I had a bank client that wanted to explore the larger purpose they could embrace. We discussed the profound impact the bank could have in the lives of those they serve. We made good progress in clarifying that purpose. There was real desire in making a difference. But desire is only one part of the equation. The other part is courage. The courage to do the things to live that purpose. That’s where the wheels fell off for the bank. It happened when the discussion turned to overdraft fees.
People hate overdraft fees. But they end up paying them because of a moment of weakness. Or a struggle with money management discipline (I don’t know anyone who hasn’t experienced that at some time or another). We talked about how these fees were in direct opposition to their purpose.
There was the argument that these were ‘convenience fees’ for those who had neglected to check their balance or had forgotten to transfer money to their checking. Someone cited an anecdote of a customer who was happy to pay the $35 fee to have the bank cover their overdraft until they could transfer money into the account. That was hard to square when you considered that a majority of the customer base could not afford the luxury of shrugging off a handful of overdraft charges.
Another protested, “But what if a customer was trying to buy food or medicine or gas to get to work and was declined?” It made me realize that there were plenty of ways to rationalize the fees. Plenty of stories could be created. What couldn’t be denied was that, at the very least, these fees were reinforcing bad money skills. And at their worst, they were exploiting a weakness in human behavior.
The protestors did not want to agree. And it was at this point that the real reason emerged. Those fees represented a sizeable revenue stream for the bank. And nobody wanted to be the person who championed the potential loss in income.
I know that must have been tough to be in their shoes. I would have a hard time fighting that fight knowing it may well cost me my job. But what was most disappointing was the inability to ask even the simple question, “What can we do about this?”
Today, brands are waking up to the fact that greater success comes when we shift from putting the needs of the shareholders first to putting the needs of all the stakeholders first. These are the brands that understand that the next level strategy is helping all of us take care of each other.
It will not always be easy. But we have to try. Even if it’s starting with that simple question, “What can we do about this?”
Dan is an expert brand strategist and author of the book Big Audacious Meaning — Unleashing Your Purpose-Driven Story. He is a founder at Will & Grail — a brand innovation company, helping organizations find their unique, undeniable, and unshakable sense of purpose and create innovative experiences that bring it to life.
Originally published at https://www.dansalva.com on December 31, 2020.