Lessons from troubled restaurants for financial institutions

by. Ken Agle

I’ve become a huge fan of a reality show called Restaurant Impossible. It features a host, Chef Robert Irvine, who visits a restaurant in some level of disarray and attempts to completely overhaul it in 48 hours. This overhaul is usually filled with tears and trauma. After all, some of these restaurant owners have worked their entire lives to build their establishment. Some even once experienced tremendous success, but something has gone terribly wrong. Most are months, weeks, or even days from closing. I’ve observed that these restaurants typically have five core areas that merit improvement:

  • Leadership
  • Menu
  • Kitchen
  • Décor and marketing
  • Staff

I, of course, do not own a restaurant, but I do consider myself something of a connoisseur of financial institutions, having walked into more than 500 banks and credit unions in my 25+ years. I’ve seen just about everything that you can imagine. I see a lot of parallels between the five areas of problems identified in restaurants with those in troubled financial institutions.  While we could delve into institutional leadership, décor, marketing, staff or menu, I would like to focus this article on the remaining topic—the institution’s “kitchen.”

Now, I don’t mean the break room. I’m talking about the figurative kitchen of an bank or credit union, or what I call the “backside” of the institution, where most of the behind-the-scene work gets done that creates customer satisfaction on the frontside. In other words, this is where the real cooking happens. It happens in the note departments, IT departments, BSA and compliance departments, wire departments, etc. These departments aren’t frequently the most visible to the consumer/member, but they ensure that customer or member “orders” are fulfilled to their taste.

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