Wherever you look, in finance or business these days you will have someone talking about relationship.  More often than not they will be talking about customer relationship management, but it crops up in supply chains, in team building and in management theory.

Yet in some ways we have never been more disconnected as a society.  The richest 1% in the UK pay as much tax as the poorest 50%[1].  This is not a damnation of the rich or poor, merely a shocking statistic about how much richer the rich are.  Police recorded violent crime is rising and the police recorded 880 modern slavery crimes in 2016.[2]  Half of the UK population voted to leave the European Union, half voted to stay and it seems as if at least half can’t remember which half they were in.  Dislocated, disconnected or just dissatisfied, you need to look hard to find a source of optimism.

The trouble is, we have allowed ourselves to become almost entirely functional in our approach to relationships.  I judge your value based on the function you perform.  You are my customer first, then a human being.  Absent your purchasing power you are of no interest to me.  You are my supplier and therefore your role is to supply me as cheaply as I demand.  You are my staff and you are there to do your job.  We all have a function in each other’s eyes and if we fulfil that function we are valuable, and if not, we are not.

Yet “function” – the purpose of the relationship – is just one of the different components in any relational structure.  Of course, a relationship has a purpose, and selling is no better or worse a purpose than any other in the modern world – but the relationship is more than just that.  It includes respect for power, communication and comprehension.

A relational thinker grounds their decision making in the fullness of all the structural components of relationship.  What might this mean for the financial sector?

First miss-selling.  If I have all the power that comes with understanding a product and you have none but are trusting that my role is to be your financial partner then I can use that power to sell things you don’t need.  I can communicate with you great reasons you should take my advice and dismiss your lack of comprehension as a minor matter.  Your role is to be my customer and to buy everything I want to sell you.

If I were a relational thinker I would be concerned to fully ensure you comprehend every decision you make with me and I would be working to ensure that your power remained in your hands.

Next mental health.  Our teams work together, symbiotically.  Because they have to.  They don’t respect each other, understand each other or help each other.  There is much friction but we live with it because it has always been that way and because I, as a leader, and you, as a leader, don’t want to change anything that might affect our earnings.  When a young man joins your team and is told continually by mine that he is in a failing team, working for losers, doing worthless tasks and disappears one day sick, we tell ourselves he was weak and pathetic and we’re better off without him.

The relational lens is about having a different way of looking at things.  It is about asking not “what’s in it for me” but rather “what’s in it for the community”.  We did not evolve as necessarily self-interested animals.  Our ancestors felt an urge to live in communities, to build together and farm together.

The 21st Century is a going to be the greatest century of connectivity we have ever seen.  Not just connectivity of our communications but also connectivity of the influence our actions have on other people.  A financial sector built on a principled, structural view of relationship, where everyone is treated as an end in themselves is the prerequisite for a financial sector that can support 9 billion people, prosperously.

[1] The Daily Telegraph, 19 March 2017

[2] ONS Overview of violent crime and sexual offences, 9 February 2017.

About VIncent Neate:

Vincent Neate’s passion for the social role of business began when he led KPMG’s support for the founders of the European Venture Philanthropy Association.

After 20 years in KPMG, culminating in six years as the Partner in Charge of the Sustainability Consulting Practice, Vincent left in 2016 to establish Relationship Capital Strategies Limited.  This company’s goal is to bring structure, scientific rigour and appreciative inquiry to how organisations build relationships – within themselves and with others.  

Vincent is a Chartered Accountant and master-practitioner of neuro-linguistic programming.  He is an experienced mentor, coach and trainer.  He serves on the boards of a number of not for profit organisations including Social Value UK, Fight for Peace International and Fight for Peace UK and From Babies with Love.

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