Jeff Judy

Jeff's Thoughts - December 13, 2017

Presenters versus Interpreters

Financial services are inherently complicated. For a typical commercial credit, we gather a very large collection of individual data points. Then we expand the data by conducting credit analysis, generating not only additional numbers and factors to consider, but -- if done right -- additional questions for the borrower, that return even more information. And then we propose a structure that adds another layer of complexity to the product.

Even our most standardized products are fairly complex. In a recent article on The Financial Brand blog, Lisa Joyce writes, "Try comparing checking accounts between one banking provider and another and you’ll quickly realize just how complex the industry can make even the most basic financial products."

Joyce was writing about "Complexity Bias" as one of the common mindsets that can undermine culture. Reacting to a survey of financial services executives administered by The Aspen Institute, she observes:

"Banking executives frequently believe that complex ideas are inherently better — more valued by management and on a higher intellectual level — than simpler ones."

I can see how a career spent in, as I said, an inherently complicated business can lead you to expect every solution to be a complex one. For my money, the real problem lies not in the thinking of the leadership but in the interactions front line staff have with your customers.

When a service provider -- of any service, not just financial -- believes a complex product or solution is appropriate for a particular customer, they have a couple of modes in which to approach the conversation with that customer.

In "Presenter" mode, employees pass all the complexity that lies behind the product or decision through to the customer. They share reams of data and fine points, analysis results and thresholds, all the time feeling secure that they cannot be faulted for failure to communicate about the product, decision, or recommendations that have been selected for the customer.

But is that really communication? Or is it just a cover-your-butt data dump?

I prefer "Interpreter" mode, in which your staff connect all that data to decisions and actions to be taken by the customer. An Interpreter doesn't necessarily hide complexity so much as distill it. Interpreters go beyond what the analysis results are to explain what they mean for the customer. They put the customer in a position not just to react, but to respond thoughtfully to the information they receive.

Our industry is only going to get more complex in the future. All the more reason to avoid a mentality that believes more complex approaches are better approaches.

And above all, good reason to develop interpreting skills among your staff.