Traditional banks are starting to realise the huge revenue-generating potential of their payments functions. Earlier in our series, we covered the significant shift needed to unlock the value of payments: transforming operating models, ushering in fresh ways of working, new KPIs, innovative technologies, and competing with a new breed of competitors. But there's a piece of the puzzle remaining: people.

There's not much point investing in a reimagined payments operating model without also investing in the leadership capabilities needed to embed the necessary cultural change. Transformations are only successful when everybody across an organisation clearly understands their role, the change needed, and why it matters—starting with leadership.

Based on our experience working with leading payments solution providers and other industries that've undergone large-scale transformations, we've identified three game-changing leadership behaviours that can unlock value, drive cultural change, and shift the dial on customer experience.

Bold, innovative, and able to ride a bike backwards: What tomorrow’s payments leader looks like

1. Thinks outside the box 

It's no secret that traditional banks face intense competition—especially from Fintechs who can seamlessly integrate cutting-edge technologies into their operational ecosystem. Surpassing the competition requires payments leaders to think outside of the box, challenge conventional thinking, and push boundaries to drive bold, innovative payments solutions.

Leaders must embrace diverse viewpoints—sometimes from parts of the organisation they least expect—to foster collaboration and idea-sharing to solve problems differently.

But what does this look like in practice? Rapid Habit Labs bring together colleagues and customers to collaborate and experiment with real-time feedback on new solutions and ways of working. These labs are rooted in the premise that driving cultural transformation comes from building and sustaining small daily changes or new habits. Leaders actively participate in ideation and draw on a range of perspectives that drive a culture of innovation and continuous improvement.

2. Comfortable with the uncomfortable

Whether it's evolving regulation or new market entrants upending convention, constant change is now the new normal. But change can often bring uncertainty about the future, leading to a fear of the unknown or even resistance from teams and stakeholders.

Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable isn't easy, but payments leaders need to face change head-on, role-model a growth mindset and resilience, and flex their leadership style to bring people on the journey. This means always coming back to the ‘why’ and being a skilful storyteller. If you can translate your vision in a simple, easy-to-understand, and relevant way to your key audiences, you can inspire action and make change feel less daunting.

For example, right now payments leaders in the UK are navigating uncertainty around New Payments Architecture (NPA) after the regulator paused this initiative. This is an opportunity for leaders to demonstrate a growth mindset and show how this potential challenge can be re-framed to bring positive changes and lay the foundations for a reimagined payments function.

Leadership momentum events are a clever way to make change immersive. They bring senior leaders and stakeholders together to hone their storytelling skills and plunge them into new mindsets and ways of working so they feel, remember, and role model it. And the science backs this up: immersive experiences have long-term effects on our state of mind—they can change our attitude, habits, and behaviour.

We often use the idea of a ‘backwards bike’ to bring a growth mindset to life. During events, leaders are asked to take on the backwards bike challenge – and while this is hard at first, after some practice, they can teach their brains a new way of doing something. It’s experiential techniques like this that resonate in our minds. So, when leaders return to their teams, they use bite-sized behavioural nudges to put new ways of working into practice and embed the change. It’s a tried and tested method that confronts perceived limitations. A recent post-event pulse check found that 100% of leaders had altered their mindset, and there was an immediate shift in how they started to lead their teams.

3. Empowers teams to spark a movement

A traditional command-and-control approach has long been the go-to way to manage payments functions. But this leadership style doesn’t lend itself to a culture of experimentation, innovation, and continuous improvement—which is exactly what banks need to turn payments into a revenue powerhouse.

Instead, payments leaders should embrace servant leadership, uniting their teams around a common vision, defining the 'why' and the 'what', but trusting them to deliver the 'how'. Leaders must shift their mindset to protect their team's capacity to deliver better customer outcomes while removing any obstacles. This fundamental pivot empowers teams to own outcomes, test, fail fast, and ultimately provide better customer experiences quickly. Servant leadership can also increase employee engagement and job satisfaction to retain key talent.

But adopting a servant mindset alone isn’t enough. Payments leaders need to empower their teams and invest in tailored change experiences that blend immersive learning experiences, on-the-job coaching, and practical tools that feel deliberately different to embed new ways of working. Leaders can start small and work up to building a critical mass of coverage across locations and teams to shift the dial.

We work with organisations of all shapes and sizes to find what’s right for them—hackathons, colleague festivals, experiential workshops, practical coaching sprints, and collaboration communities. And we deliver these experiences at-scale in face-to-face, virtual, and hybrid formats globally. Through our experience, these cultural change campaigns work best when they feel different from the outset through creative branding and are delivered in a way that becomes ‘just the way we now work’.

How to become tomorrow’s payments leader

We cannot stress enough the importance of thinking about the people and cultural side of the payments revolution as soon as you unlock funding to transform your operating model. Too often, we’re brought in down the track when transformations haven’t landed because of a lack of focus on mindsets, behaviours, and ways of working.

The people power of transformations cannot be overstated. Our 360-degree transformational leadership assessment can help you pinpoint the behaviours that will drive the most change. Understanding behaviour drivers and defining what good looks like for your organisation is vital to targeted cultural interventions. We design a pragmatic approach that’s right for you—whether that’s observations, focus groups, interviews, surveys, or a combination—to understand where leaders are today versus where they need to be to realise your reimagined payments vision.

If you want to unlock the behaviours needed to transform your payments function, please get in touch. 

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