All of the bank-bashing I've witnessed in recent months has me reflecting on one of my favorite Buffett lines. I'm talking about Jimmy, not Warren.
In "Son of Son of a Sailor," he takes comfort in knowing that at least he isn't "a lawyer, a thief, or a banker." It's sad that bankers seem to be the folks in that group with the biggest PR issues these days.
Few engrained stereotypes are as far from reality as the banker stereotype. Even though most banks now keep their doors open as long as or longer than most business offices, the phrase "banker's hours" will forever be pejorative.
And the banker groups I find myself addressing usually couldn't be any more diverse if you randomly picked attendees from a metro phone book. Yet if you asked most folks to describe a banker, they begin describing a person not all that different from Mr. Drysdale of The Beverly Hillbillies.
The fact that at least 50% of the folks on our teams these days would have to Google "Mr. Drysdale" to understand that reference is funnier still – and helps make my point.
Thankfully, most bankers I interact with seem to have a (much needed) sense of humor about bank stereotypes. And few are holding their breaths, expecting balanced stories whenever there is any remotely negative news to be reported about banks.
Our customers are accused of basically being fools for putting up with us. How many other industries have folks regularly writing columns instructing customers on why and how they should "dump" them? These so-called "journalists" do everything but offer to personally drive customers to branches to close accounts.
Over the years we have become far better at marketing our products and services, meanwhile our industry continues to lose the PR wars over the value of what we do. As an example, I often ask folks to consider a basic checking account.
Actually, calling it basic is a disservice. Take a minute sometime to explain to a layperson all that is entailed in order for a paycheck to seamlessly get deposited, protected and insured. And then discuss what it takes to allow him to swipe a card or sign a piece of paper almost anywhere in the world to pay for things.
Maybe then touch on the websites and mobile applications that give up to the second information and access to those accounts. If you have time, discuss what it takes to place and maintain those expensive boxes stacked with $20 bills called ATMs for their use in case they choose to use cash.
For most customers, their checking account (and what it facilitates) is a critical service that they rely upon to function each month. It ranks up there with electricity, water, phone, and/or internet service. Banks, however, appear to be the only folks called upon to provide their service for free.
Sure, that argument can be picked apart by critics. But it's at least as valid an argument as the endless stories of banks being evil/greedy/dishonest that continually recycle and re-circulate.
There may be a bit of preaching to the choir when I rant about these things in front of banker groups. But something I've observed when addressing frontline employees and branch managers over time has struck a nerve with me.
In many instances, they seem genuinely surprised and sometimes downright emotional to hear someone defending who they are and what they do. And it's not that the things I'm talking about are newsflashes to them.
It's just that when folks are so accustomed to having their profession practically accused of villainy, a reality check can be downright uplifting. As trivial as that may seem to some, I'd suggest that we underestimate the impact unchecked and unchallenged negativity can have on our teams.
We can do more to speak to the communities we serve and, more importantly, to our own teams.
It's not exactly breaking news that people who feel good about where they work and what they do tend to have higher levels of engagement and job satisfaction. This affects everything from employee retention to productivity to the service levels delivered.
Sometimes the things that you'd normally figure should be able to go unsaid need, in fact, to be said. Reminding your team of who you are and the value of what you do for customers and your communities is more important than ever these days.
Dave Martin is an executive vice president and chief training consultant at NCBS, a SunTrust Banks Inc. subsidiary that offers consulting, training, design and construction services for retail banking programs. He can be reached at Dave.Martin@ncbs.com