Americans bankers interested in expanding their sales of insurance polices are looking to Europeans like Natwest banker Paul Feeney for guidance.
And to whom has the 31-year-old Briton turned for help?
To a Chinese military strategist who has been dead for 2,500 years.
When Mr. Feeney addressed a group of bankers at Wharton last week, he invoked the teachings of Sun Tzu to assess the challenges for bankers as they invade the turf of the entrenched insurance industry.
"Sun Tzu said there are nine kinds of ground to do battle on," Mr. Feeney said. "When you enter others' land but not deeply, this is called light ground. This is where most U.S. banks are today in the insurance markets, on ground from which we can get back easily if the going gets too tough in the U.S."
By contrast, Sun Tzu warns against invading deep into the "heavy ground" of the opponent's turf, where the battle is fought on the enemy's terms.
By offering insurance as part of an integrated mix of banking products, a banker can fight on his own terms. Conversely, if banks simply create insurance subsidiairies that mimic those of a traditional insurance company, they are fighting on the heavy turf of the enemy.
"If you must fight, fight on your own terms and on ground that is familiar to you," Mr. Feeney urged.