Patrick Sells didn’t come up the ranks in community banking. As the CIO of $400 million Quontic Bank, he had started his own digital marketing firm in college. Unsuccessful in wooing banking clients, it’s now that he realizes why he wasn’t able to land financial services firms.
“I never did work for a bank because I didn’t understand all the regulations and what it means to be a bank,” he said at Tearsheet’s inaugural Resilience Conference.
As Quontic’s Chief Innovation Officer, Sells spends a lot of time thinking about culture. In the early days of the pandemic, he recalls employees being scared as people were getting sick and dying. He turned to culture to help steer the firm through the crisis.
“We thought about culture as a means to grow and guide the business,” he said. “But I think what we saw was that culture became a fabric of resilience. It helped us come together and stay together and navigate this world.”
To frame a conversation around culture, Sells compares a business to a human heart. The organization and central organ pump life-giving substances: profits and blood. But like a person isn’t just a blood pumping machine, so does a business exist beyond just pumping profits.
Quontic’s culture revolves around three tenets. First, there needs to be a shared language. Sells recalls going on a family hike as a child and someone blurting out “Suck it up, Buttercup.” That expression has a powerful impact when used today in his family two decades later.
Next, Quontic’s culture entails decentraized decision making. “In other words, how can you get the organization so that anyone at any level knows how to answer yes or no to the most critical questions?” he said.
Lastly, the New York-based bank uses a mission statement as a way to codify its own culture. It acts as something bigger than the individuals in the organization and allows them the size and the importance that they can get behind. The idea of “breaking the system for financial empowerment” — creating new products and processes that elevate the customer and don’t need to pay historical homage to anything — motivates Quontic employees.
Next, Sells describes Quontic’s four core values that help guide decision making. The first is “progress, not perfection.” The bank has emphasized the ongoing process of improvement, so that behaviors aren’t seen binarily as wrong or right — they just exist along a progress continuum. When COVID-19 hit, it became clear that Quontic’s mortgage portfolio needed a lot of attention. Employees hit the phones, giving customers options to defer their payments, before legislation emerged to help guide these discussions. Next, Quontic uses “know the goal.” Every meeting begins with this statement so that everyone knows why they are there and what the objective is.
Quontic values the human ability of making other people happy. Called “say cheese”, this one is a mindset of doing what it takes for a bank to make a customer or employee smile, like when someone snaps a photo. Meetings begin with people saying positive things. Lastly, Quontic uses “try it on” to move beyond endless meetings, getting its employees comfortable with rapid decision making and quick cycles, instead of interminable planning.
Quontic begins introducing these values and tenets of its culture in its interviewing process. This gives prospects an early view into what makes the bank tick and is used as a winnowing process to ensure a future employee is a good fit in the organization.
The bank’s culture also impacts its product portfolio. Quontic is planning to launch a handful of innovative new checking accounts in 2021. “On the deposit side, a lot of what we’ve been doing these last few years is laying the framework and the foundation needed to roll out a series of new products,” he said. “I’m really excited about our innovative deposits that have never been seen or done before in the industry.”
“Quontic Bank and Patrick Sells show us a great example of how strong cultures need to be adaptive in real life. Some new work from Jenny Chatman and Francesca Gino in HBR show that these types of companies can earn 15% more in revenue vs. peers who are less adaptable. This is great news for the disruptive fintech industry, well suited to quick pivots. ”