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Recently, I went to a banking event. The theme was “The Paradigm Shift in Banking: Transforming the Rules of Engagement,” and it was run by a friend of the Amsterdam agency where I work and his The Banking Scene brand.   

A range of leaders talked about APIs, customer centricity, open banking, and business models. One of the panelists even let loose that, at her bank, it’s actually the old guard that likes to work from home, not the Gen Z-ers or Millennials.  

To me, this was counter-intuitive. A theme that came back in the event’s keynote by banker, author, and all-round thought-provoker Leda Glyptis. She had some unintentional, contrary pearls for all of us in the communications, content, and marketing side of financial services on how to find the best solutions for clients.    

And it all comes down to first principles. I’ll explain. 

The games we play  

You pretty much can’t avoid the terms “digital transformation” and “digitization” if you’ve spent any amount of time in or around the banking industry. She likened digitization to a game that has certain rules and expectations, like football. But what if someone showed up with a horse—would it be an advantage, or disadvantage?  

When it comes to digital adoption, all firms aren’t facing the same options, and they may not even be on the same field.    

Are we truly digital?  

Many aspects of our lives are digitized, and this, in many cases, has made things much easier, including banking.  

This is true.    

But, as Glyptis argued, although we live in a digital world, we don’t bank in one. Sure, we have things like digital apps and assets. Yet when you buy the latter, you do so from a fiat account where the transaction is processed somewhere on tech from a different era—a mainframe.    

She also pointed out that processes in banking aren’t digital, with lots of manual workarounds, and just think about the persistent ubiquity of Excel.  

All we’re actually referring to when “doing digital” in banking is putting new tech on old systems, which is actually pretty expensive and negatively affects operating risk.    

So, the sector has just been “catching balls” – responding to tech trends.    

What all this means for communications  

But does the above mean banks should totally revamp everything, and switch all of their legacy systems to modular, data-meshed, agile, API-bonded offerings?    

Counterintuitively, no.  

Banks need to  focus on scalability, resilience, unit costs, cost-to-serve for tech and the like – collectively known as first principles. If they’re not asking the right questions, they can’t get the answers that would be best for them, or be able to make the most effective decisions. 

This is very much the same for us in communications and marketing when we think about creating solutions for clients.  

We must always ground our work in, first, figuring out why they want what they want, who they want to reach, and why, and how this all ties into their desired business outcomes. Sometimes, this means redirecting deliverables to more appropriate ones. But without this, it’s nearly impossible to give good options and direct them so they can win at the game they’re playing.  

Elliot Lyons is a content strategist in Amsterdam