man and cat studying a computer screen
PHOTO: Neringa Šidlauskaitė

As is the case in many countries, there is a banking crisis in Australia. The primary cause for this crisis, like other places, is the greed of senior management. The money that senior managers have managed to amass has ballooned over the last 40 years, not because these bankers are more talented now, but because their greed has become immeasurably greater.

While the greed of bankers is the primary driver of the global banking crisis, there are other reasons as well. Digital technology is dehumanizing work. It is removing all connections between the producer and the consumer.

"Let's remember that 50,000 people come to work every day at ANZ,” ANZ Bank CEO Shayne Elliott explained. “Less than 20 percent of them ever see a customer. They don't see a customer. Most of these people don't work in branches."

The problem is becoming worse. Today, far fewer banking staff work in branches than 10 years ago. In another 10 years’ time, who knows if branches will even continue to exist.

"So, we kind of dehumanize the work, and we've compartmentalized it, so it's very unclear to me, the impact of what I do,” Elliott said. "It's easier — and I'm not excusing it, I'm not rationalizing it — to say, 'Well, I can put up a bit of a mask and revert the rules saying I have to do this; the rules say I have to repossess the farm. It's difficult for me to emotionally engage in that situation.'"

Humanizing work is expensive. You are not going to reach your aggressive, unrealistic, short-term targets, which your fat bonuses depend on, if you allow too much humanizing. Technology is cheap. Humans are expensive. Isn’t that how the thinking goes?

The new breed of bankers looks at technology from the perspective of cost minimization. It’s all about saving time and money. They hollow out their organizations into technological shells, in which the staff spends far more time interacting with numbers, code and content than they do with their customers. After all, looking after customers requires spending time with them and caring about their needs.

If you want to rise in the ranks of senior management in banking today, you must be a predator. I have watched people who have tried to sell me dodgy products get promoted, while people who have genuinely helped me remained stagnant in their careers. That’s the reality of banking in Ireland, Australia, everywhere, and it is driven by a toxic combination of cost-minimization, technology and senior managements’ greed.

One problem for banks is that an increasing number of their customers have started noticing they are dealing with predatory institutions whose only loyalty is to that fat bonus they can make. As these banks hollow out their organizations, making them leaner and meaner, they hollow out their futures.

Relationships are hard to build, but loyalty is still a great concern. Trust is very important when it comes to finances. There are still opportunities for banks that genuinely care about their customers, who believe that the best way to be successful is by making the customer successful.

That requires a completely different culture and mindset. It requires thinking about the long term. It requires ensuring that as many employees as possible have regular, real experiences of what it is like for their customers to experience the products and services that these employees create.