A Q&A session with Mark Stevenson, Author and Expert on Global Trends & Innovation: Cultural Innovation and Banking
Mark Stevenson works with CivilisedBank on the culture and future of the bank. Having made a mark with his book “An Optimist’s Tour of the Future”, he talked to us about the moral gap in financial services, what the bank of the future might look like and why the future is up for grabs.
He also gave us a preview of his new book "We Do Things Differently: The Outsiders Rebooting Our World", out in January 2017.
Keep updated about our progress towards launching CivilisedBank.
Here’s a transcript of the video "Banking culture is no longer fit for purpose: Q&A with Futurologist Mark Stevenson.”
You've written "An Optimist's Tour of the Future". For people who haven't read the book, please tell us why you wrote it and what it is about.
So my first book "An Optimist's Tour of the Future" was really a travel log around the cutting edge of science and technology and the environment, looking at ways we can make the future more sustainable, equitable, humane and just.
Lots of books about that stuff is written by geeks for geeks. This was essentially written for everybody. My feeling is, we have sequenced the human genome. I don't care what your background is - political, religious, whatever - that means something for your kids and it'd be really good for you to understand that.
I feel that the future needs to be democratised. The more you know the better chance you have of making the future better for you and your family and the world. And that requires a certain amount of knowledge.
So it's about a way of taking some of those difficult subjects and going, hey I can explain this to you via a slightly comedic romp around the globe.
What response have you had to the book?
I got quite an extraordinary response to the book, much more than what I expected. It was incredibly well received and got translated into 10 or 11 languages.
The thing people took from it was that the future was up for grabs in a way they didn't realise. And I think it gave them quite a lot of hope that even as we live through difficult times there are more options on the table than in particular political or religious or corporate views of the future would have us believe.
So it gave people a sense of perhaps there's a way out of the problems we're facing at the moment. I think that's good because once you have that sense then you are more likely to go and do something about it.
We've heard that your next book is exploring culture and change?
The next book is really about how you change systems. Systems are a lot harder to change than people realise because systems have culture embedded within them.
That culture then wants to defend itself. There's a great quote from Upton Sinclair, an American Novelist, which says: "It's very difficult for a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it."
So in this book I'm looking at people who looked at existing systems of healthcare, education, energy, food production, government, and said that's broken, I'm going to fix it. And have succeeded in doing that.
What's interesting about their stories is not so much about the technology although some of that's really interesting. It's about how do you take an accepted culture, a way of doing things, and create something better that then succeeds despite the culture.
It's a story of how you do effective useful change even when the forces of the past are arrayed against you.
Let's talk about cultural innovation and banking.
I think the most important thing about CivilisedBank is it forces a cultural innovation on the banking sector. It says we can do this differently and we can do it better, you either pay attention or you lose your customers to us.
So there are two industries that really underpin the world economy that need to change. The first is energy and the second is financial services or banking. Both of those industries have grown up in a particular way, they have a particular culture and it's now massively out of date and no longer fit for purpose.
Therefore it's very exciting to see banks like CivilisedBank turning up on the scene because they have the ability to challenge the existing culture. They're a lot smaller so they don't have a bunch of people whose salaries depend on them not changing, but also they come with a new mindset. Or actually in a way with an old mindset which is going back to what banking should really be.
It's interesting to me: I've spoken to a number of clients who are large banks. And they all seem to have forgotten what a bank is for. They seem to think it's some kind of transactional engine but they have no moral sense left it seems to me. Whereas I believe that a bank should be what George Bailey was in "It's a Wonderful Life", the engine that helps a community function well and allows people to prosper.
It's about helping customers and not helping yourself, and that's what's wrong with the culture in banking at the moment. The incentives are all wrong.
So having a bank that is called CivilisedBank, that is driven through the idea of actually doing good from the getgo is a massive cultural innovation. It shouldn't be by the way, I think it's ridiculous in a way that that is seen as innovation but it's very refreshing. I think people are very hungry for it.
Please talk about your involvement in building the culture and future of CivilisedBank.
I get asked quite a lot to be on advisory boards and most of them I turn down. Because I'm not really convinced that the people in that organisation want to innovate. They want the appearance of innovation without actually changing anything about their industry or their organisation. I call it innovation wash.
What I like about CivilisedBank is right from the getgo it is going to challenge the existing norms in this industry. And it's not really a technological innovation. It's about getting back to basics, what a bank should be.
I don't think I've met any other group of people who are as committed to that. It's in the very DNA, doing this fairly, doing this right, being transparent. And using all the best technology as well. But actually it's saying no, there's a reason we exist because there's a moral gap in financial services and we need to fill it and I hope they're very successful doing so.
My role at CivilisedBank... I hope to be just a useful irritant. To help the bank look at new technologies but within the context of how you make society more humane, equitable, just and sustainable.
There are lots of things that might make a bit more money but my question will always be if it's not actively making the world a better place then why are we doing it?
I'm the guy in the corner who goes "yes, but what about the big picture". That's how I see my role in the bank.
What do you think the bank of the future looks like?
What do I think the bank of the future looks like? I have no idea really because I sort of rail against making predictions.
People tend to make predictions from their own cultural position and prejudice. They either predict what they already see around them slightly differently or what they personally would like to see.
I do think that the bank of the future will be a lot smaller. They'll see the introduction of blockchain technology remove quite a lot of jobs from the sector which is a good thing. Banks are essentially predicated on being trusted third parties.
But if you ask anybody whether they trust their bank they all say no. I ask this question a lot of my audiences. The only people who put their hands up work for banks. Nobody else trusts them. The reason they don't trust them is because they're full of these untrustworthy things called people who are motivated by the wrong things.
Using new technology to remove people from the transactional stuff so they can't unneccessarily game it is a very good thing. Then having a very strong moral sense in the management of the bank that says that's what we're here for I think those kinds of banks are going to win out in the longterm.
When it starts working, that technology along with a new sensibility in the financial sector then I think people will run to those banks very, very quickly.
The current banks will be the equivalent of Blockbuster. People will think, why would you do banking that way, that's ridiculous. Why would I pay for an expensive service full of people I don't trust when I can go to CivilisedBank or an equivalent.