The New Rules for Banking Leaders: Appearance is Everything
We've talked a lot about the banking crisis over the past year - the differences between Wall Street and Main Street, and how all financial institutions are impacted in one way or another by fallout from the industry's "3 B's," Bailouts, Bernie and Bonuses.
But here's what I didn't see coming yesterday when I spoke at a conference to a group of financial executives about the state of the industry.
This is what it's come down to: In the wake of the executive pay and bonus scandals, banking leaders are afraid to make a single move that could be construed as "extravagant."
We were talking about economic effects on their institutions and communities, the impact of the Heartland data breach and how banking institutions now are forced to play catch-up with all the fraudsters looking to breach them from inside and out. And so I asked people repeatedly: "What's your biggest concern these days?"
Two of the conference goers said independently to me: "I'm worried that a TV news crew is going to rush in here and do a story about how all these [financial executives] are spending all this money to attend a conference ..."
I was stunned. This is what it's come down to: In the wake of the executive pay and bonus scandals, banking leaders are afraid to make a single move that could be construed as "extravagant."
Now, we aren't talking about some 1990s boondoggle where the CEO takes his executive staff to the Caribbean for a week of fun, games, an open bar and - ahem - "strategic planning." Or the annual sales meeting that always got held at a ski resort.
We're talking about an annual industry association meeting, where leaders gather in-state for professional development, vendor meetings, educational sessions (such as the one I led) and, yeah, a little socializing. A pre-event golf tournament, but nothing scandalous.
And yet these leaders who have survived recessions, examinations, breaches and other crises - they're worried about the prospect of being seen on "Action News."
That just struck me as a real telling statement of the times we're in - tangible evidence of how Wall Street has affected Main Street, and how "trust" is more important and delicate than ever.
Appearance is everything now. I spoke to two different CISOs last week about staffing issues at their banks - who they're hiring and how they're compensating professional staff. I asked about salaries, benefits and bonuses, and both execs stopped me right there. "We don't talk about 'bonuses' anymore," they said. Thank you, AIG.
I spoke with another CISO - a sports fans - about his favorite baseball team. "We used to have season tickets," he said, "but these days none of our executives wants to take a chance on being seen in a luxury box with a client."
Argue this anyway you want. Maybe it's a good thing that business leaders are spending more time with the rest of us in the grandstands or bleachers, or away from ballparks altogether.
But you can't argue this: It's a whole different ballgame altogether for banking/security leaders and how they present themselves to their customers.
And what I saw this week, I suspect, is only one of the new rules of engagement.