Leadership Matters: How to Change the ‘Bank’ With 10 Chairs

black executive chairs on either side of a red executive chair
By Chris Skinner

3 minutes

Are any of your top executives or board members deep into digitalization? Some of them should be.

This article is reprinted with permission from Chris Skinner’s banking blog, The Finanser.

I was in the middle of a conversation about how to change the bank, when we started talking about the boardroom issue. As many of you will know, I often reference the fact that, according to research, over nine out of 10 bank boardroom members have never had a job in technology. How can you convert to a digital bank if you have no digital people leading the change?

The issue is greater than this, however. If you are working in a large bank, imagine that the leadership team has 10 chairs. The 10 chairs are filled by a variety of people who have gotten there by being good at their role. The CEO is a banker; the COO is a banking operations person; the CMO is a banking marketing person; the CFO is a banking financial person; the CRO is a banking risk person; and so on.

They are all banking people. They got to their chair by being a good person doing what banking has always done. Their chair was given to them for loyal service, doing what they have always done. Their chair will only be vacated if they leave, die or retire. There is no other way someone gets their chair. And if their chair does become vacant, then the CEO will only replace them with someone else who has been with the bank all their life and is the most similar to the person vacating their chair. In other words, another banker.

So, how do you get the digital people into the bank boardroom? How can you convert the bank to be a digital bank if all the leadership team are bankers, who have never had a job in digital or digitalization?

That’s a tough call.

After all, there is no one in the leadership team who would vote to give up their role to hire a digital leader. They got to their chair after years of doing the job they have always done, and they are not going to stop doing it now.

This is why so many banking people are talking digital but not doing digital. They are banking people, and have always been in banking. They are not technology people who understand technology.

This is a core conflict in most banks: the fact that they are led by bankers. If you are in a bank that is led by only bankers, how will you ever become a digital bank? A digital bank is half digital and half bank. How can you ever become a digital bank if you only have bankers leading and changing the bank? How can you ever become a digital bank if you only have leaders who understand banking?

I guess this is why there are so few banks that I can point to who are truly converting to be digital banks. The few that I talk about—BBVA, DBS, JP Morgan Chas—have people at the helm of those banks who truly understand technology and digitalization. It does not have to be the case that they are people who have been working all the time in technology—Jamie Dimon is not an IT guy—but they do truly show an understanding of how technology is changing the bank.

That is why these few, selected banks, show and demonstrate major change with technology and have technology people on the leadership team. Those 10 chairs have been restructured with intent to ensure that two, three, four or five of them are filled by people immersed in digitalization.

How many of your leadership team’s chairs are filled by people immersed in technology? Are your leadership team’s chairs filled with people from the bank or from a digital bank? Take a close look at your leaders. Question their competency. Change the bank. Or leave the bank.cues icon

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog,, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News.

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