Shifting Banking Market Requires New Strategy - JPMC, BofA, Citi, etc.
Clayton Christensen is a Harvard Business School professor who first described in detail how "disruptive" innovations shift markets, allowing upstart competitors to overtake existing companies that appear invulnerable. I just found a 4 minute video clip "Clay Christensen's Advice for Jamie Dimon" at BigThink.com. In this clip the famous professor tells the story about how the big "banks" allowed themselves to be overtaken by "non-banks" - and then he offers advice on what the big banks should do (Jamie Dimon is the Chairman and CEO of J.P.MorganChase, and an HBS alumni.)
Dr. Christensen lays out succinctly how banks relied on loan officers to find good loan candidates, and make good loans. But increasingly, borrowers were classified by a computer program, not by loan officers. Once the qualification process was turned into a computer-based Q&A, anybody with money could get into the lending business - whether for credit cards, or car loans, or mortgages, or small business loans, or commercial loans. Losing control of each of these lower-end markets, the bankers had to bid up their willingness to take on more risk to remain in business while also chasing fewer and fewer high-quality borrowers. The result was greater risk being taken by banks to compete with non-banks (like GMAC, GE Credit, Discover Card, etc.) What should they do? Dr. Christensen says go buy an Indian or Chinese phone company!!!
Hand it to Dr. Christensen to make the quick and cogent case for how Lock-in by the banks got them into so much trouble. By trying to do more of the same in the face of a radically shifting market (people going to non-banks for loans and to make deposits), they found themselves taking on considerably more risk than they originally intended. Rather than finding businesses with good rates of return, they kept taking on slightly more risk in the business they knew. They favored "the devil you know" over the "the devil you don't know." In reality, they were taking on considerably more risk than if they had diversified into other businesses that were on far less shaky ground than unbacked mortgages.
This is Strategic Bias. We all like to remain "close to core" when investing resources. So we keep taking on more and more risk to remain in our "core" -- and for little reason other than it's the market and business we know. Because we know the business, we convince ourselves it's not as risky as doing something else. In truth, markets determine risk - not us. Because we assess risk from our personal perspective, we keep convincing ourselves to do more of what we've done -- even when the marketplace makes the risk of doing what we've done incredibly risky ---- like happened to Citbank, Bank of America and a host of other banks.
And in great form, the professor offers a solution almost nobody would consider. His argument is that (1) these banks need to go where demand is great, go to new and growing markets, not old markets, and loan demand cannot be greater than in emerging markets. (2) To succeed in the future (not the past) banks have to learn to compete in emerging markets because of growth and because so many winning competitors are already there, and (3) you want to enter businesses that are growing, not what necessarily your traditional business or what you are used to doing. He points out that the traditional "banking" infrastructure is nascent in emerging markets, and well may not develop as it did in the western world. But everyone in these places has phones, so phones are becoming the tool for transactions and the handling of money. When people start doing everything on their phone (remember the rapidly escalating capabilities of phones - like the iPhone and Pre) it may well be that the "phone company" becomes more of a bank than a bank!!
Who knows if Clayton is right about the Indian phone company? But his point that you have to consider competitors you never thought about before is spot on. When markets shift they don't return to old ways. It's all about the future, and banking has changed, so don't expect it to return to old methods. Secondly, you have to be willing to Disrupt old Lock-ins about your business. If the "loaning" of money is now automated, banking becomes about transaction management - not making loans. You have to consider entirely different ways of competing, and that means Disrupting your Lock-ins so you can consider new ways of competing. Thirdly, you don't just sit and wait to see what happens. Get out there and participate! Open White Space projects in which you experiment and LEARN what works. You can't develop a new Success Formula by thinking about it, you have to DO IT in the marketplace.
Big American banks have tilted on the edge of failure. More will likely fail - although we don't yet know which the regulators will put under or keep afloat. What we can be sure of is that the market conditions that put them on the edge will not revert. To be successful in the future these organizations have to change. Probably radically so. So if they want to use the TARP money effectively, they had better take action quickly to begin experimenting in new markets with new solutions.
Gotta hand it to Professor Clayton Christensen, he's made a huge improvement in the way we think about innovation and strategy the last few years. His ideas on banking are well worth consideration by the CEOs trying to bring their shareholders, employees and customers back from brink.