Financial Services Ireland


How can financial services use purpose and culture to truly transform?

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Banking on change

The banking and financial services sector has been focused on refreshing its operating environment.  Sector leadership has come to realise that organisational culture does not just impact talent attraction and retention, but that it is intrinsically linked to the performance and growth of their organisation.

In the 2018 Irish Banking Culture Board’s Employee survey, three in four respondents said that their organisation’s purpose and values were important to them. This was reinforced by the 2019 Behaviour and Culture Report by the Central Bank of Ireland who also noted that culture not only impacts internal dynamics but directly impacts a bank’s customer base too. To truly benefit from a cultural change those in leadership within Financial Services need to recognise the need for employee feedback, review and reprioritise current initiatives, and search for data-based methods to measure behavioural change.

Where financial services organisations miss the boat with purpose and culture

With a need for change comes a need to act. The challenges faced in financial services have not been for their lack of action, it is more the impact of the actions they take to address purpose and culture.

Firstly, we often design solutions for our employees without one critical input: the feedback of our employees. Doing so drives further disengagement within the workplace. After all, what is a purpose if not co-created by those who live it every day?

Secondly, as financial services organisations design initiatives, they can often get lost in the many rather than focusing on the few. Often when we review culture and purpose programmes, the immediate reaction is to create further new initiatives and incentives, but that doesn’t necessarily lead to any improvement.

purpose and culture

From surviving to thriving: When less is more

It was Michael Porter who said ‘The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do”. Nevertheless, it is often the case that leaders can be unaware of the many initiatives they have underway and the collective impact they have on an organisation.  The good news for leadership in Banking and Financial Services is that there has been an effort made to create a solid foundation to positively shape and impact the purpose and culture of their organisation. The building blocks are there, it is a matter of bringing them together in an informed way.

At EY, we believe there are three focus areas Leaders should consider for them to better strategise their purpose and culture agendas:

  1. The day-to-day: Culture and purpose is not a stand-alone programme with a start and finish date. It evolves. The proof of the pudding is not in hitting a “go-live” date, it is measured by bringing meaning to your day-to-day work: how you make decisions, how you onboard new team members, how easy it is to speak up in a meeting. This is not a tick-box exercise. Instead, leaders who are embarking on culture change and purpose definition should challenge themselves to see how their initiatives bring change to the day-to-day aspect of the workplace.
  2. Communication and Language: Purpose and culture should represent a concrete future state that we are all working to achieve, not simply a “vision” we have for the future that may be unattainable. Or worse, something overly vague that results in carrying very little meaning at all. Leaders embarking on a culture change should review their company’s purpose, vision and values and ensure they define a future that they work with their organisation to achieve every day.
  3. Data-driven: Yes, we can quantify culture! There are several data analytics tools on the market that allow you to baseline, qualify and track progression of how your purpose and culture manifest in your day-to-day activities. At EY, we use the EY Culture Fitness Diagnostic (CFD) tool to track and prioritise cultural journeys in real-time. Leaders embarking on a culture change should ensure that their initiative prioritisation is rooted in data-based decisions.

The bottom line

To reap the rewards of investing in culture and purpose, financial services organisations need to see their leaders challenge the norms and re-prioritise their initiatives in real-time based on data insights. Only then can they truly transform.

This article was written by Jackie Gilmore and Mary-Kate Portley as part of our NextWave banking series. Explore our NextWave Banking hub which houses our latest views on the decisions banks are facing in order to shape their digital future. In the coming weeks, we will be further exploring these challenges and the associated strategic options and emerging trends. Watch this space, and reach out if you have any questions. 

Jackie Gilmore

FS Partner, People Consulting
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