Jeff Judy

Jeff's Thoughts - September 29 , 2010

Leaders Take Action

As many of you know, I spend most of the summer teaching at various banking schools across the country. One of the things I love about those schools is the opportunity they give me to chat with a wide range of participants, front-line staff and executive team members, about their concerns, their strategies and goals, their perceptions of what is going on in the banking industry.

And this is a particularly interesting time to have a finger on the pulse of our business. As you can imagine, the mood at these events has been vastly different since the economy went into a tailspin.

In the summer of 2009, you could pretty well describe just about everyone I talked to as "hunkered down." Caution, if not fear, was the prevailing emotion. Many institutions were still struggling just to survive, and, of course, some did not. Nobody was sure what was ahead, how long tough times would last, or, really, how to respond to new conditions. There wasn't much talk of competing, capturing market share, building business, or thriving. Just hanging on was the order of the day.

Forward to this year, when I heard much more talk of "being a leader in our market." Naturally, I thought that meant that banks were working to grasp opportunities, even in this slow recovery. It sounded like bank management at many institutions had crawled out of the bunkers and were ready to engage their customers, and their competition, once again.

But the outcome of further conversation and deeper discussion was, frankly, disappointment. At first, I was encouraged to hear talk of leadership in the marketplace, but when I tried to discover what actions these banks were taking to capture that leader's position . . . well, there just didn't seem to be much behind it.

In other words, the talk this year was definitely a little bolder than in 2009, but when you looked at the behavior of the management at many of the banks I interacted with, they were still in hunkered down mode.

They are waiting for the competition to make the first move, so they can see if that move is a mistake. They are so worried about taking the wrong next step that they really are not taking any steps at all, at least, not any steps that say "We're the leader in this market" to me!

Their language says, "Leader," their actions say, "Follower."

In that first year after the recession hit, a "winner" and a "survivor" were pretty much the same thing. But slow as the recovery may be, and as challenging as you may find current economic conditions, there are going to be real winners emerging in the near future, banks that gain an advantage because they find ways to build their business while their rivals are still hiding.

If you want to play it safe and wait to see what happens to your more pro-active competitors, that's fine. Just admit that that's what you are doing, so that everyone in your organization understands your strategy is to be a follower.

If you are telling your employees that you are going to lead the way to better results, to gains in your marketplace, then lead. Let your competitors watch for you to make the next move . . . and then let them watch as you take away some of their business!