The Wall Street Journal just had an article about how the federal regulators are trying to figure out if the Banking industry has some inherent flaws that somehow tie to a Bank’s culture. The regulators are worried that the specific crimes or security violations we read about are not just isolated examples, but relate to deeper issues in the Banks. But the regulators are having trouble figuring out how to define each Bank’s “culture”. Even the Banks themselves are hiring legions of Consultants to help them define their own culture. One well known Bank created a “happy to grumpy” ratio of their employees as one way to measure culture.

Well, if they had only asked certain retired Chief Financial Officers, like me, who had worked with Banks, they could have learned a few things in a hurry. The reason I chose “retired” CFOs is that they can be more honest now than when they worked for companies who needed the Banks to survive or grow.

Wall Street Bankers are certainly a unique breed. In my book, The Business Zoo, I have a lot of stories that relate to Bankers and their culture. A few of these are as follows:

“It’s only Business, not Personal.” This means a Banker can lie to you, but because it’s about business, he is not a bad person. Heh.

“I would sell my mother for an eight of a point!” This means that in a large deal, even a very small extra fee or interest charge, is worth doing almost any unthinkable thing to achieve. This can include breaking laws or client confidentiality or whatever. That quote is word for word from a senior U.S. banker.

“Dining with Wolves, Rats and other adversaries”. ¬†Does this one really need more of an explanation? Let me just say I admire and respect wolves.

Bankers also have the same trait that relates to many Consultants. They believe they are smarter or better than the rest of the world. Even in my youth in public accounting, at the now defunct Arthur Andersen & Co., we were taught this. It becomes part of the ‘Culture” that these firms use to distinguish themselves from others. But it can also lead to trouble.

But the most fascinating aspect of this WSJ article was how both Bankers and their Regulators are apparently having trouble identifying Culture and are even hiring outside consultants (often with their own problems) to help!

So here are a couple of tips about Culture from my final chapter in The Business Zoo. 

Culture and Leadership are the flip side of each other. Study the Bank’s past and current leaders and you will learn about the firm’s culture as well. The good, the bad and the ugly.

Culture, as defined in the Royal British Columbia Museum, is a complex system of tools, language, arts and beliefs that help humans survive. To determine any organizations’s culture you must spent time studying their systems, procedure, policies, whether written and unwritten, or formal or, more importantly, informal. To study and define a bank’s Culture, Regulators will need to invest a lot of time and hard work.

Or you could hire a few retired CFOs who have spent decades around Banks!