Are banks like the club hacker when they should be more like Federer?


French Open day four and another sublime performance from Federer, dispatching Somdev Devverman for the loss of just four games.  Federer was in no mood to hang about, breaking Devvernan in the first game, though Federer, in going for his shots was also making unforced errors.  With many of his points coming from Federer’s mistakes, it is tempting to liken the Indian to the professional game’s equivalent of the club hacker, though probably unfair.

For those who play tennis, facing the club hacker can be something of a nightmare.  He or she is the one who runs everything down, aiming just to get the ball back into play – they seem to make few mistakes, mainly because they don’t take risks, frustrating many a seemingly better player into making mistakes.

The COO of a major investment bank a few years ago likened many of his directors to club hackers – in the cultural environment they were in they were frightened of making mistakes and therefore of taking risks.  Of course the environment has got progressively worse, with increased regulatory pressure and continual rounds of cost cutting, the fear of raising one’s head above the parapet is common in many large firms.  Unfortunately banking is about taking risks but not only are many frightened of any risk, accompanying this is an increased unwillingness to take ownership for results or deliverables.

Such environments do not foster growth, in contrast Federer, particularly among the top players, gets the results, accompanied by more errors than the other members of the top four, because he takes risks.

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