and dreams of leaving to spend the rest of your life in a small Italian village. You will have to cross the wasteland and come out saying really naive things like “the pension system is broken and people are living longer, how do I help?”. “Global trade can have a democratising effect if the access to finance and distribution platforms changes, what’s my small piece in this?” “Money is not romantic but life is. What do I do next?”
Test two: you need to prove yourself
So you get yourself all fired up. Filled with righteous dreams and worthy energy. You have gone from corporate drone dreaming of early retirement to someone filled with passion for a future that is better and more evenly distributed.
That’s pretty awesome but also at this moment in time, you are entirely on your own. Because while you’ve been having your little moment of revelation, nothing else happened. The organisation around you is the same. And the way they see you, is pre-revelation. You want to bring about the change you have now had an epiphany towards? So do I.
But you need to bring the world to where you are, and get the recognition you need so you can do the next bit.
You have read enough fairytales, seen enough super hero movies.
You need to prove yourself.
And in corporate terms that means you need to do a thing that brings value in a way that is fresh but still familIr. So if you thought that getting an innovation job and a big travel budget and doing a lot of irreverent PowerPoint was your Last Stand, I am sorry to disappoint you. You want to cut your teeth? Earn your stripes? Then deliver something valuable to the people whose support you need, in a way that makes your point.
Break the wrong rules, respect the right ones and create a new dynamic that people have no choice but to acknowledge.
Stand your ground, stay the course.
There is no substitute for that.
Build software. Go live. Put things in the hands of customers.
That prove the point you are trying to make in the way your environment understands: make it work. Make it profitable. And make it good. And make it good for people.
It ain’t easy. But this is a story about heroes. Easy doesn’t come into it.
Test three: you need to find your birthright
You knew it was coming.
The twist in the plot.
The hero knows what they have to do. They have proven themselves, they have a runway and some support. This is happening. But goodwill and hard work are sadly not enough. The hero has to find their birthright.
Whatever that means when you are an enterprise architect in a bank…
You have to find it.
The clue in the fairy tale is limiting but sadly true. No matter how awesome you are, unless you are part of a bigger story you will never be more than a single voice.
So if you are not in pursuit of an ancient crown, a sword in a stone of the denouement to a prophecy on a crumbling scroll… if you are a banker, what does that look like?
Legacy, my friends.
One of the banks I worked for highlighted how what we do helps build dams and roads. We worked under the strap line “who’s helping you?” And we were all there to help. It worked, it meant something.
Ryan Edwards-Pritchard rallies his team under “helping the small walk tall” so don’t you tell me the money business can’t do emotional because that brings a tear to my eye.
If money makes the world go round, how we leverage the legacy our organisations have and build for the future determines what we are and what we stand for.
Most banks have been around for a long long time. Most of them started in order to help solve a problem. Serve a community. Super-charge an aspect of society.
Find your legacy. Find your own flavour of useful. Dust it off. And make it better.
Test four: you need to move beyond your legacy
So you’ve had your awakening.
That was tough.
You had that pain in the ass project when you went against your employer to prove a point and you have the scars to prove it. But you did it. You delivered. And although there aren’t minstrels singing your praises, you now have a reputation. No longer the maverick. You are a force. Because you do the thing but also you believe in things. And the mix is powerful.
And you found your legacy. You found a way for your organisation to build a future that is better, more meaningful, more engaging. You have found a way to make this about more than your geekery, or the fact that you never wanted to be a banker in the first place.
This is no longer about personal redemption.
You have found a path that allows a whole organisation to do better and be better.
So folks are ready to follow.
Some will follow the path because you inspired them. Some because you have shown it to be profitable and good for career progression. I know that was not the intent. No matter. It moves us in the right direction.
Some will follow because that is what they do, follow.
Some will follow because the world is changing and the old ways are no longer viable and this may be as good a thing as any.
Not everyone will believe and not everyone will be fuelled by the same fire.
Which means your work is never done.
Old money in new ways is not worth all this effort, all this pain, all this toil.
The tech allows us to make the world of money a little fairer.
If it’s a life-long battle, so be it.
Be strong. Be true. Be brave. Be humble. Be kind. And whatever you do, keep going.
By Leda Glyptis
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption as chief of staff at 11:FS and CEO of 11:FS Foundry.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!