I have completed 154 consultations for 67 investment firms in the past two years. The analysts asked a lot of good questions (none that I didn't expect) about the performance of bank tech companies. However, no one ever asked me about the competence of the sales forces. Not one - nada, nyet, rien, niente, keine, tipote. So I feel the need to speak out about the overall condition of the bank tech vendor community, as I see it, including the good, bad, and ugly. Most of it is good, I'm happy to say.
- All the required products have been developed and most of them are good, some not so good, but hey, is this a perfect world? Do banks have bad loans?
- The right support teams are in place waiting for nagging calls from customers.
- The operating departments are doing a good job making sure trillions of transactions are processed correctly every day. We take that for granted, but it's an amazing accomplishment.
- Data security is pretty good. From day one, transaction processors were conscious of their obligation to properly manage other peoples' data. Governance by regulatory agencies also helped. Now if only they could figure out how to protect (and not lose) reels of magnetic tape containing customer data.
- R&D appears to be current because fewer customers are asking for new stuff anymore.
- Acquisitions are occurring at a consistent clip of about 30 per year, even though there's a shift to acquire companies unlike the acquirer.
- Integration is like dieting. We all want the benefits of it, but it's one hell of a challenge to achieve, except in sales brochures and ads.
- CFOs are counting their beans accurately and reporting honestly. I'm a bean counter (albeit an electronic one) and damn proud of it too.
- Tech company CEOs are still checking management reports after the fact as opposed to looking for what's going to go wrong three quarters down the road. So what's new? Bank CEOs are no better, and that makes it OK in a club-based business environment.
- A few CEOs are doing the Lee Iacocca exercise - walking the assembly line, talking to the workers, getting their hands dirty, and then returning to the power suite to kick ass and implement change. Unfortunately, some CEOs have only one thing on their mind - a street called Wall.
- The strategists are absent, unless you call the Monday morning management meetings a place where new strategies are discussed. Is there a Chief Strategy Officer in the house?
This sounds like a pretty tight ship, right? In my opinion, one piece is missing. The biggest void is in the sales department, and it is hugely apparent these days because "consultative selling" is what works. The problem is that most vendor sales organizations are still selling "left over" products, and that game ended about three years ago. The game now is to sell capabilities that will improve the performance of their customers - commercial banks, credit unions, thrifts and mortgage companies. If you don't know what I mean, let me use two examples to explain - Accenture and IBM Global Services. Accenture and IBM GS don't own banking products. They "own" 140k and 175k employees. What a lost opportunity for major bank tech vendors if large banks bring in Accenture or IBM with this work order: "We bought all the best products from Vendor X. Now help us to achieve the performance we need for a desired ROI."
I'd like to see the new breed of bank tech salesman with an MBA from Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Sloan, Kellogg, Chicago, Tuck, Haas, Columbia or Stern, and a few years under his/her belt, join Fiserv, Fidelity National Information Services, Metavante, Jack Henry, Open Solutions, Harland Financial Solutions, Computer Services, Inc. or COCC as a plebe salesman. If my sweet dream were to continue I would have seen, for example, the rookie getting an appointment with Chuck Prince in January 2007 to discuss Risk Management. The opening remark would have been, "How would you like to keep your job for ten more years? Our Business Intelligence systems can tell you where Citi's biggest risks lie, and how you can soften the impact they are about to invoke. The stakes are high, $10 billion, but our fee will be only 1% of the risk, and your stockholders might just enjoy a flat year in the value of C's stock, along with their regular dividend. How good will that be in a treacherous economy that's heading our way?"
Will I ever see that kind of selling in the bank tech business? Will Ken and Jamie have to get the axe before it happens? It's time for banktech sales people to put away geekie stuff and rise to the power suite where the major league selling occurs.The problem is that most vendor sales organizations are still selling "left over" products, and that game ended about three years ago. The game now is to sell capabilities that will improve the performance of their customers - commercial banks, credit unions, thrifts and mortgage companies. If you don't know what I mean, let me use two examples to explain - Accenture and IBM Global Services.