How to make your bank the envy of the Peppered Moth


Ever sat down for a chat with a Peppered Moth?

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the Peppered Moth flourished in the forests of England. Well, the light-colored ones did. They alit on tree trunks and blended in. Life wasn’t so easy for their dark-colored siblings. They struck such a contrast with the surrounding trees that they might as well have held up signs that said “PREYING BIRDS–DINNER IS SERVED.”

But then the Industrial Revolution came along, bringing with it smokestacks that blackened the trees. Before long, lighter moths became easy pickings while darker ones flourished in their place. A dark moth given to schadenfreude would have had a heyday.

The triumph of this well-known adaptation belies a sobering lesson. Creatures can adapt to environmental change only if they have the DNA for it. Most species that have lived on this planet didn’t, which is why 99 percent of them aren’t around anymore. The Peppered Moth was downright lucky that it had the DNA for producing the occasional dark-colored adult. Without it, it could well have fallen to extinction then and there.

Bankers, our environment is changing.

Going back to the days of green visors and sleeve garters, banking had always been a face-to-face business. As competition swelled, some—if not you, people you know—buried their heads in the sand of being in a “relationship business.” Our customers are our friends, went the reasoning, so no bird will pick them off.

If ever that was true, and you may have gathered that I have my doubts, it is no longer. Just as factories made light-colored tree trunks the exception, technology is making in-person financial transactions the exception. In this new, fast-changing environment, is adaptation within your financial institution’s DNA?

DNA is a set of coded instructions that guide an organism’s development  in terms of traits genes will express, when genes switch themselves on or off, when they work in concert, when they work at odds, and when they don’t work at all. These factors determine how an organism will fare in a given environment. I think it’s fair to say that a financial institution’s DNA is its management, rules, policies, guidelines, and culture. These account for the difference between a bank that is well suited, and one that is not so well suited, to adapt to and prosper as the landscape shifts.

Now, permit me to share a bit of news that is sure to make you the envy of even the most successful Peppered Moth. Your financial institution needn’t resign itself to metaphorical biological determinism. It can do something that no Peppered Moth could ever hope to do. Namely, it can look around, assess the environment, and change its own DNA to match.

There’s just one catch. The ability to look around, assess, and change must itself be written into your bank’s DNA. It must be a product of management, rules, policies, guidelines, and culture. Here is where the analogy breaks down. DNA is not subject to ego. Management, rules, policies, guidelines, and culture are.

Having trouble adapting in a timely manner? Maybe it’s time for a little gene splicing. If a moth can adapt by serendipity, surely a financial institution can do so on purpose.

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