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March 3, 2014

How Technology Fuels a Cultural Change in Banking

Posted by Rajashekara V. Maiya (View Profile | View All Posts) at 11:10 AM

Technology at Morgan Stanley [Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGXHi5jJA2M]

The financial services industry is at a crossroad. OK, I know what you're thinking: That sector is at several crossroads. Post-global economic crisis, it's probably the most interesting time to be in or be observing the big banks. There is a profound cultural shift that is emanating from within the world's most prestigious and well-known banks. Many banks have decided that a culture of overwork has had its day.

If any of you have worked in a financial services firm, you're aware of how long the hours can be. "Face-time" is an aspect of this culture. You want to make sure that the managing director sees you in the office at all hours, even if you're not necessarily working on a project. For the better part of the last couple centuries, being upwardly mobile at a bank meant putting your personal life on hold and devoting your life - seven days a week - to the firm.

There is a new study out by a prominent business school professor that found that the 120-hour workweek is not uncommon in the banking world. In the old days (meaning before the mobile telephone) an associate could work 120 hours a week but go home for at least a short time and get away from the daily grind. But now that mobile telephony and the Internet have become key tools in the banking world, there is no such thing as down time. The study turns long-held assumptions on their heads. First, there exists a threshold (whether it's 80 or 100 or 120 hours) that most people cross and when they do, they have a hard time maintaining their quality of work. It's ironic that it took financiers this long to figure out that long hours don't necessarily translate into productive hours.

The second finding was that despite technology being a liberator of many businesses and sectors, it often times restricts the prospects of people who don't use it properly. A very tired and overworked trader, for example, at his desk for the better part of a day, might not be able to execute a sophisticated trade properly or might let some lucrative opportunities in the market pass him by.

The moral of this story for those of us who provide technology and other solutions for industries that include banks is that we have some golden opportunities to shine. Banks are recognizing that placing limits on how available an associate is by telephone or email can actually improve the bottom line. My prediction is that you're to see more of a demand for technological solutions that allow for bank customers to perform certain functions even without a human interface. That means the better-rested associates within a bank will be freer to innovate.

Many of us were quite amazed when some of the world's largest banks sent out memos to their employees saying that from now on, they had to take Saturdays off. Or that junior analysts must limit themselves to no more than 80 hours a week. When an entire culture can realize the limits of how it is using technology - and that it can do a lot to improve itself with that same technology - it's a reassuring sign.

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