What Digital Banking Execs Critically Lack

The best in banking score high on agility, but a lack of emotional intelligence holds some behind. A new Korn Ferry report.

Like nearly every other industry, financial services is in the midst of upheaval. So-called “fintech” is opening up opportunities in consumer banking, investing, lending, and researching that the George Baileys of the world couldn’t have even imagined. In one respect, many of the industry’s leaders already have the skills to take advantage of the potential fintech provides. 

But there’s also one set of competencies many of those leaders sorely lack: emotional intelligence. That is a big problem, says Janice Ho, senior director of the Korn Ferry Institute. “Emotional intelligence, which encompasses understanding, empathy, and the ability to influence, is twice as important as cognitive ability in predicting outstanding performance,” she says.

In a new Korn Ferry report, “Success factors for digital transformation in banks,” Ho, along with co-authors Shakifur Chowdhury and Nick Evans, comb through the skill sets of more than 12,000 industry executives to figure out what sets financial executives apart, for better or worse, from executives in other industries. The good news is that finance leaders have their biggest leg up in learning agility, the ability to solve complex problems, easily adapt, and thrive on change. That agility will be key for executives to navigate the challenges and opportunities of fintech. “Learning agility is crucial to executives who are leading areas that are undergoing change and disruption, such as a digital transformation,” Ho says. 

Those executives at financial firms aren’t only the ones handling the money, either. Whether they work in accounting, human resources, information technology, marketing, or strategic planning, financial service executives, on average, have higher learning agility scores than their counterparts in other industries. “Whichever functional roles finance leaders are placed in, they tend to demonstrate higher learning agility,” Ho says. 

That doesn’t mean that financial service executives are perfect. Indeed, the report indicates that the industry’s leaders have generally lower emotional intelligence scores than peers in other industries. The data shows financial executives find collaboration challenging, tend to be poor listeners, are unwilling to compromise, and lose the broader picture while focusing on details.

Also troubling, according to the Korn Ferry data: Many finance executives don’t realize they could use some help. Financial services leaders tend to see themselves in a more positive light compared to how others see them, and that ratings gap is significantly bigger among financial services leaders than leaders in other industries. 

“Digital leadership must have the capacity to flex leadership styles as needed, the ability to engage employees and customers, and emotional intelligence and honest self-perception,” Ho says.

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