Skip to content

Three Strategies to Improve Your Financial Institution's Culture

Table of Contents

All posts

In today’s business environment, financial institutions need to do all they can to stay ahead of the competition. If improving your corporate culture isn’t on your to-do list, here’s why you should add it.


What is corporate culture, and why does it matter?

Culture is the unwritten rules of behavior at your institution, and it’s critical to your success.

Creating a positive work culture isn’t easy, but the payoff is worth it. For one thing, good, qualified employees are hard to find, train, and retain. This has become even more of an issue since the pandemic. One way you can attract and keep the best employees is by making sure your institution is a great place to work. Treating your employees well will also make them want to work harder. You can even attract more customers with a positive work culture. Happy employees naturally give better service. Become the bank that has the reputation of being the friendly bank.

But how can you create a positive work culture? Based on my many years of experience in middle management at financial institutions, here are three strategies to help get you started:

  • Communicate openly and clearly.
  • Reward excellence and teamwork.
  • Support a healthy work-life balance.

Read on for details on these three strategies.


Communicate openly and clearly.

Employees need clear communication from management on the institution’s goals, values, policies, and expectations. Open communication not only makes it clear what the employees need to do; it helps employees trust management. Training new employees should always include making sure they know and buy into your institution’s vision and specific goals, along with how they can contribute to meeting those goals. A vision or mission statement with specific, reasonable ways your employees can help you accomplish it makes everyone feel invested in your institution’s success.

Here's an example of how poor communication creates problems. At one bank, the regulatory examiners issued an MRA on a critical problem. This kind of issuance is public knowledge, but the bank’s upper management decided not to say anything to the employees about it. As a result, the employees didn’t know that management was working on it. This decision created fear in the employees and customers, who wondered how it would affect them. Was the branch going to close? Would employees lose their jobs, and would customers lose their money? If management had openly communicated about it, they could have mitigated the fear and worked through it much better. Transparency would have prevented a lot of problems.

When your new employees understand your expectations for them, give them clear and frequent feedback on how well they’re meeting those expectations. No one wants an annual review that includes a long list of unexpected criticisms. Like piloting a plane, small course corrections at the right time work best to help employees arrive where you want them to go. Frequent feedback, either praise or constructive criticism, is more effective and less overwhelming than waiting for an annual review. Along with frequent feedback, be sure to have consistent, specific metrics so people know what they’re being evaluated on and exactly where they stand.


Reward excellence and teamwork.

Every employee wants to be recognized for a job well done. Raises are one way to recognize employee contributions, but they aren’t the only way. You could also give public accolades to employees who do outstanding work.

Although individual recognition for excellence is critical, you also need to create an atmosphere of teamwork among your employees. Banking can be stressful, but don’t create unnecessary pressure for your employees by making them feel like they have to compete with each other to succeed.

For example, one company annually ranked all their employees from best to worst and terminated those who ranked the lowest. A system like that is toxic to them and to your institution. Under those circumstances, the worst employees lie and undermine their coworkers to keep their high ranking. New ideas and high productivity come from a corporate culture that rewards teamwork instead of internal competition.

Another way to reward your employees is to invest in them with ongoing training. Good employees want to meet or even exceed your expectations. They also want to learn and grow on the job. Giving employees opportunities to learn new skills boosts their morale and increases their value to your organization. Although a clear career path can provide an incentive to work harder, you don’t necessarily need to promote every employee to a higher position as long as they can keep improving. Cross training and helping employees grow their skill set is an investment that will pay big dividends for everyone at your institution. Boredom kills motivation.


Support a healthy work-life balance.

It’s not news that healthy and happy employees are loyal and more productive than those who are often sick and miserable at work. But a healthy work-life balance has become even more important for both managers and employees because finding and keeping qualified employees has become harder in the last few years.

How can you help your employees have that healthy work-life balance? A lot depends on your own institution’s budget, but here are a few ideas that might work for you:

  • Give employees sufficient PTO. Some companies are even allowing unlimited PTO now, and studies have shown it can be a win-win for employers and employees.
  • Offer flexible work hours or telecommuting for those employees who don’t have to be in the branch at certain times.
  • Pay for all or part of a gym membership. Employees who exercise regularly are sick less often and are more productive at work.
  • Have an Employee Assistance Program to help employees pay for mental health counseling. Especially since the COVID pandemic began, mental health has become more important to ensure employees are happy and productive. If your institution can’t afford this, reach out to your state banking association, because sometimes state associations can help with this kind of benefit.
  • Schedule parties and other fun activities for employees at work or outside of work hours. Don’t overlook the value of little things like birthday or holiday parties, work anniversaries, or company sports teams. They’re not just fun; they also promote a sense of community and belonging.
  • In order to get and keep the best employees, be sure you offer an attractive and pleasant workplace as well as equipment and software that make it easier to work efficiently. People want to be proud of where they work and have the right tools to do their best work.



William Dudley, former chief executive of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, stated that “improving culture in the financial services industry is an imperative” for your success and to create public trust in your institution.

It might seem difficult to create a positive work culture in a high-stress business like banking, but the benefits outweigh the costs. Happy employees give the best customer service, so they’ll pass that positivity on to your customers. If your institution gets a reputation as a great place to work and a great place for customers, you’ll have a competitive advantage. Even stockholders will benefit. A supportive work environment that encourages creativity and innovation can help your institution stay ahead of the curve and adapt to changing market conditions.