Corporate culture is one of those ideas that is easy to talk about, but harder to define. Sort of like logarithms. Or the balk rule. But unless you're a scientist, or an umpire, the topic of corporate culture is more likely to come up in your day-to-day life.
So, what's the best way to define it? A senior guy in the advisory world once told me it was "nonsense — just words people use." But given that most acquisitions never really mesh because of this issue, that dismissal seems a bit short-sighted. A better definition is something like this: A set of beliefs and attitudes that determine how people will feel and act at a company. That's more or less the definition that I remember from a management-skills class.
Even harder than defining it, though, is shaping it and using it. Too often ignored, it can become a value-destroying force at even the biggest companies. Those big acquisitions that never mesh are usually undertaken on the basis of numbers on a spreadsheet. If culture is considered at all, it's just assumed that the two firms will be integrated successfully. Maybe it will even take a year or two.
But in case after case, some companies just don't mesh. Some limp along for years in a fractured relationship. Others untangle the deal and move on separately. But the kicker is that in many cases it really looked like a good idea on paper. To use the old punching bag of acquisitions-gone-wrong, consider Time Warner and AOL. The ultimate content company joining forces with the then-premier online company. The only problem was that it didn't work.
In the financial industry, consider any of the banking acquisitions over the years where management was unable to knit together the seamless fabric it envisioned from two different cultures. To use the business vernacular, it couldn't wring out the inefficiencies and glean the synergies. Why? Because those beliefs and attitudes that determine how people act are important. They are different at each company and they very much dictate and define the everyday routines.
All of which brings us to the topic of this month's cover story: culture clashes between banking staff and bank advisors. While the big wirehouses get more attention from the mainstream media and college classes because the issues are writ large, the regional banks and larger community banks are facing the same challenges. Namely, how to incorporate colleagues who come from two different cultures into one cohesive workplace.
Some of the experts we talked to for our cover story this month, take a no-nonsense attitude, and warn banking and advisory that it's been long enough, they need to get on the same page.
Fine. But how? One way is to start walking the walk when it comes to customer service. Attempt to objectively view your entire company through their eyes (because guess what, they don't care about the cultural differences under your roof, they just want what they want). Only when everyone has that common goal in mind will the disparate internal forces begin to converge. In other words, there must be a culture club rather than a "clash" or a "gap" if a bank — or any company — really wants to succeed.
Still, as we've repeatedly seen, that's easier said than done. A lot of it comes down to trust. Do your bank colleagues really believe that you'll help "their" customer if they refer them? On that front, one program manager we spoke with laid the problem squarely on your doorstep. If that trust does not exist, it's the advisor's fault, he insists.
That issue of referrals, an important part of culture, is the basis for another offering this month. Our Production story, by longtime contributor Rick Rummage, examines in detail just how to enhance your relationships with your banking brethren and convince them to refer customers your way.
Warning: Shameless plug ahead. We feel the issue of corporate culture in the bank channel is important enough that we're hosting a Twitter chat on July 17 at 12:30 p.m. EST to discuss it further; use #bictalks to participate.
While corporate culture dominated the magazine this month, we have other offerings as well.
The one I'm most excited about is a new feature, a profile of a portfolio manager. Associate Editor Margarida Correia interviewed Mark Mulholland from the Matthew 25 Fund to learn about his investment style. A lifelong Catholic, he says the Bible offers broad guidelines for investing as well as living a good life. He also uses a detailed statistical analysis, along with a firm belief that less is more when it comes to stock holdings. All of this has led him to post one of the best returns in the industry over the past 12 months.
Meanwhile, our Careers story explores the holy grail for advisors, bank or otherwise: high-net-worth clients. Often the jet-set is considered the regal realm of the wirehouses or RIAs. But veteran contributor Paul Werlin says that bank advisors don't have to just give up on this front. Bank advisors can indeed attract these lucrative clients but, as with corporate culture, a lot of it comes down to attitude, he says. You have to start acting like a HNW advisor. You also have to know from the outset that, while possible, this won't be easy. You have your work cut out for you. There are more details waiting for you inside.
One other piece of interest, of many, is from our FrontLines section. Another article by Correia explores the gap between how much money advisors believe their clients are giving to charity and the reality. This gap was the highlight of a Fidelity study, which analyzed two surveys. It also represents a missed opportunity for clients who would benefit more if their contributions were better integrated into their overall financial plan.
We hope you enjoy this issue. And, as always, we'd love to hear from you about the magazine or the website.