Truth and change: banks can and must

It is refreshing to find a senior banker speaking with candour, as reported in today’s Evening Standard (May 18, 2016).  The speaker in question is Antony Jenkins, former CEO of Barclays.  It is he who famously required all employees to sign a document confirming their acceptance of a set of values.  According to the journalist Anthony Hilton, Jenkins doubts whether all the regulation will be enough to make banks safe.  If so, he is undoubtedly correct.  Jenkins argues that it is the distorted values of the employees of banks that led to a wholesale destruction of value for shareholders (and what about customers, and the countries?)

Jenkins is brutally honest – according to his own understanding – about the time it will take to achieve change, and what is required.  He thinks it needs sustained leadership over 5 to 10 years with changed practices.  Hilton doubts that boards will accept that, not because they know how to do it quicker but because shareholders would fire them.  As Jenkins was himself fired.

But there is a flaw in this argument.  First: the explanation for how the banks did what they did is not correct (and cannot be correct because the assumptions are flawed). And change does not need to take so long.  Facebook grew more than 12 times in two years (1250% between December 2006 and December 2008. It then got faster).  It did not take 10 years to get children reading Harry Potter.  Anyone who takes the trouble can easily find examples of very large-scale social change happening quickly.  But it rarely happens in conditions in which systemic factors act against it.  The rare occurrences are called revolutions.


Controversy over Michael Jackson: Wikipedia edits (source Wikipedia).


Growth in Starbucks: sure there are network effects, but that is part of change design.


Facebook change: even faster after 2010.

With empirical evidence of widescale change in short order, both in our own work and more broadly, and a clear theory to explain it, we can tell you how your bank (or tech company or any other) may do it.  Our associates have been doing this for up to 2 decades.

Jenkins had good intentions and that makes him a good man.  But to achieve the right result you need both the motivation and the method.