Act Like a Startup

Transform your community bank into a scrappy and bold new business venture

By Jim Ghiglieri

It’s easy to write statements like “improve customer experience,” “streamline processes” or “create a culture of innovation” in your community bank’s strategic plan. These are all admirable and valuable strategies toward making your bank more efficient and competitive.

Yet sometimes these lofty strategies are hard to pull down into tactics that can actually be implemented. Stretching out of comfortable patterns is difficult. But often, approaching change in a completely new way is exactly what it takes to make measurable improvements.

One way to shake up your approach: Challenge your community bank’s management and staff to think and act like top-notch achievers in a successful startup company. With limited capital, a wealth of energetic ideas and people power, startups are forced to be both creative and aggressive when it comes to addressing challenges. Here are a few ways to apply startup thinking to some common financial institution strategies and goals:

If your strategy calls for delivering services faster, think about these startup techniques:

– Become more nimble and eliminate bureaucracy: Within the confines of compliance, what steps in current processes are unnecessary? Are there new software packages or apps that can speed time to delivery?

– Flatten your organization to get closer to the customer: Look at your organizational chart and redefine roles and responsibilities. Maybe there are supervisory roles that can be combined to assign someone to a new customer-experience position?

– Eliminate silos: In a startup, everyone does a little bit of everything, which means all employees understand how their performance affects the next person in the process. Cross-functional teams can simulate this startup environment so the entire staff can think about the best way to address a challenge, even if it’s not in their department.

If your strategy directs that your community bank should become more customer-centric, consider these startup tactics:

– Engage the customer: Through social media, surveys or one-on-one conversations, ask your customers what they need and really listen to their responses.

– Reward the customer: Are you trying to get more customers to utilize mobile banking? Startups often reward their early adopters through special offers delivered in frequent and tailored communications.

– Get social: Partner with other innovative companies (maybe some of your commercial customers) or economic development groups to host educational events that give you face time with potential customers. Talk to them about your bank’s offerings in a more relaxed environment.

If your strategy in 2013 includes becoming the preferred employer in your market, think about these startup strategies:

– Think time: It’s easy to get caught in the day-to-day work loop. Require key employees to spend an hour a week doing nothing but thinking about and researching solutions to specific challenges. Or pull a cross-functional team together for lunch to attack a problem and map out a plan for implementing the solution.

– Reward the rebels: You may have an incentive program for new accounts or customer service, but do you also reward those who make radical suggestions that streamline processes or save money?

– Celebrate success: In a startup, employees may be working long hours and eating takeout food, but they are energized by the thought of being a part of something new and exciting. Make sure to communicate your community bank’s vision and goals to your employees and reward them when they take steps to help you get there. The smallest and most unexpected gestures are the ones your top performers will remember the most. From a gift card to their favorite restaurant to a sincere handshake and a “thank you,” celebrating even small successes can be memorable.

These are just a few examples of how your community bank can approach its strategic goals like a startup; undoubtedly, there are many more. By acting more like a startup, you can become closer to your customers, develop a culture of innovation and challenge your best employees to bring you their finest ideas for the most effective changes. endmark

Jim Ghiglieri is the senior vice president of corporate communications for SHAZAM Inc., the electronic funds transfer network in Johnston, Iowa.