Career lessons inform a life’s purpose: enabling a generation to achieve financial security and freedom.
About 10 years ago, I was an executive at a large bank with the assignment to turn around one of the many businesses within the firm. Shortly after starting, I realized the business—my business—was beginning the year with a nasty surprise: an unexpected profit hole to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.
Within seconds it seemed, everyone within the business, as well as the top brass, were intimately acquainted with the extent of the challenge. Much to the credit of both the institution and the team, ideas started pouring in immediately on how to solve the problem. In short order, there were close to 200 ideas from all parts of the organization on how to fill the gap. No meetings, no edicts, no table pounding required. Everything I could have possibly desired from a team was on display: urgency, creativity, accountability, and collaboration.
It was certainly one of the moments in my career I will always remember. I was amazed, proud and grateful for the amazing work of the team. The 200 ideas would, without a doubt, fill the profit gap, but they would do so, at the expense of the very people we were there to serve, our customers. In that moment, what struck me is that we had unwittingly turned the bank’s problem into our customer’s problem. We had solved nothing.
In hindsight, I realize that was the moment that my purpose, both short -term and long -term, began to take shape. In that moment, I realized I needed to focus the business and the team on finding a different path, one that would balance the firm’s interests and customers’ interests. It was one of the first times I can remember thinking of myself as a mediator- between the goals and objectives of the banking industry and the needs of its clients.
Many years removed from that seemingly innocuous juncture, I still think of maintaining that balance as my mission. Much to my delight, I am not alone. Many of us have spent careers serving a financial system that comes up agonizingly short of serving the customer. Over half of all Americans report struggling with their finances on a day-to-day basis. There are over 90,000 bank branches in this country. Are they selling products to improve the financial health of average consumers or to provide guidance to the people who need it most? The statistics don’t bear it out.
There is no question; many of us have work left undone. As CEO at Varo, I now have a chance to bring together many groups of people with the expertise and motivation to take up the task: bankers, technologists, psychologists, researchers, designers, lawyers, operators, marketers, risk managers and regulators to name a few. I believe bringing the right people together, all in pursuit of the same mission alone will give us a great shot at achieving what many of us individually have hoped to accomplish. More importantly, I think starting a new firm, one with a blank slate will enable us to avoid many of the barriers and constraints that shape our industry and act as barriers to helping our customers create financial freedom and security.
To ensure this financial well-being, I believe as a company and an industry we must:
- Prioritize our customers’ financial outcomes ahead of processes and products
- Reduce or eliminate the policies that encourage financial institutions to help themselves at the expense of customers
- Give consumers immediate access to the information that will help them understand the impact of day-to-day decisions on financial health
- Use our expertise and experience to help consumers understand the range of options available to them
- Embrace the technologies that enable us to have more meaningful relationships with all customers at all times.
Above all, we need to be human. This may be our biggest challenge of all. Beyond simple fairness and equality, there is an opportunity for our industry to win by focusing on each customer’s unique situation and goals.
There are many of us, both inside and outside the financial industry, that are pressing toward the future with similar ideas. I believe that change is coming and we will be part of that change. Join us as we build a banking service we can all feel proud of. Please visit www.varomoney.com
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