I admit it. I watch Downton Abbey. While that probably means I have to turn in my “man card,” I actually like the British drama period piece. Every Sunday night I curl up on the couch with my wife and daughter and tune to PBS.

Having watched all four seasons and now into the fifth, I was struck by how similar the themes they address in the show actually apply to financial institutions today. Downton Abbey covers broad subjects such as change, the past vs. the future and differences between the classes. While banks and credit unions certainly don’t have royalty (unless you count CEOs as kings and queens), there are similarities between the show and financial institutions.

So in your credit union or bank like Downton Abbey? Consider these questions:

  • Are you trapped in the past? Downton Abbey covers a tumultuous time period in British history. The old Edwardian society is crumbling while a new one is evolving. Some characters embrace that change while others struggle with it. How about your bank or credit union? How consumers conduct their financial transactions is changing. It’s no longer done at the branch (or even computer). It’s all mobile and digital. While we financial institutions talk a good game, how is your strategy actually adapting to address the new consumer? If your bank or credit union doesn’t change its strategy new entities like BankMobile and com will overtake you.
  • Are you recognizing the differences between executives and front line staff? Part of the Downton Abbey dynamics is sometimes referred to as “upstairs/downstairs.” As in the royalty were upstairs and the servants were downstairs. Think about your own organization. Is the hierarchy such that your front-line staff feel more like servants than team members? When was the last time anyone from the “C” suite genuinely recognized the contributions of a teller, loan officer or service representative? If your bank or credit union doesn’t change the way it treats its own people, your brand will never succeed.
  • Are you struggling with change? During the 1920s the entire class system was radically changing. Change was hard then (as evidenced by how hard Lord Grantham adapts). And change is hard now in the financial services industry (as evidenced by the lack of innovation coming from banks and credit unions). When was the last time you did something truly unique with a new marketing tactic? If your bank or credit union doesn’t effectively embrace new marketing techniques (digital, a sales based web site, social media, etc.) you are doomed to be a commodity.

While Downton Abbey is a wonderful show, it would make a terrible financial institution. Answer the above questions honestly and see if there are ways you need to adapt before your bank or credit union castle tumbles.