By Maria Bruno-Britz
On May 31, I was up in Beantown for the annual TowerGroup Financial Services Conference. The theme of this year's event was globalization. A fitting subject in today's world. Right from the start, the presentations weaved the main idea of our ever-shrinking world in ways that apply to the financial services space.That said, the conference was decidedly bank-focused-which was great as far as I was concerned, but also had me feeling a little sorry for my colleagues from Wall Street & Technology and Insurance & Technology who were there as well! Granted, there were several tracks dedicated to the securities and insurance sectors, but if you were from a bank, the Westin Copley Place Hotel was the place to be.
Things kicked off with chief analyst Bob Egan. He made an interesting point of comparing success in today's world of finance with the midnight ride of Paul Revere and...William Dawes? Yes, there was actually a second horseman (actually three) there the night the British made their move on the colonies. I am ashamed to admit that I had no idea (along with many of those in attendance). See? You learn something every day, even in the most unlikely places.
The point of Egan's metaphor was that Revere, a highly socialable person, went down in history as the man who warned the colonists of an imminent threat. Dawes, on the other hand, was someone who, in comparison, generally kept to himself and did not receive the renown of his more gregarious counterpart. According to Egan, the ability to network, to expand your circle of knowledge and to display some foresight as to what is coming down the pike is what can spell success or failure for anyone in today's marketplace. It is critical to develop your network, he said, and to manage your relationships in the organization "right down to the consumer." In today's global economy, this kind of networking must span continents and time zones, languages and cultures.
Speaking of cultures, Karen Cone, TowerGroup's president & CEO, tried to drive home the importance of culture to a global business. I think of the American automakers that, years ago, sold cars with the steering on the left side to customers in Japan. They refused to change the way they did things because that's just how we do things 'round here. They expected the consumer to change instead. It didn't quite work so well for Detroit and I think they're still paying for that attitude today.
The same holds true for banks-don't force the consumer to change, especially when they are outside your national footprint. "When you go into another country, you need to respect the local culture," Cone reminded everyone.
Do your homework, in other words, if you plan to expand outside your home country. Not only do you need to understand the dynamics of the people themselves, but the local infrastructure as well. There are many parts of the world where the power routinely goes out, where the telecommunications systems leave much to be desired and where people use technologies differently.
Cone rightly stated that anyone with a plan can simply go out there and become "global" but their success ultimately depends on how well they fit in with the locals.