Leading your financial services organization into the future: 8 lessons

What things do former financial services IT leaders wish they had known earlier? Consider these insights on collaboration, innovation, and more
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Hindsight is a gift, but it can also be frustrating. Often, you could have done things in different, maybe better, ways. For this article series, we asked IT and business leaders from financial services organizations who now work at Red Hat to share insights for leaders in financial services.

No one could have predicted the events of 2020 and 2021. While there is no crystal ball to know what will happen in the future, we can learn from each other and benefit from the experience of others.

[ Read Part One of this series: How to ward off the Great Resignation in financial services IT. ]

We asked the former bankers, “What’s the one thing you’ve learned at Red Hat that you wish you’d known when working for financial firms?” Consider these lessons learned:

1. Understanding each other’s roles matters

It is easy to get caught up in your role and not worry about what it takes to make your role possible, and easier. Taking the time to understand the impact teams have on your success builds trust, collaboration, and morale – all things that impact results.

“I used to have the ‘It’s just technology’ mindset. I needed something, someone built it, and I used it. I never understood the complexity in what they had done or the importance of the infrastructure that allowed them to do their jobs effectively. I would have worked to better understand, and I would have had a much greater appreciation for the technologist who enabled me to do my job.” –Richard Harmon, VP, Global Head of Financial Services, Red Hat

2. Appreciate other business models

Often, things stay the same because “if it’s not broken, why fix it?” But what if what works isn’t working as well as it could?

Learning new models or exploring a more open structure can be intimidating. It can also be the change that redefines your business and creates your legacy. “I didn’t fully appreciate the concept of an open source model in business. It is truly unique. The ideas and efforts of so many people coming together to build something great. Then taking that and making it ready for businesses to run on and offer products and services to better their communities. It’s really amazing to watch.” –Aric Rosenbaum, Global FSI Business Development Manager, Red Hat

3. Technology learning pays dividends

People both love and hate technology, but it is present in nearly every aspect of business and life. When used well, it can enhance your customers’ interactions and loyalty.

“I didn’t realize the full scope and capabilities that were available to me and that could have made our jobs easier, and our offerings better. I wish I’d taken the time to ask more questions and share more of my goals.” –Russ Popeil, Director of Solution Architecture, FSI, Red Hat

4. Language changes everything

Often business leaders and IT leaders are working towards the same goal, but the difference in terminology leaves both sides frustrated. Business leaders can help by explaining the goals and strategy of a project, while IT can reduce the “tech speak” and instead show how technology ties to the business need.

“Simplifying the message for internal and external stakeholders allows for clear communication and engagement, and this lets projects complete faster.” –Daniel Callot, Solutions Architect, FSI, Red Hat

5. Culture impacts success

Team members may spend more waking hours with each other than they do with their families. A culture that is inclusive, open to ideas, and collaborative, where they feel they make a difference, will impact retention, recruitment, and productivity.

“I wish I understood how the culture of the bank impacted employee morale and validated their contributions.” –Mahen Singh, Solutions Architect, FSI, Red Hat

[ Read Part Two of this series: Six ways financial services leaders can enable innovation. ]

6. Great ideas truly come from everywhere

It’s true. You don’t know what you don’t know and no matter how high your IQ and EQ are, you only have your perspective – unless you truly listen to others. Engineers can have great marketing ideas and marketers can have great product ideas. There is so much diversity of thought and opinions available within a global company, for example, from various age groups.

“People everywhere have great ideas and I should have reduced the silos earlier.” –Peter Magnaye, Solutions Architect, Red Hat

7. Ask more questions

Questions are a sign of strength. When you don’t have people asking questions, even on leadership decisions, it may be time to worry. Are your teams not engaged? Are they overconfident and feel they don’t need to know more? Are they afraid to look less knowledgeable?

Yes to any of these questions can put your firm at risk of falling behind on innovations. “Asking questions of team members is a value versus a threat or sign of weakness. Many times, asking questions offers insight, context, and time savings.” –Cynthia Devaraj, Solutions Architect, FSI, Red Hat

When you don’t have people asking questions, even on leadership decisions, it may be time to worry.

8. Knowledge is power only when it is shared

When teams know the goals, the challenges to expect, the vision, and the details of the project, they can find stronger options, provide input along the way, and give insight that may have been missed.

“The transparency in information-sharing truly allows an organization to develop the best client outcomes. You get better ideas, people understand the full picture, and they become more invested in the work.” –David Lee, Chief Architect, Red Hat

Leadership takeaways to consider

It’s clear that getting teams to think outside their specific day-to-day role and see the bigger picture can have a great impact. What other adjustments can you make?

Perhaps you can be open about your weaknesses and encourage others to do the same. Adjust your language to meet people where they are and slowly teach them. Some of the best partnerships are those where the other person’s role hurts your head, and yours hurts theirs, because it’s not the way your brain naturally works. With trust, those partnerships bring strong success.

Share knowledge, communicate openly, and bring ideas forward to innovate faster.

[ Want to learn more from the financial services professionals interviewed for this article? Get the ebook: Meet the Bankers. ]

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Emily Curley
Emily Curley is the director of financial services programs at Red Hat. Emily has spent over 10 years helping launch cloud technologies, building the Red Hat Developer program, and growing the financial services vertical. Emily is known for creating innovative programs, pushing the status quo, and piloting new ideas to benefit customers and stakeholders.