The increasing prevalence of technology in today’s society has changed many industries irrevocably, creating winners and losers in almost every sector you can think of.
Many of the most successful companies share a common trait: they have created a ‘culture of learning’, allowing them to quickly test and implement new ideas and improve the efficiency of day-to-day operations.
But is it possible to do the same in financial services? As a start-up ourselves, we believe it is vital to nurture a learning environment. We’re a young company and an important part of the growth process is to look at what people in other industries are doing and try and learn from them.
Part of this is down to the culture at a firm, and we have tried hard to create an environment where staff are encouraged to try new approaches without fear of reprisals if they fail.
This is very motivating for staff – and allows people to feel they have a stake in the success of the business. Indeed, this willingness to learn from mistakes is key. Many companies will typically start out with a hypothesis and then test it and see if it works. If it doesn’t, they are quick to change and adapt, and try again until they do find a way of making it work. ‘Fail fast’ is very much the order of the day at modern businesses, who don’t see failure as time wasted – on the contrary, they see it as a learning curve.
Focusing on a specific problem is a great place to start. Some of the most successful companies are those which have started small, trying to solve something niche and then growing from there. For example, Amazon began life as a bookseller. It took a fairly standardised commodity – books – and worked out how to distribute them more efficiently and cost effectively than anyone else.
Once it had nailed the proof of concept, it had the ambition and the internal culture to become bigger.
Customer service remains paramount. The customer must be at the heart of everything and companies must consistently come up with ways to make products better for them, and make them feel valued as customers. This could either be through increased functionality or rolling out a new feature for free. If your customers are happy, that’s a sign of a good business.
Where to start
How can those in the financial services sector apply this to their own businesses?
Have an honest conversation with yourself, and look at whether the work you are doing actually brings anything extra to a client’s portfolio, or gets them any closer to achieving their financial aspirations.
An obvious example for advisers would be admin. Do you really need to be spending as much time as you are on it? If not, then look at ways to free time up for the true value-adds.
Conversely, you should also take a look at areas you feel you perform well on, and where your current revenue streams are coming from. Look into the distance and identify any potential headwinds – is anyone else doing what you do, only better? Can you do what you do any more efficiently? It is these margins which are vital in a learning environment.
Nurturing a culture of learning also requires a change of mindset. You should focus on the positives learning and change can bring – which could include increased revenue, or an ability to take on more interesting, higher value work.
It is also worth remember that if you don’t make changes to your business model, then someone else will. The train is moving out of the station and you need to make sure you are on it, but it is never too late to change.
Some of the best tech firms have seen major setbacks. Facebook, for instance, struggled with poor mobile functionality for a while – it completely missed the smartphone revolution. But it has now more than made amends. So keep trying, and keep learning from your mistakes, as setbacks should not knock you off course.