I’ve become a huge fan of a reality show called Restaurant Impossible. It features a host, Chef Robert Irvine, who visits a restaurant in some level of disarray and attempts to completely overhaul it in 48 hours. This overhaul is usually filled with tears and trauma. After all, some of these restaurant owners have worked their entire lives to build their establishment. Some even once experienced tremendous success, but something has gone terribly wrong. Most are months, weeks, or even days from closing. I’ve observed that these restaurants typically have five core areas that merit improvement:

  • Leadership
  • Menu
  • Kitchen
  • Décor and marketing
  • Staff

I, of course, do not own a restaurant, but I do consider myself something of a connoisseur of financial institutions, having walked into more than 500 banks and credit unions in my 25+ years. I’ve seen just about everything that you can imagine. I see a lot of parallels between the five areas of problems identified in restaurants with those in troubled financial institutions.  While we could delve into institutional leadership, décor, marketing, staff or menu, I would like to focus this article on the remaining topic—the institution’s “kitchen.”
Now, I don’t mean the break room. I’m talking about the figurative kitchen of an bank or credit union, or what I call the “backside” of the institution, where most of the behind-the-scene work gets done that creates customer satisfaction on the frontside. In other words, this is where the real cooking happens. It happens in the note departments, IT departments, BSA and compliance departments, wire departments, etc. These departments aren’t frequently the most visible to the consumer/member, but they ensure that customer or member “orders” are fulfilled to their taste.
In Restaurant Impossible, an issue Chef Irvine often finds is that the kitchen is, frankly, a complete mess. The equipment hasn’t been cleaned, is broken, or old, the environment is configured poorly, or those in the kitchen are unmotivated or poorly trained in the proper use of the equipment. He offers almost the exact same solutions for a disorganized, inefficient, or messy kitchen throughout the season: 1) The equipment must be sound, 2) The equipment must be placed in the right spot, and 3) Employees must know how to use it.
So Chef Irvine goes about implementing these changes. It is frequently quite remarkable what can be achieved in less than 48 short hours. Does it always work? From the sounds of it, no— the last I heard 16 of the 64 restaurants overhauled failed. But, the question is how many would have failed without the intervention? Probably all of them.
Like Chef Irvine, I’m frequently amazed by how institutions cling to old equipment in their “kitchens.” I’m admittedly a gadget guy, but that is because I’ve learned how much more I can do if I have the right equipment. Does it cost more to have good equipment? Perhaps initially, but the impact on efficiency is remarkable. The right equipment (and that includes work space) gives a person a greater capacity and ability to complete their assignments. Evaluate whether your institution needs to update old equipment or purchase new equipment.
Perhaps the most important question to ask is whether people really know how to function to their fullest capacity with the equipment they already have. Chef Irvine is pretty amazing at showing people how simple yet elegant meals can be crafted with the equipment available to them (once cleaned and configured, of course). I have found that many institutions benefit from being appropriately trained on their existing equipment. Knowledge of systems and tools isn’t a one-and-done deal—institutions should promote an environment of continual learning about the use of tools needed to build powerful “kitchens” that deliver amazing results.
Finally, ask yourself whether your institution’s equipment and those who use that equipment configured correctly? Are the right people near the right people and the right tools? I’ve seen some incredible department configurations, where they actually thought about it and designed the configuration to achieve cohesive communications. But I’ve seen others with similar tools operating at a far lower level because of how they configured their workspace. Those FIs that create an efficient space and nurture innovation encourage employees to stay and contribute to the efficiency of the institution.
You may not have a completely dysfunctional “kitchen,” but I would venture to say that the backside of most institutions would benefit from at least a certain degree of an overhaul—not just currently failing financial institutions. Take a look at each of the five areas inspired by Restaurant Impossible and see if you can’t find something to improve.
If you need a fresh perspective on your kitchen, feel free to reach out to us at AdvisX. Contact Ken Agle via email here (ken.agle@advisx.com) or by calling 888-980-1949.