What Working in Finance Taught Me About People

My first day working in financial services began in a familiar fashion: impostor syndrome. I didn’t belong there, and by the end of the day somebody would surely figure out that I in fact knew nothing (something my philosophy degree continually reinforced). I remember walking into my very first meeting and perfectly articulating in my mind why I was most certainly in over my head. Situated in the center of the room was a beautiful wooden table surrounded by soft, comfortable chairs, yet I could not understand how the bank paid for them.

Not literally of course, but in order to buy furniture you need money and I did not understand what the bank did in order to earn the money to pay for the table, the chairs, the room with a beautiful view, and so on. It was a snowball of anxiety that hit me square in the head.

I began thinking small: if I run a pizzeria I pay for new restaurant tables by selling pizzas for a profit and using some of that money to reinvest in the shop. Adding new tables might make the place more welcoming, thus increasing the number of customers and further increasing profits. But, for better or worse, the bank did not sell pizza.

Also for better or worse, nobody discovered the impostor sitting in the room and I was invited back for a second (and even third) day. I made it a point to understand what the bank did in order to make the money to afford such beautiful tables. On the surface, the answer was hardly surprising: they offered products and services similar to any financial institution. But the more I observed the bank the more I realized that I was only viewing the tip of an iceberg; it’s not only what they do, but how they do it.

Whether a pizza shop, a table manufacturer, or a bank, we often overlook what in fact drives profit when examining businesses. Pizza is not delicious as separate ingredients, you need people to create, deliver, and serve the food. Tables are not naturally occurring in the forest, you need people to design, build, and sell the finished product. Banking services do not predate humans, they are developed, managed, and delivered by people.

Businesses need to provide excellent products and services, but people are what make them engaging and sellable. In other words, no matter size or industry, products and services alone are not what make organizations money, it is rather the people responsible for creating and delivering those products and services that do.

Eventually I left the bank, and this always remained with me - so much so, I co-foundeda company years later that helps organizations grow by focusing on this important piece of information, something we call the Human Quotient. By developing their “HQ” companies are better positioned to innovate new products and services, collaborate for strategic success, and deepen relationships with both new and existing customers.

Deepening relationships is a substantial issue for the financial services industry, especially for banks with beautiful tables, and recent headlines have not helped the cause. The impostor syndrome I experienced on my first day is not merely a matter unique to new hires, it extends into the public’s perception of the banking industry as a whole. Companies, particularly in the world of finance, actively try to cultivate a sense of trust with customers because individual consumers are fearful that their financial services professional is nothing more than an impostor that will mislead them, either intentionally or unintentionally.

This act of building personal relationships is incredibly important within the financial services world. Coupled with a lack of financial literacy is the fact that people are being asked to handover their life savings to somebody tasked with doing what is in their best interest. That's an enormous responsibility requiring an equally enormous amount of trust. To succeed, an emotional connection must exist between both parties.

Michael A. Serafino, Senior Vice President of Investments at Raymond James, concurs and goes a step further. “Working with clients over 35 years through births and deaths, marriages, divorces and other life transitions, I appreciate the importance of forging an emotional connection. We need to be able to work through many issues, both financial and non-financial, with clients. An impostor can’t do that.”

By developing exceptional products and exceptional people, organizations are in a much stronger position to attract and serve their customers. Pizza shops will make more pizzas, table manufacturers will create new tables, and financial service firms will better serve their clients.

What you do matters, but how you do it - particularly in relation to other people - is equally important.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse