" class="no-js "lang="en-US"> EXCLUSIVE: "Who's Washing the Dishes?" - Curt Queyrouze, Coastal Bank in 'The Fintech Magazine'
Sunday, May 28, 2023
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EXCLUSIVE: “Who’s Washing the Dishes?” – Curt Queyrouze, Coastal Bank in ‘The Fintech Magazine’

Curt Queyrouze, President of Seattle’s Coastal Bank and CCBX, its BaaS division, considers whether it’s time to rethink the organisational structure of a bank

In the rush to digitise everything in financial services, have we forgotten infrastructure?

I don’t mean the tech infrastructure that is well-organised under a myriad of agile frameworks. I am talking about the more mundane parts of running a financial services company – making thousands of decisions per day, keeping the stability and reliability at the highest levels of trust.

Current organisational systems were designed around predictable interactions: the places and timing could be fixed, the inputs and outputs known. After all, if a customer either had to come into a branch or make a phone call, you could map all of this in a workflow, even before we had sophisticated software to help us. When things did not go as predicted, there was a firm hierarchy of managers tasked with handling unusual situations with knowledge and authority.

Even the data points and analysis of performance were centred around this hierarchal setup – the management information systems (MIS).

The classic organisational pyramid still permeates businesses. What has been missing for banks is a focus on empowering the people and enhancing the processes in the middle of the organisation, where the rubber usually meets the road for customers. The middle is where the orchestration for solutions lies.


Many years ago, I was in the restaurant business with my brothers. As one of them, Steve, was teaching me the business, he introduced me to Antonio and declared him to be the most important person in the building. Antonio, the dishwasher, beamed with pride. This restaurant was a white tablecloth affair and Antonio was passionate about the cleanliness of every eating utensil and removing every water spot. When you think of your most memorable dining experiences, you likely most remember the presentation and taste of the meal. But how would you feel if you picked up a crusted fork?

Behind the scenes of the finest restaurants, there is a full-blown system of orchestration that leads to the best experiences. At one restaurant, I would watch the waiter and floor captain rearrange the salt and pepper shakers on the table to signal to others that the water needed to be refilled or plates needed to be cleared. The meal was served by an army of waiting staff, each holding a plate to deliver it at once to everyone at your table. These are the unseen things that make one restaurant a perennial exemplary experience. Is banking ready to provide this level of consistency and service?


As we look to the future of financial services, are the forks getting crusty? Is the food cold and are the water glasses empty? How do we build the middle to support a new level of complexity while customer service expectations continue to soar?

We talk a lot about new mobile apps, new features and customer insights; about replacing core systems as a solution to better customer engagement. While we have collectively raced to build the next shiny user experience and methods to wow the customer at the interface, have we neglected the middle part – the needs of the customer service personnel who must deal with the exceptions, the mundane, the things that will frustrate the customer (and the employee)?

Will our current systems concentrate knowledge and authority on multiple levels of an org chart? Will that work for us as we move towards a world with much more complexity? Consider the number of services that were not even in existence several years ago, like crypto, early paycheck and financial health scores. While banks have historically organised distinct workflows within departments, with managers at the ready with appropriate knowledge and authority to receive decisioning requests, take action, provide support or clear obstacles, how does this work in today’s complex system?

In systems thinking, you have to consider all aspects that affect an outcome, both internal and external. These become magnified when you consider the ever-expanding complexity of our systems; but even more so when we consider that our systems no longer sit solely within our bank’s walls. The future of finance lies within intense connectivity, in terms of open banking, embedded finance and banking-as-a-service (BaaS). Decisioning and authority must be tableside, and the runner must be empowered to move the salt and pepper shakers.


In order to deliver these and the next set of services, we need to focus on two distinct areas: the first is organisational structure, and the second is data and decisioning transparency. Does the pyramid structure work?

Bankers are naturally loathe to let go of the command-and-control systems that are embedded within the industry. After all, what about the regulators? What about the perks that come with my mid-management title that I worked so hard for? What about mistakes? Who do we blame when something goes wrong? After all, I have spent years accumulating this knowledge.

Never mind that I have become the bottleneck as people await decisions, or we need to call the next meeting to decide something. I am the expert after all. We can always just train and add more managers. Nope. We need to start paying as much attention to the middle of the house. We need to create people information systems instead of management information systems.

After moving to Utah, the beehive state, a talented CTO friend of mine, Nilendu Saha, decided to design his organisation ‘like a honeycomb instead of a pyramid’. The walls of a honeycomb are extremely thin, allowing for the easy transfer of nutrients and reconfiguration, yet the design allows for superior strength and durability. Do we even need managers, or do we need subject matter experts empowered by information systems and capable of action?

The other primary tool of this honeycomb model is the leveraging of data and analytics to provide auto-decisioning to any point in the organisation that needs to move at speed. What does this look like in practical terms? This system will leverage analytics, AI, machine learning, red flags protocols, etc, to inform and decision at the point of need. A new focus on governance and back-end testing can ensure that proper guardrails are flagging inconsistencies and errors.

None of this is new, but how many organisations are still hyper-focussed on the mobile app, or ripping up and replacing their core, while the staff in the middle are still spending 80 per cent of their time on administration? They could instead be spending 80 per cent of their time serving their customers. Imagine the table runner filling your glass of water but also, having full knowledge of the meal you ordered, being empowered to fetch the truffles that did not come with the rest of the dishes.

Now imagine if risk management was consumable at will by other areas of the bank, and by outside partners. Could we design an organisation that allows for permissioned, anonymised, tokenised data that operates in a robust governance structure? Open banking internalised?


Have you built a new data warehouse yet? Was much, or any, of the focus designed to arm your people with the best tools possible? I hope so. Is digitisation really only about customer acquisition? I understand hyper-growth and the need for scale. But does all of this matter if we cannot distinguish between a high-risk or low-risk customer when setting transfer limits, or when a customer is transferred three times to get to the proper department to pay off a loan?

Does it matter when a challenger bank or new product design (think buy now, pay later or person-to-person payments) is overwhelmed by fraud? By the time a wave of fraud hits the managerial level, fear and overreaction typically rule the day. What if the staff in compliance and deposit operations were seeing fraud indicators in real time and were empowered to act on the spot? What if we spent as much time thinking about how we structure our organisations and empower our people? Of course, this also leads to amazing engagement levels among staff.

I am a big believer in culture. I feel strongly that it is critical to ensure engagement that is focussed in the right direction. But culture has to be backed up with trust and empowerment or it is simply hollow words. Shouldn’t employees have a clear line of sight to fraud risk, profitability, credit risk, etc?

If we tell our employees that we are a relationship-driven bank, shouldn’t we design our systems to empower all levels of the organisation to act in the best interests of our customers?


This article was published in The Fintech Magazine Issue 25, Page 81-82

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