77 Questions Every Banker Should Ask

canstockphoto16813473I recently came across a list of 100 questions for entrepreneurs to ask of themselves and their businesses. The questions were profound, such as “How can we become the company that would put us out of business?” Some of these questions came from management greats like Peter Drucker and Jim Collins. I found the exercise of asking tough questions stimulating, and have been trying to utilize these questions in our internal planning sessions.

The list got me thinking: which questions should bankers be asking of themselves and their institutions? Further, what specifically is it about banking today that requires questioning? In the interest of helping bankers think more like entrepreneurs, I offer these 77 Questions Every Banker Should Ask. I hope they will equally get you thinking — and taking action. And we don’t want to stop with this post. Post your questions in comments below and/or as tweets using the hashtag #77questions. As they say, Ask and ye shall find.

  1. How can we become the bank that would put us out of business?
  2. Are we relevant? Will we be relevant five years from now? Ten?
  3. If capital were free, what would we do differently? If capital cost twice as much, what would we do differently?
  4. What is it like to work for my bank?
  5. Can we wean the bank off fee income?
  6. If we weren’t already in this business, would we enter it today? And if not, what are we going to do about it? (This is a famous question from Peter Drucker.)
  7. Which of our fees are good and which are bad?
  8. Is too much of our growth coming from fee income?
  9. What counts that we are not counting?
  10. What do we do at this bank that my kids would think is totally uncool or stupid?
  11. In the past few months, what is the smallest mobile or online banking change we have made that has had the biggest positive result? What was it about that small change that produced the large return?
  12. What prevents my bank from making the changes I know will make it more effective?
  13. What are the implications of this decision 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years from now?
  14. What is the smallest subset of the banking-business-model problem we can usefully solve?
  15. Are we changing as fast as the world around us?
  16. Do our customers need more than one thumb to use our mobile banking app?
  17. If no one would ever find out about our bank’s accomplishments, how would I run it differently?
  18. Which consumers can’t participate in our market because they lack skills, wealth, or convenient access to existing solutions?
  19. Are we a bank that has technology or a technology company that owns a bank charter?
  20. Who uses our products or services in ways we never expected?
  21. How likely is it that a customer would recommend our bank to a friend or colleague?
  22. Who, on the executive team or the board here at this bank, has spoken to a customer recently?
  23. What one word do we want to own in the minds of our customers, employees, and partners? (For example, Apple = different; Toyota = quality; Google = search.)
  24. What should we stop doing? (Another Peter Drucker question)
  25. What are we trying to prove as a bank, and how might it be hijacking our success?
  26. If we got kicked out of the bank and the board brought in a new CEO, what would he do?
  27. If I had to leave the bank for a year and the only communication I could have with employees who remained was a single paragraph, what would I write?
  28. Who have we, as a bank, historically been when we’ve been at our best?
  29. What do we stand for–and what are we against?
  30. Is there any reason to believe the opposite of my current belief about banking?
  31. What is our customer’s journey through the bank across their lifetime?
  32. Are we failing differently each time?
  33. When information truly is ubiquitous, when reach and connectivity are completely global, when computing resources are infinite, and when a whole new set of impossibilities are not only possible, but happening, what will that do to our bank?
  34. What is this bank’s Big Hairy Audacious Goal? (Courtesy of marketing expert Jim Collins)
  35. Is our strategy driving our structure? Or is the way our bank structured or has historically allocated its resources driving our strategy?
  36. How is the way I as a leader think and process information affecting my bank’s organizational culture?
  37. Why don’t our customers like us?
  38. Do more than 10 people have to sign off on any change to our mobile or banking app?
  39. Does any request to change our mobile or banking app take longer than 60 days?
  40. How can we simplify our mobile banking app?
  41. Which banking products that cannot be originated by the customer today via smartphone can be made mobile?
  42. How can we become more high-tech but still be high touch?
  43. What do we need to start doing?
  44. What percentage of our bank’s strategy remains the same year in and year out?
  45. What would I recommend my friend do if his company was facing the same dilemma as my bank?
  46. Would I tell my grandmother to bank at this bank? My son/daughter?
  47. If there was no such thing as regulatory compliance, how would I change this bank?
  48. What is something that employees of this bank believe in that nearly everyone outside the bank disagrees with?
  49. Which of our customers are pushing the bank to the limit day in and day out, and what are we doing about it?
  50. Who is this bank going to put out of business, and why?
  51. What happens at this bank when people fail?
  52. Do our employees have the opportunity to do what they do best everyday?
  53. Where is our petri dish?
  54. To which of our customers do we say “no” for no reason?
  55. How often do we use regulatory compliance as an excuse to not serve our customers better?
  56. Are we taking our bank in the direction of better and revenue or cheaper and cost?
  57. Would we rather sell to knowledgeable and informed customers or to uninformed customers?
  58. What aspects of traditional banking are we challenging, in the sense that Mac challenged the PC?
  59. In what way can we redefine banking?
  60. To whom do we add value?
  61. Why should people listen to us?
  62. What was the last experiment the bank ran?
  63. Do I believe in my bank’s motto?
  64. When was the last time we created a product that was not centered on a pricing advantage?
  65. How many layers of management are there in our bank vs. at a technology company? Vs. at a startup?
  66. Where can we break convention?
  67. In retrospect, of the projects that we pulled the plug on, what percent do we wish had been allowed to keep going, and what percent do we wish had ended earlier?
  68. How will we, today, build a 100-year financial services company?
  69. What methods of operation are we undertaking today that may be blinding us to new growth opportunities?
  70. What stupid banking rule would we most like to kill?
  71. What potential megatrends could make our bank obsolete?
  72. When was the last time I stepped into one of my bank’s branches?
  73. What information is critical to our bank that our executives are ignoring?
  74. What are the rules and assumptions the banking industry operates under? What if the opposite were true?
  75. Who do we want our customers to become?
  76. How do I keep our bank inspired?
  77. What question do our customers ask that our bank is not answering?


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JJ is the Executive Editor & Publisher of Bank Innovation and CEO of Royal Media, its parent company. He can be reached at hornblass@gmail.com or 212-564-8972.

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