Insights - 01 August, 2022

How Financial Services Firms Can Build a Vibrant Company Culture

Have you ever asked yourself why so many professionals dream of working in an office like Google?

The answer is obvious of course, and that answer is rooted in the idea that happy workers are more productive and creative. Google works hard to foster an atmosphere where employees are encouraged to share and implement novel approaches to solving issues. Of course, they use a bunch of perks (free food, buses, gyms, sporting events, and even a slide to get between floors), and strive to give maximum freedom to their people in order to ensure absolute productivity. That’s why, due to its focus on culture-building, Google easily ranks high (and often wins) in the Forbes list “Best companies to work for”.

But the reality is different from the Google world for most employees. Not all organizations provide their staff with comfortable working conditions, feedback, team building events, encouragement, and growth opportunities. So many companies still believe that an employee should do his job, get paid for it, and that's enough. But they are totally wrong.

As Team Stage research found, 94% of business owners and 88% of prospective employees agree that a positive workplace culture is essential for success. The most successful financial services businesses understand the importance of keeping their workers interested and involved in their work: companies with engaged employees outperform those with disinterested staff by 202%. A 33% rise in income is also the result of a great company culture that is attractive to the most skilled, creative, and qualified top talents. Not to mention higher retention rates and overall company image.

In this article we’ll talk about how to unite financial services employees around common values and why it is better to create a “corporate code” at the start.

What Is Company Culture

Company culture is the reason why people want to work where they work, and there for a long time, sometimes even when the organization is going through a hard time.

The phrase "corporate culture" refers to a model of behavior inside a company that was developed through a combination of teamwork and leadership, and is shared by all team members. This is a set of values, norms, regulations, traditions, and guiding principles the personnel adhere to.

Large corporations write guides about their cultural advantages. Famous enterprise founders create “success autobiographies” where they describe the corporate culture based on their own values.

Culture is the hallmark of a well-built business:

  • It distinguishes a company from competitors. If nothing distinguishes you from competitors, the buyer chooses based on price. Companies that offer their product in a special, memorable, or different way from their competitors win (Apple stores, for example).
  • It is genuine, and hard to copy. In the modern world quality and price is the minimum requirement to stay in business, yet they are easy to copy. The difference in business comes from the behavior of employees; in other words, "behavioral difference."

Most often the need to create a "company code" arises when the financial services firm begins to grow actively and vigorously. The founders or top management understand that newcomers are very different from those who were there in the beginning.

The sooner you start thinking about what kind of company you are, your values, mission and vision, the easier it will be to grow later and make relevant what has already been created (if the employer and a team do a great job at the start and make an honest product which is in demand).

Creating A Corporate Code

Here are a few tips on what to keep an eye out for and how to start molding your company's DNA early on.

1) Start with top-down rules

These rules are created by the heads of the company, and often-times put to a vote amongst team members to achieve consensus.

But remember; rarely do team members make decisions completely level-headed. Frequently, the financial services employer believes that everyone honestly voted, whereas in reality no one chose to disagree with the boss. Keep that in mind when putting up rules for a vote.

These rules should be formulated in a simple and understandable language. No need to use a list of beautiful yet unnecessary words; internal slang is much more appropriate. For example, you can start your rules with very simple, declarative statements:

  • "We never…"
  • "We always…"
  • "It's important to us..."
  • "We do…"
  • "We want…"
  • "We believe…"

There is no need to write a code of laws all at once, however. They can be continually updated and expanded upon as stories, events, conflicts, and jams occur. In fact, many rules that develop organically through a prehistory or legend about how they appeared will end up being the most cherished parts of your company culture.

2) Introduce traditions

Try to establish various team-building traditions from the very beginning: general meetings, strategic sessions, and the celebration of major corporate events. Not only Independence Day or New Year parties, but for example, reaching key performance benchmarks, closing large deals, and earning company-wide recognition.

Do not forget that the best tool for retaining valuable personnel is human connection and sincere emotion. That is why successful companies pay so much attention to creating spaces where people can establish contacts and experience joint positive emotions.

In general, any tradition or action directed at the team by the leader is perceived as attention and some sort of care. But unfortunately, financial services leaders are often too busy with operative, routine work and emergency tasks to take the time to create team-wide meetings for their people. Regularly scheduled team meetings however, allow your advisors to interact more openly, particularly if they don’t normally interact due to disparate job functions. They also function as a way for managers to learn about the progress and status of key projects.

3) Establish starting processes

This is a rather difficult point, especially if you are a fast-growing financial services business. And even more difficult, if the company has already been through rapid growth, but has failed to fully flesh out their processes.

At the start: When a permanent business process is codified, it should be described in clear terms and made available to the whole organization. It is not necessary to write fully-detailed rules and regulations. Instead, you must describe in simple language what team members should do in common business situations.

For established companies: Bring in outside subject matter experts to create detailed process descriptions and standardizations in your company. It’s important that you remember to pair these outside consultants with stake-holders inside the company, so that suggestions they make to your company’s processes are congruent with your company culture.

4) Dream big

The whole financial services company and each employee must clearly understand where the business is heading. Numbers, stages, milestones, goals, tasks, and even dreams. We are not talking about loud slogans in this particular moment, as slogans do not affect culture: they are its consequence.

It is quite possible to use the phrases from the first tip not describing what is already there in your business, but explaining what the company and its leaders would like to achieve. For example:

  • We want every client to be happy after contacting our company.
  • We want our product to receive positive feedback from our target audience.
  • We want each financial advisor to work in the company for 5-7 years and be able to change 2-3 positions within the company (career growth or professional development).

5) Build a moral code

Another important element of corporate culture for financial companies are the rules of behavior, enshrined in the format of actions. This point also echoes the first point, with the emphasis on the ethical component of the working environment.

Creating simple rules will make it possible for people to act according to the algorithm without thinking about the depth of morality. Here we can give an example of upbringing when a parent teaches their child that “being polite is good,” and then list what is included in this concept (saying please and thank you, helping the weak, respecting your elders, etc).

6) Put the person in the center

Every corporate culture includes storylines about the company's efforts to increase employee and customer satisfaction. Typically, those are very general phrases and expressions, however there are examples of specific actions.

Unfortunately, the majority of companies who use the term "People are our most valuable asset" are unable to describe what this value is and how a particular leader expresses it to staff, even though it is actually quite simple to do.

If you want to truly live by the credo “People are our most precious asset,” you can start here:

  • Ask what your financial associates want (their desires, plans and dreams).
  • Provide frequent opportunities to develop and learn.
  • Give honest feedback and be a mentor.
  • Help employees achieve their personal and professional goals.

In addition to sales, marketing, and finance planning, it is essential to include all of the above tools in your daily and weekly plans for this advice to be successful. That is, they must be consistent.

7) Explore great examples from outside

Each company, when creating its product or environment, should strive to look up to someone: Google (which we mentioned in the beginning), Zoom, Pixar, Airbnb, and Coca-Cola are all companies with strong, yet wildly varying cultures. Studying and being inspired by the best is something every leader should strive for.

If people have the opportunity to bring something fresh, to influence their environment in a positive way while creating comfort for themselves, it increases a person’s loyalty to the company much more than simply offering a strong compensation package. To make sure that financial advisors feel they have the ability to make positive change, it is important to lay the foundation for an open-to-ideas work environment:

  1. Listen to your employee’s suggestions in casual discussion and implement ideas that fit with the company's values and objectives. Draw the team's attention to the following: "An employee recently recommended [a great thing], and we made it come true. We’re open for new suggestions!”
  2. Develop an easy suggestion process (or a set of possible selections) with a corresponding set of constraints (what suggestions should be about and other limiting factors to provide some direction).

Building a strong company culture is a continuous complex process since a human is an unpredictable creature. Its thoughts, actions and decisions are influenced by thousands of factors that any employer is able to predict. Nevertheless, financial services organizations can minimize the impact of human unpredictability by hiring people with the right values, taking care of its employees, and wisely breaking up with those whose values don't match.

If you would like to discuss all the effective methods and newest approaches to building a dynamic company culture, book a call with me or with my team members here at Provision People. We’ll share what some of the best financial services leaders do to create a friendly and inspiring environment top talent would love to work in.