The importance of core values for financial services companies

Once upon a time there was a company that touted values like integrity and respect. Maybe you’ve heard of it. The company was Enron.


Then there was and still is, Wells Fargo, whose values include doing what’s right for customers, leadership, and ethics. Were these values considered when fake accounts were created? Or were these values simply words on a wall?

If they were only pretty words on a wall, Well Fargo is not alone. Many companies—especially those in financial services, have hollow or permission-to-play values. Their values are not ideals that team members strive to live by, but rather aspirational, non-differentiating words that in reality mean nothing.

That’s why finding core values, which are deeply ingrained principles that guide all team member behavior, are so important. When core values are determined correctly, they are differentiating. They can help make strategic decisions. And they are meaningful.

In our work with clients, we conduct an industry overview to see what values are held at other comparable institutions. In almost any industry, we find values like honesty and integrity.

While honesty and integrity sound nice, these are not core values. In most cases, these kinds of values are permission-to-play values. Instead of being differentiating for the company, these values reflect minimum behavioral standards. (And when they don’t even do that, they are called hollow values.)

Of course you want team members working at a financial institution (or any company) to have integrity. But values should be cultural cornerstones. Not expected, un-differentiating concepts.

One way to determine the right values for your company is through research. For almost all of our clients, we recommend a quantitative online study across departments and geographies to determine what team members feel are the values of their organization.

During the study, team members are asked to name the current values and whether they are relevant in guiding their behavior. They are also asked about the values they believe are important to serving customers, as well as the personal values they bring to work with them every day. This research is critical, since values must come not from nice-sounding ideals, but from the reality of the people living them.

Because values are an important part of an overall brand platform, we align research results from the values study with the chosen positioning direction to determine which key values will have the most impact and reflect the both the people and the new direction of the company. From there, we recommend new sets of values and ask the executive team to use the following criteria to shape and evaluate them:

  • Are they representative of our fundamental beliefs?
  • Will they act as our filters for hiring, evaluating, and firing?
  • Are they well defined so behavioral expectations are clearly understood?
  • Are they inspiring?
  • Are they memorable? (It’s hard to live by a set of values if you can’t remember them.)

This process will result in a new set of core values that will differentiate, inspire, and guide team member behavior, hopefully serving as a rallying point for all employees in the years to come.

Learn how The Brand Consultancy's financial branding services can elevate your organization and generate new growth!

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