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What is a brand?

In a farm, how on earth could you recognise cows from each other? To bridge that challenge, cows got a mark on their hips. It is the origin of the word branding. Branding is thus recognition. Being recognised is the first step.

Linked to a brand are the numerous associations that people have with the brand. Think about Citibank, for instance: “The Citi never sleeps”. The association created with the brand is that it is possible to do banking business 24 hours out of 24 and 7 days out of 7. In another field, Audi:”Vorspung durch Technik” (being better than the others due to technical superiority) and the association is that the Audi cars are indeed technically advanced, hence

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the amazing success of the brand. A brand is usually associated with a logo and typical brand colours and phrases. To keep the same example: Citi is associated with the well-known Citi Bleu, Raiffeisen with yellow and black, HSBC with red and white, BGL BNPPARIBAS with green, …

What does a brand mean?

If you find the right artist you may have the right logo, but is the company behind the logo professional? Is the action of branding about design or about quality that is behind the design? Is it about selling wind or selling substance? Is it attuned to the fashion of having a logo or is it about the search of excellence? Factually, a brand equals a promise and should match expectations. A brand could match dreams. Think about the perfume brands which sell much more than perfume, but a living style, a personality. See the enduring success of “Chanel”.

How can you use what we know about branding to your advantage?

Today, even more than ever, the professional has a double challenge: being recognised as there is a tough competition in every field, and secondly being seen as, not just different, but better than competition. Even if you are a real professional, you still have to ascertain that others know it. One might think that with the new media this is easier than before. This is not the case as all of us use the same channels. Your voice is quickly lost in the noise.

Your challenge is to sell yourself as a brand by all possible means in a coherent, systematic manner using all tools of classical marketing. Look at you as a product. Most successful products are successful because of pure marketing techniques, which are not that different from the original ones. Think about you

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not just as a marketable product but as an augmented product, which its own unique, saleable features. There are a lot of excellent singers out there, but Lady Gaga has 57 million likes because of raw marketing techniques!

How can you brand yourself?

The answer to this question represents a long list, which is the same list as the key features of a successful corporate culture, as you would expect. Branding requires goals to be reached such as:

    • Being a learning person
    • Creating a disciplined environment
    • Possessing a strong code of conduct
    • When working with others, doing it with a team spirit
    • People oriented
    • Individual responsibility
    • Being conscious that people pay for added value only
    • Your on-going involvement

Above is a short list amongst other goals which need to be reached to get branded. In addition to the list, should be mention the need for a, attitude of motivation, of listening and of excellence. Think about the PC which is the result of a permanent search for excellence, i.e.

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could it be smaller, faster, cheaper, simpler, more powerful?

Why is your personal branding so important?

Let me quote Scott W. Ventrella (Me Inc., John Wiley & Sons, 2007) to which I fully subscribe: “Remember you are the CEO of yourself. If you were an employee of your company, would you follow you? Taking control of our lives has never been as challenging or as important as it is today as we can no longer depend on our employers or even partners to provide for us.

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We must be self-reliant”.

Foremost, through branding you will get a reputation. Your reputation will precede you. The remaining challenge will be to keep up with your reputation, which is much more fun and rewarding than the first phase of branding, which was to build your reputation!

Roger Claessens No Comments

Decision making and economics

Decision Making or Irrational Perseverance applied to the Euro Issue

By Roger Claessens, prof UBI, Brussels on

This first part of the text is based on: “Thinking fast and slow” by Daniel Kahneman[1].

It is by a happy coincidence that a friend mentioned I should be reading the book of Nobel Prize winning economist, Daniel Kahneman on “Decision Making”. My only regret is that this book was not published years ago and that I did not benefit earlier from the remarkable observations of the author, reason why I want to share this with you and the students who follow my courses.

“This book is a tour de force by an intellectual giant; it is readable, wise and deep. Buy it fast. Read it slowly and repeatedly. It will change the way you think, on the job, about the world, and in your own life.” (Richard Thaler, professor of behavioural science and economics, University of Chicago) Read more

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Paper Promises

Paper Promises book cover

Paper Promises book cover

I would like to draw your attention to the excellent book of Philip Coggan with the title “Paper Promises – Money, debt and the New World Order“, Allen Lane, 2011. I quote the last paragraph of his conclusions.

“In the past forty years, the world has been more successful at creating claims on wealth than it has at creating wealth itself. The economy has grown, but asset prices have risen faster, and debts have risen faster still. Debtors, from speculative home buyers to leading governments, have made promises to pay that they are unlikely to meet in full. Creditors who are counting on those debts to be repaid

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will be disappointed.”

“Clearing up the mess will be a long, slow process. It will involve many false starts, as occurred during the banking crisis of 2008 and as we have already seen in the European sovereign debt crisis. The debts may be repaid in inflated money, or devalued currency; they may be passed on to other governments with a greater capacity to repay; or they may result in outright default.”

“Breaking those paper promises will result in economic turmoil, as both debtors and creditors suffer. This is a crisis as severe as those that resulted in the end of the gold standard in the 1930s or the end of the fixed exchange rates in the 1970s. The global economy is changing; for many in the West, it will not be for the better.”

Sadly so, I have to agree with the author of this great book, which I strongly recommend reading.

Image source: Ebay

Roger Claessens No Comments

Decision Making

This text is based on: “Thinking fast and slow” by Daniel Kahneman.

My only regret is that I this book was not published years ago and that I did not benefit earlier from the remarkable observations of the author, reason why I want to share this with you and the students of UBI in Brussels who follow my course on DECISION MAKING. “This book is a tour de force by an intellectual giant; it is readable, wise and deep. Buy it fast. Read it slowly and repeatedly. It will change the way you think, on the job, about the world, and in your own life.” (Richard Thaler, professor of behavioural science and economics, University of Chicago, co-author Nudge Read more

Roger Claessens No Comments

Winning is Great

Worrying about losing keeps you winning. Nelson Moss

The subject of corporate culture is so vast that I followed a process of selection, not based on my own criteria but on the criteria of Jack Welch, former chief executive officer (CEO) of General Electric[3] (GE). For information GE has a division called GE Capital which dwarfs many institutions in the financial sector. Jack Welch explains in his first book: “Straight from the Gut[4]”, how he got there but even more so how he changed the corporate culture. In his subsequent book he underlined the ingredients of a winning corporate culture[5]. I followed his line of thought. Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft Corporation, stated that “Winning” was a candid and comprehensive look at how to succeed in business- for everyone from college graduates to CEOs’. Thus, the selection of winning items which follow is not random. Read more

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Back to Marx?

Karl Marx

Karl Marx

Do we see the end of capitalism? This was the subject of a brief interview seen on the website of the Financial Times. There is a Russian proverb which says that if you

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you do it with the knowledge of the past, you look with one eye.


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do not know why we all have such a need to look at the past but what is sure is that it is of no great help at this stage. The future will mean – please refer to Future “Files” by R. Watson, published with Nicolas Brealey, 2010 – a global connectivity and GRIN technologies not to mention the environmental challenges. GRIN stands for Genetics, Robotics, Internet and Nanotechnology. It is all new and requires no hindsight but foresight, imagination and creativity.

We should spend our time and energy thinking about coping with this trend. It might mean the end of capitalism as it was perceived by Marx but what has our economic environment in common with the one of 1850?

Honestly, I never read Marx, just studied abstracts like most students in economics in Western Europe. I never really understood this author whom I would qualify more as a philosopher than an economist. A much better use of our time would be to see why winds of optimism or pessimism are blowing through our economies. On what grounds do consumers and producers make decisions that affect us all, irrespective where we live?

Rather than wondering about Marx, I would recommend an excellent book on decision making, i.e. to understand how people make decisions and their consequences: “Thinking, fast and slow” by Daniel Kahneman, Nobel laureate in Economics, published with Allen Lane, 2011.

What is sure is that the future will have

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very little in common with Marx’s time and thinking. Will capitalism survive is in my view the same question as will greed survive!

Wish you a pleasant reading.

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Do we need a new business model in banking?

Banking (banca, Italian word for bench) evolved from the need to trade! The first banking institution, in a similar form as banking at the beginning of last century, was founded in Venice, at that time an important seaport, in 1135 A.D. However, premises of banking are ancient. The first code relative to options goes back to the code of Hammurabi, 3800 years ago. On the black stone, discovered in 1902 near Susa, Iraq, was the world’s first complete set of written laws, the famous code Hammurabi. Paragraph 48 details what the obligations are of borrower, the farmer, and the lender. When a crop failure happened, the debtors had the right to pay nothing that year. The lenders had to do without interest.

Nothing new under the sun? Yes and no! Today, the word “bank” has many different meanings. One might make the statement that banking has evolved into different types of

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professions mainly under the pressure of competition and greed…and the quants moved in leaving a lot of executives ignorant of what happened and why! Just think about LTCM.

The changing pattern of the banking industry evolved in line with the deregulation of the banking industry in general and the emergence of new

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techniques which required greater specialisation. In Western Europe, deregulation started in the early seventies but culminated in the EU’s programme of 1992. The eighties saw the banks dividing into retail, corporate and wholesale or private and investment banking, which, for retail and private banking, undoubtedly meant: increased segmentation of consumer groups, replacement of paper-based systems, increased competition for both deposits and loans. All this has led to a tremendous blurring of the boundaries between classical banking products, insurance products and diverse financial services products such as structured products. To the customer they may all seem to be banking products because they are delivered through banking channels whereby the banks merely act as brokers or distributors for other professions. This has left not just consumers confused but also the authorities. A vast majority of quasi banking services are hardly regulated i.e. shadow banking which represents about 60 trillion US. (Wikipedia).

Everybody is familiar with the sub-prime crises. This event brought the total financial system to a near collapse, leaving millions stranded.

What next? More regulation? Back to the Glass-Steagall act, the banking act of 1933, voted as a result of the “great depression”?

Consider two elements: the first one, banking is a business; the second one, business entails risk.

Business has only two levers: either increasing market penetration or decreasing cost of providing the services. Firstly, you do not need a different model to address those issues but a review of the asset products, liability products and off balance sheet products. Secondly, risk needs to be assessed properly and conservatively rather than guessed and misunderstood by the vast majority of the executives.

If you want to know what this all means in practice have a look at the film “INSIDE JOB”. Who is to blame: something I referred to, in an article in the Serbian Bankers Magazine, as GREED. Nobody feels responsible, neither the so called bankers, nor the auditors, nor the lawyers, nor the authorities, nor the regulator. Some made a huge profit and others lost. As usual it is the man in main street who loses the most.

How can we avoid that in the future? Not by additional rules and regulations but by holding people ACCOUNTABLE. You do not need a different business model for that! Accountability means that, for instance, when a FED Chairman, who has significant resources at his disposal to assess the economic situation, comes forward in a senate committee and makes the statement that a crisis, he was paid do see developing, came as a total surprise, he should be held accountable and reimburse his job related earnings.

Remember the Glas-Steagall act, as a result of the painful experience of the big depression? We are back in a severe depression, so let us use the wisdom of our predecessors and revert to those rules whilst adapting them but not adding a few layers to them. Georges Soros compares the financial system with a big oil tanker. The tankers have compartments to store crude. Imagine that we have no compartments and just one big single compartment….Needless to underline what would happen. So let us put the compartments back in the vessel called the financial services. Let us also use the word bank for the banking activities as we knew them centuries ago and let us make clear in our branding strategies what the difference is

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between banking and trading or brokerage or insuring or whatever other financial activities are performed.

The second lever is cost. It is chocking to see drastic redundancy programs of organisations such as Citigroup, with jobs losses in the thousands. Meaningful cost avoidance programs should be introduced in order to avoid cost cutting. Lean banking is the answer. It is about the distribution of products in a mode that answers the questions: can it be cheaper, faster, safer, better…

Finally, it is all too easy to say that the risks were not known or misunderstood or wrongly computed. Selling a product, whatever it is means understanding it. It is a matter of ETHICS, another word that does not match with greed. The chairman of one of the rating houses, when asked by the Senate committee if he did not feel embarrassed by the fact a A-rated company went bankrupt answered that the company was “just giving an opinion, nothing more”…..The chairman of a Wall street bank when asked by the Senate committee if he did not feel embarrassed by the fact they were selling products they internally considered as quote “shit” unquote, stated that the proposed products at the fair market value….

If something needs to be changed it is not the model but the values and the way society rewards those who live according to those values. If not, it will come over and over again with the man in the street getting poorer and the rich get richer. Everybody knows that, as underling by Leonard Cohen’s song!

We do not need a new model, we need a different attitude! The question is how to enforce a culture of compliance and make sure corporate values are known and respected. There is no lack of answers. Let us have a look at that in my next blog.

Image source
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I would like…

I would like to draw your attention to a recent article published by Ernst & Young in PERFORMANCE (preview) underlying the fact we move towards a reputation economy. Having a good reputation has always been necessary but the fact that we seem to attach even more importance to it and qualify a new economic environment with it is quite new. It comes as a sort of natural consequence of the “knowledge economy and the accent on the knowledge worker”.
What does it mean?

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stay. Most products and services have been evaluated one website or the other. Consumer reviews are familiar on line tools.

“The more we trade on line the more important it will become to establish our credentials.” The reputation economy is likely to save us time in the future by building trust across platforms. It will act as quality labels or ratings. “Managing our reputations online is shaping up to the cornerstone of the 21stcentury economy.” In all likelihood, in the future,

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the quality of your online reputation may play a key role

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to your personal credit rating when it comes to buying and selling goods and services on line.

Indeed, reputation systems are emerging as a valuable form of capital. Gradually power and influence might well shift to those people who have the best reputations and trust networks.

Roger Claessens No Comments

Corporate culture in Banking published in Serbia

Corporate culture in Banking

In December 2011 my fifth book

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“Corporate culture in Banking” is published in Serbian language. English version will be published soon.

Roger Claessens No Comments

Corporate culture continued

Extract of the chapter on Corporate Culture

What is corporate culture?”[1]

Culture in an organisation is basically composed of:

(a) Shared values: important concerns and goals that are shared by most of the people in a group, that tend to shape group behaviour, and that often persist over time even with changes in group memberships.

(b) Group behaviour norms: common or pervasive ways of acting that are found in a group and that persist because group members tend to behave in ways that teach these practices to new members, rewarding those that fit in and sanctioning those that do not.

Read more