Archive for June, 2012


Wow, I’m Actually Leaving My Day Job!

June 28, 2012

This week I celebrate an important anniversary in my professional career as I close this chapter and begin a new one.

Twenty years ago this week, I joined a small bank that would become one of the largest and most respected in the country. It has been an incredible ride, and I got the chance to work with some of the greatest people in the business. Not many bankers get to learn directly from an American Banker Banker of the Year CEO, but I have worked for two. At the same company. (Jerry Grundhofer and Richard Davis.)

During that time, we grew from $6 billion to nearly $350 billion in assets, and the market value of the company grew from $750 million to over $60 billion, with two 3-for-1 stock splits along the way. (More detail is available on My Day Job page.)

I know that the experiences and opportunities that I have had, the people I have met, and the things that I have learned will serve me well as I leave and begin a new chapter.

Where Do I Go From Here?

First of all, I will continue writing here about the intersection of leadership, advice and innovation. I started this blog as an outlet for my professional passions, and it has exceeded my expectations. It has been viewed thousands of times in over 30 countries, and my posts are also now available on and

New Opportunities

Secondly, I am thrilled with the new opportunities that have been presented to me so far–  and I haven’t even officially left yet! I feel very fortunate to have so many friends all around the industry, and very fortunate to know that I will have the chance to make a significant impact in another senior leadership role.

Hanging Out My Shingle

Among those current opportunities are some speaking and consulting engagements, so I will also add the titles Founder and CEO to my resume. I have started a new consulting firm called Clientific, LLC as a way to help others while I consider the right long term leadership role. The ‘intrapreneur’ gets to try ‘entreprenuer’ on for size– at least for a little while!

Let me know if you think I can help you or your firm.

Why Am I Leaving?

Simply put, the timing is right. I am proud of the work my team has done to help turn what was once a small regional bank into a competitive national platform. I have always called myself an “embedded entrepreneur” and said that I love to build great businesses with great people. That has certainly been the case here. The organization is ready for someone to pick up from here and take it to the next level, particularly with a deeper concentration on the high quality credit book we have built. I couldn’t imagine a more amicable and professional parting of ways, and I remain a fan and a friend of the bank and its leadership and teams. I wish them nothing but the best.

Stay tuned for details of my new adventures!



The Valley of Despair and the Exodus of Talent

June 19, 2012

In my June 14 post Banker Jones and the Last Crusade: Is Wealth Management the New Holy Grail? I examined the current trend of banks seeking greener post-Dodd Frank pastures by pursuing new wealth management initiatives.

In Ocean’s 14, I’m sure they’ll call this running a reverse Willie Sutton. Sutton, of course, was the man who robbed an estimated $2 million from banks and who apocryphally explained “because that’s where the money is”.

The top 1% hold 40% of the wealth, and banks need to find new sources of earnings… What could go wrong?


The Valley of Despair

Change management professionals often prepare organizations for the ‘valley of despair’ that usually follows the initial excitement that bubbles up when a change is announced. Anticipation and relief from the status quo typically give way to feelings of fear, threats, guilt and depression before acceptance and progress.

Similarly, Gartner coined the the term ‘hype cycle‘ and its similar ‘trough of disillusionment’ to describe the point where emerging technologies fail to deliver on their anticipated hype. (See my post Remember When Laptops Revolutionized Financial Services?.)

I suspect that many financial institutions that are currently so excited about the potential of the affluent, high net worth and ultra-high net worth segments are currently approaching the ‘peak of inflated expectations’, unaware of the rapid downward descent that awaits them on the other side. It’s not that those segments aren’t truly attractive. It’s that most organizations won’t be able to capitalize on the opportunity.

The Exodus of Talent

Readers of this blog know that I am a big believer in leveraging innovation and technology to enhance the advice provided by advisors to clients, but I am not among those who think that a better algorithm is all we need. Wealth management has been, and remains, a talent-driven business. This peak of inflated expectations comes with an often insatiable appetite for the ‘best and brightest’ talent.

There are already signs of firms rearming for another battle in the war for talent. Job postings in the wealth space are picking up. Headhunters are brushing off their cold-calling skills and smiling and dialing again. Consultants are preparing new decks full of advice.

At its worst, the war for talent becomes a mindless bidding war, and even the unproductive dolt down the hall swaggers in to dangle an unsolicited job offer in your face, nearly daring you to match it. If you feel threatened enough, and if you have not been treating talent management as the permanent part of your job that it is, you probably will match it.

At its best though, the market brings exciting new opportunities to bear and true talent, like capital, will flow to its most efficient use. And maybe the unproductive dolt down the hall will become someone else’s shiny new unproductive dolt for 30% more pay

Why Top Talent Leaves

So how do retain your top talent (even if you do lose a few dolts along the way)? Forbes had a great post this week on Why Top Talent Leaves: Top 10 Reasons Boiled Down to 1. The punchline is:

“Top talent leave an organization when they’re badly managed and the organization is confusing and uninspiring.”

The article goes on to describe two things to do to keep your best people:

1) Create an organization where those who manage others are hired for their ability to manage well, supported  to get even better at managing, and held accountable and rewarded for doing so.

2) Then be clear about what you’re trying to accomplish as an organization – not only in terms of financial goals, but in a more three-dimensional way. What’s your purpose; what do you aspire to bring to the world? What kind of a culture do you want to create in order to do that?  What will the organization look, feel and sound like if you’re embodying that mission and culture?  How will you measure success?  And then, once you’ve clarified your hoped-for future, consistently focus on keeping that vision top of mind and working together to achieve it.

I certainly agree with both of those recommendations, but I recommend starting with the first one. In this hype cycle, we are going to see a lot of high performing individual contributors become poor performing managers. Either because they aren’t really cut out for managing others, or because their organizations won’t support them in becoming the managers they need to be.


Banker Jones and the Last Crusade: Is Wealth Management the New Holy Grail?

June 14, 2012

In my June 6 post 9 of 10 Banks Are Mulling an Overhaul I linked to the American Banker article that cited the findings from a KPMG study that also said:

Forty percent of the respondents said that asset and wealth management would be essential to expand revenue over the next few years.

But another article in the same issue of  American Banker (Missed Opportunities Abound in the Bank Channel) reported from the Prudential Wealth Management Leaders Forum in New York, which I also attended:

…banks haven’t exploited the opportunity too well. From 2009 to 2010 banks’ and insurance broker-dealers’ assets under management shrank to $600 billion, less than 5% of the $14.5 trillion wealth management market. Meanwhile, discount brokers grew to $2.5 trillion, cornering 19% of the market. Also growing in that time were registered investment advisors, which command 13% of the market, and private banks and trust firms, which command 8%.

Is Wealth Management the New Holy Grail?

Bankers seem to be acting like Indiana Jones in his Last Crusade (…well, last until he sought the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but that’s another post… OK, probably not.) in their pursuit of the Holy Grail and its promise of immortality.

A flat (and further flattening) yield curve, low loan demand and regulatory pressures on fee income and capital needs are causing bankers to seek new avenues for growth. (See also Is Bank Merger Mania Imminent?)

It’s easy to be attracted to the net overall growth of the affluent, high net worth and ultra high net worth segments and the impending transfer of $17 trillion in wealth from the baby boomers to younger generations.

But as the American Banker article points out, there is a huge gulf between “opportunity” and “success”. Over the past thirty years, a ‘build it and they will come’ strategy worked at some level for nearly everyone. Those days are long gone and they won’t be coming back.

No Easy Fix

Firms that want to gain market share from others will need to deliver true value to clients.

At the same Prudential Wealth Management Leaders Forum, Wallace Blankenbaker of the VIP Forum described the key drivers to loyalty– serve, tailor and teach. Clients want firms that are easy to do business with, firms that look out for their best interests and firms that can help them make better decisions.

If firms fail to deliver on those key drivers, funds will continue to flow from them to competitors that can deliver.

Wealth management isn’t the Holy Grail. It’s a specific set of services designed to solve the unique issues and meet the unique goals of a specific set of clients.

As I have said before, Don’t repaint the walls when you need to fix a cracked foundation.

“You must choose, but choose wisely. For as the true Grail will bring you life, the false Grail will take it from you.”

-The Templar Knight guarding the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade


5 Tips to Find True Innovators |

June 11, 2012

The Keys to Hiring Effective Innovators 

1. Intellectually Restless:

Great innovators get a thrill out of defining a bold vision and then wrestling with the data, insights, barriers, and opportunities to unlock what needs to be true to get there.

2. Inspiring Rather Than Convincing:

Applicants who come from traditional consulting are often proficient at framing opportunities, yet unaccustomed to creating outcomes. We want people who can do both. Those who recognize that innovation, by its very nature, is at odds with certainty. Breakthroughs can’t be proven. They need to be envisioned and driven.

3. Proven Ability to Drive Innovation:

There’s a big difference between recognizing a great innovation and understanding how to create a great innovation. Unlike financial markets, past performance in innovation is, more often than not, an indicator of future performance.

4. Have Scaled a Peak:

We look for greatness in some aspect of an applicant’s life: successful entrepreneur, published writer, Ivy League graduate, Division I athlete, etc. The metric of success is less important than the success itself. We want people who are comfortable defining a high-order goal and then doing what it takes to accomplish it.

5. Willing to Commit to Something Bigger Than Themselves:

This is important on two levels. At a firm level, we want people who are excited by the belief that we’re on a mission to create a fundamentally new type of business. On a personal level, we want talent who believes in something that doesn’t exist today. This type of belief is the core of innovation. Therefore, we look for candidates who’ve already demonstrated their commitment to a higher-order ambition. It can be sports, religion, a philosophy, or a charity. The object of devotion is much less important than the proven willingness to invest passionately with a group of people to realize a dream.

Read the entire article here:

Hiring: 5 Tips to Find True Innovators |


9 of 10 Banks Are Mulling an Overhaul of Their Operating Models, KPMG Survey Finds – American Banker Article

June 6, 2012

Soul-searching is Job 1 at a lot of banks.

That’s the takeaway from a KPMG survey of more than 100 bankers due out Wednesday.

Nine out of 10 banks said that they have re-examined, are in the process of re-examining or will re-examine their operating models, according to an advance copy of the survey results. This means banks are rethinking everything from who their customers are to how they reach them and the products that they will offer, said Brian Stephens, national leader of KPMG’s banking and capital markets practice.

New regulations and a struggling economy would seem to demand big changes, but banks are often accused of clinging to the past.

“It is relatively encouraging that there wasn’t a burying-their-head-in-the-sand mentality,” Stephens said.

Forty percent of the respondents said that asset and wealth management would be essential to expand revenue over the next few years.

Read the entire article here:

9 of 10 Banks Are Mulling an Overhaul of Their Operating Models, KPMG Survey Finds – American Banker Article.

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