The Importance of the Human Factor in the Banking Industry

Article excerpt

The Importance of the Human Factor in the Banking Industry

MANY FORECASTERS picture the future of banking as a purely technological world. They remind me of predictions made 10 and 15 years ago that, driven by electronic funds transfer and smart cards, we would have become by this time "checkless, cashless societies."

Of course, we are nothing of the sort.

While it is true that the future of banking will be characterized by the continuing infusion of technology into all aspects of banking operations, there is a paradox: The human factor in banking is made more important by technology, not less so. After all, the purpose of technology is to reduce or eliminate unwanted, unnecessary human contact for the very purpose of increasing the efficacy of the wanted and necessary human contact.

Because banks are, at bottom, people serving people, not just institutions serving people or other institutions, banks should be in close touch with what is happening among the people they employ and the people they serve in the marketplace.

And what is happening is change. Change in demographics, in lifestyles, in work styles, in values and attitudes, in motivations and incentives.

Why? Because we have become post-industrial societies and economies, working in information, communication, or "knowledge" industries; in services; or in the professional, technical, or managerial fields. What most characterizes a post-industrial society? Diversity and choice. And people are availing themselves of those diverse choices, in the way they work, live, play, shop, and bank.

In post-industrial societies, employment opportunities for women are much greater and values, attitudes, and lifestyle preferences more oriented to the individual. As a result, there is more cohabitation, later marriages, fewer children, and smaller families.

Among the consequences of falling fertility are rising average and median ages, and, therefore, an aging population and work force. We are becoming middle-aged societies and will remain so: 75% of consumers and workers in the year 2000 are already in the marketplace and the workplace.

A middle-aged society is politically, socially, economically, and culturally dominated by a middle-aged population, but we are redefining what middle age means.

Increasingly, because of two-income households, working women, higher disposable income, and the youth of the 1960s and '70s becoming the mainstream of adult society in the 1980s and '90s, our perception of middle age will move away from "settled," "comfortable," and "conformist" to "adventurous," "dynamic," "iconoclastic," "self-reliant," "prosperous," and "diverse."

The patterns of modern life are changing. Traditional distinctions are blurring among:

* What we define as work, leisure, or learning activities.

* What we consider the proper male and female roles.

* What we view as buying, maintenance, or investment expenditures.

* What we regard as legitimate management or staff responsibilities.

Project, for example, an image for the year 2000 that is common today and will be more so in the future: people sitting in front of a computer or video screen.

Where are they? They may be at home but working on their firm's latest project. Or they may be at work but playing the latest video game. They may be at school, at a factory, in a bedroom, at an office, in a hotel room.

What age or sex are they? It may be a young boy taking a tutorial (again, in a classroom or at home), an older woman checking the status of her financial portfolio, a middle-aged man in some store checking a price list, or a repair-woman consulting an expert system before starting a job.

Technology does not cause such distinctions to blur but does accelerate the process. As can be seen, however imbedded technology becomes in our lives, it is still just a tool, meant to enhance the capabilities and possibilities of humans. …