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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Differentiating banks by people and branding

I always thought that the key success factors of a bank were  the 'reach'(number of branches, ATMs, global presence), reputation(do depositors trust that their money will be safe) and(of course) 'capital'. But post the global financial crisis, banks have begun to differentiate themselves via emphasizing the softer side(client relationship, trust, corporate responsibility etc) over their skills. In this context, the Dec-10 guest lecture at IIM-A by Dr Anil Kumar Khandelwal(Chairman & Managing Director of Bank of Baroda from 2006-09) holds many lessons for aspiring bankers(and in fact any corporate executive).

From his talk, I can garner the following insights

  • Showing commitment wins over people:- When he began his career, Kolkata was regarded as a 'punishment posting' for bank officials who were quite eager to return to other regions. Dr Khandelwal, on the other hand, surprised his boss and peers by seeking a longer tenure. This won over the unions and staff there, who perceived that their boss had 'skin in the game' and meant well
  • Bank goals and staff goals need not conflict:- When Dr Khandelwal met the Kolkata staff, he found out a main grouse that there was no growth in their region(branches not opening etc). The bank policy was not to recruit more people till the overstaffed workforce was cut to size. He then obtained the buy-in of the unions to open nearly 1/3rd more branches with the existing work force itself. This instilled pride in the staff, more growth opportunities for them and achieved the bank's objectives
  • Implementing staff suggestions:- He said that their best changes had come from the line staff and not from 'fancy reports'. He however added the caveat that unless the suggestions were implemented(or reason given why impracticable), the pipeline would dry up. This is common practice now in most MNCs but was a new thing then specially for public sector banks
  • Rebranding works:-He changed the logo to its present orange sun one. He faced opposition but could overcome that by some deft maneuvering. Now, the bank has a 'youthful', 'tech savvy' image as compared to its stodgy old image.
This shows the power of intangibles even in the financial sector where technology threatens to assume the prime place. Such initiatives are sorely needed presently.

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