Roberto Cipriani

Every action regarding professional development in human resources can not do without considering the perceptions of both the direct receivers, that is, those employed by the banks, and the indirect receivers, who are by no means less important to the entire banking system, that is their clients.

            It is said that the problem these days is that of governing knowledge and for this reason knowledge managers are well received. When dealing with the topic of knowledge we cannot merely limit the discussion to just how innovative methodologies might be in the areas of training, nor motivation, incentives, the acquisition of skills, organizational exchanges or the acquisition of best practices.

            There is yet further, more detailed work to be conducted: that of the developing the human factor. This is not intended in the traditional sense of marketing but of understanding, sharing experiences, teamwork analysis, as well as the synergy towards common objectives consisting of accurate intersubjective communication and competency.

            By the same measure that we understand people and their needs, it becomes easier to perceive such needs, emotions and expectations. Undoubtedly, however, all kinds of ‘noise’ interfere with effective interindividual exchanges. This kind of interference is now constant and widely acknowledged and with which it is now necessary to get accustomed to whether it be information deliberately let out, mere gossip, inside information or inside trading, or even established and/or plausible information.

            Complexities seem more and more a sign of modern times and so a common thread of sorts with no solution in sight. We deal with this state of affairs on a daily basis reason for which we need to be adequately prepared by implementing an approach which is by no means superficial, but on the contrary careful, well researched and consistent; one which is scientifically oriented and sensitive to the human dimension and therefore also to an ethical one.

            A sign of this is sent through the mass media, via which a significant amount of the public’s attitudes and beliefs are conveyed. And it is exactly by these means of communication that unequivocal indications of the public’s preferences are made clear; a public which no longer allows itself to be enticed by just any message whatsoever, but a public which is more prone to follow that which in some measure represents certain values. For instance, this occurs with issues of great importance such as the longing for peace, the propensity to manage one’s resources in a careful, balanced way – this includes one’s financial resources (how else could the success of the so-called ethical banks be explained?); the amount of attention paid to humanitarian problems (as is evidenced by the considerable developments of voluntary aid organizations); the propensity for reflection within a context of existential experiences (as, for instance, is evident in the popularity amongst both audiences and critics in films dealing with issues bearing particular social importance).

            An initial consideration can now be made from all this: knowledge can not consist of a simple technical, merely instrumental, and entirely profit oriented act. What springs, rather imperiously, from this is the urge to assume responsibility of one’s behavior and relationships with other subjects, especially with those who are reference points, as a raison d’être, of one’s profession and life in general.

            In order to accomplish this and more, it becomes impelling to organize large-scale projects which ought not be instituted for the short-term as these lead to fleeting results, but projects which extend towards long-term goals, towards loyal relationships which many advocate simply for profit when instead they should be considered as the expected result of proper a rapport, able to overcome any eventual market or financial difficulties.

Rather than taking clients away from others it would be better to consider treating well those one already has, given that they not only guarantee stability but become in turn promoters of the  positive image of the financial institution’s to which they refer and express their satisfaction of the treatment provided. Everyone deserves to be dealt with the same amount care, regardless of how much capital is at one’s disposal, particularly because a correct and stable relationship offers  the client reassurance who then will avoid making drastic decisions which may lead to reneging of agreements and fall outs. In short, it is unlikely that an amicable disposition leads to a lack of trust and a distancing between parties. Reciprocal trust therefore becomes the key to success and is sustained thanks to the ongoing assurance that there are a guarantee and protection as though the other party represented no less an extension of himself and his own interests.

            These days there is more and more talk of ‘freedom of knowledge, criteria of merit, and professional development’. In today’s knowledge society where a knowledge management culture is spreading, even to private industry, knowledge training becomes of increasing strategic importance: training in knowledge tailored to meet specific objectives for the development of democracy and freedom and which reaches beyond a national to an international context and which is directed towards consolidating a utopian push (mobilizing and ennobling) towards the realization of a solid international knowledge society.

            It is perhaps for this reason that in Europe, and in other countries, we are witnessing an intense struggle to have a firm grip both socially and politically on the control of knowledge.

            And in the end, what is the game at hand? German sociologist, Nico Stehr, author of Wissenspolitik. Die Űberwachung des Wissens (Frankfurt, Suhrkamp, 2003), maintains that what requires analysis are the reasons for which institutions are aiming to control new scientific knowledge. It is no longer an issue of establishing the role of knowledge in society, that is knowledge-based power, by which experts, intellectuals and the cognitive elites progress in their careers. Nor is it about paying attention exclusively to the production of knowledge. Instead, what is required is to look specifically at ways knowledge is used, that is, its widespread use and, particularly, the way it is used for specific purposes.

            At last, it seems that the time has come to consider as a primary task the interest in knowledge politics, and regard it as a new field of knowledge and science as well as a new area of training.

            At this point, new means of cognitive action and deployment could be called upon (which, for instance, in France, Germany, and now even in Italy, are beginning to resurface after a period of quasi-hibernation), with the aim of understanding what the effects on social relations of these new forms of knowledge are and, mostly, to estimate the magnitude of current efforts to control their impact.

            With such promises, knowledge politics is undoubtedly destined to gain ground in the near future, especially with reference to the relationships between science and society, research and society, universities and society, and the banking world and society. A distinction between science and knowledge may be made, but the result of their combined impact on training and development may be too weighty. For this reason, even prior to finally and blatantly realizing what the outcomes are, it would be useful to undertake a suitable training program beforehand.

            Whilst also being in line with European directives, it is necessary to increase collaboration between universities and banks in order to create a move towards knowledge, innovation and creation, that is, a general move towards the transferring and the distribution of knowledge.

            From the point of view of competitiveness it would be timely that university knowledge draw near to that of companies, banks, and society. The principal means of transmitting university knowledge directly to the outside world are in fact tied to the suitability of scientific competency and the creation of new training proposals useful to the social system. In reality, though, universities do not make their research nor their scientific resources easily accessible and by so doing do not make the most of the fruits of their work while attempting to establish cooperation with the world of work and industry (including banks).

            From Eurostat’s “Statistics on Innovation in Europe”, results indicate that the main sources of innovation in the business sector stem not from universities nor from scientific research applied to training. In fact the more innovative companies take their inputs from universities (or from the non-profit private sector) but only very limitedly, well under 5% of all cases.

            Such a waste of resources should therefore be avoided, favoring scientific and formative knowledge by means of effectively promoting the relationship between universities and industry in order to make the very most of such knowledge in the field or training.

            Barriers still exist and yet the factors which create obstacles need to be identified in order for them to be removed and thus create opportunities for cooperation, increase the number of places of exchange and production of knowledge, as is the case of this conference on the European Bank Training Network.

            Probative results should be expected when committing research and training to university departments as they provide adequate theoretical, methodological and technical know-how in the field of training. Above all, for instance, university faculties and departments of education are specially appointed for the further study of these areas and where academic developments are presumably up-to-date.

            There is yet a problem in need of solving. Not by chance, let us choose the example of company training in the field of banking. In the university environment it is not a simple task to locate specialized competence aimed specifically at in the banking industry. Not even in degree courses in banking science is the subject content suitable to qualify graduates adequately in methodology and content. It is therefore evident that only increased exchanges and familiarity between the universities and banks can give way to a series of ongoing cooperation, exchanges of information, procedural assessment and the evaluation of outcomes.

            Physico-geographic proximity is not considered in today’s globalized society as being advantageous. If it is true that many important universities are located in the same areas in which the main banking institutes operate, it is also true that these days it is possible to make agreements and fruitful alliances even between subjects who are geographically very distant from each other. Apart from the potential advantages offered by telematics, and thus distance learning, in many cases it is possible to apply synergies irrespective of whether there be direct contiguity between universities and banking institutions. As a matter of fact, this creates advantages in that there is competitiveness in the standards of the training on offer and this is not necessarily linked to the proximity of university campuses to banks offering training.

            The better universities have certainly more of advantages in that they pass directly and immediately from the acquisition of advanced knowledge to its application in concrete areas of formative action.

            There is nonetheless a question of primary relevance in the scenario described thus far: the presence of a sort of two-way diffidence between the two: the university and banking worlds. But it would be suitable here to outline a basic framework in order to put the matter in perspective. It is necessary therefore to further elaborate and comprehend the value of knowledge and therefore that of the reciprocal knowledge between universities and banks.

            In sociological terms, knowledge is undoubtedly the foundation of the way we think, of our modes of behavior and, ultimately, behind our every decision. If the mechanisms behind the social construction of knowledge are not clear, the risk is to operate haphazardly, achieve undesired results, and waste human and financial resources. Useful reading in this area might be Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s Social Construction of Reality (Doubleday, Garden City; il Mulino, Bologna; Méridiens-Klincksieck, Paris).

On the other hand, it should be considered that knowledge undergoes a process of continual diversification and specialization. Therefore, it seems evident that training in the area of banking requires to be tailor-made. From this, moreover, it has become clear that universities need to revert to an interdisciplinary and socio-economic approach, oriented towards both professional and sustainable development, risk management and trust management. These then are the new challenges which universities and the banking world have to face: to reorganize knowledge well beyond the framework they are used to rather than being inner-oriented.

            With such a perspective, barriers between fundamental and applied research should be surmounted, incorporating, where possible, basic and applied scientific research in order to put forth proposals intended to convert knowledge into practical content, and strategies which can be implemented in various areas of training.

            Once universities gain credibility and attract the attention of the banks’ training structure, the latter can make more use of what the university has to offer. The target remains that of a just balance between profit oriented need, scientific moral requirements, independence in research, and the objectives and content of training schemes.

            The learning experience which last throughout the length of human subjects’ existence, nowadays considered fundamental and obligatory in many places and with a certain recurrence, allows for experimentation and openness between universities and banks, science and knowledge, and research and training. In short, universities can not only open themselves up to carrying out training courses in the field of banking, but can also allow for bank personnel to be engaged within universities to carry out training initiatives shared by other social interlocutors. In this way the prospected opening of universities to the outside world (and vice-versa) can occur in a just way, with the improvement of services on both sides, the differentiation of training on offer, and the efficient interaction between the various users-receivers of training services, all leading to an increase in the socio-cultural debate between universities and banks.

            One of the primary issues of this debate is defined by the nature, the commissioning, the use, the outcome and efficiency of training courses and of every other training or quasi-training activity.

            Obviously an initial distinction is evident when it is the banking institution that puts forth a proposal for training. The bank usually calls upon a restricted group selected by the management, with the principal objective of bettering operational and financial productivity for the institutions which operate in the area. The case is quite different when training programs are the result of contractual requirements and/or requested by union groups. These are generally directed more to inform the participant about issues of both a social and professional nature. In both cases, the assumption is that professional development is not taken for granted or progresses by itself independently of the individual’s own volition. The bank employee’s status guarantees nothing in these cases. Each advancement, each innovation is the clear outcome of an explicit desire to be kept up-to-date, the need for specialization, and adaptation.

            Moreover, it is quite uncommon for a bank employee’s duties be mere repetitive routines. Even when everything appears to be in the norm, there can be hints of novelty in the everyday proceeding: whether it means signing a check, a commission, a consignment receipt, or creating an account, or whether it be dealing with foreign exchange rates which vary from day to day. In fact, as is well known, it is this sort of inurement to repeated actions which often leads to error and therefore to paying assiduous attention to detail. The specialized work behind each counter and each series of transactions (whether it be in the shares or exchanges section) require detailed knowledge in a very specific area but even in this case nothing can be taken for granted given that new experiences are many and unexpected. Constant variations which have no solution lead to regular need for training courses but such consent requires periodic evaluation, in that when the need for such courses is requested by the parties concerned interest is naturally more noticeable and participation levels higher.

If, on the other hand, it is the employer that makes the request for a training program, then there is no shortage of resistance unless this does not entail financial gain or promotion within the bank’s hierarchy. Not only does the percentage of registrations vary for both kinds of programs but also the level of absenteeism once the courses have formed. There is also the peculiar phenomenon of the low number of female attendance of such courses, irrespective of the female to male ratio employed by the banking institutions. As it stands, there are fewer women employed by the banks, and there are even less when it comes to women participating in training sessions.

            Research results have demonstrated that the level of participation in training courses is directly proportional to the level reached in one’s profession, the position held in the bank’s management echelons, to the progress achieved in one’s career based on criteria of merit and age (and time employed in the institution).

            It appears, however, that the overall opinion is less positive for training proposed by union groups and tends to be more favorable for those courses put forward by a bank’s management. Training arranged solely by banking institutions therefore appears to be more qualified and qualifying perhaps due to the high standard of preparation and the choice of trainers and methodology used.

            There is no doubt that, at the same time, the objectives of training programs offered by banking institutions lead to economic expansion and aim at privileging those consensual subjects who fall in line with the same politico-economic tendencies as the bank’s. These subjects are therefore  more facile and identify themselves well with the bank – the so-called “right kind of people for the job”. Participation to those courses organized by union groups is motivated, on the other hand, by a greater need to know one’s rights and the necessity to gather when their stance is in opposition to the bank’s.

            There is, finally, a strong desire for professional development which union groups cannot cater to (because of their propensity not to approach certain issues): it is this very sector that is worth considering very strongly.

            To conclude with, a slightly utopian provocation, though undoubtedly not unfounded nor out of place: how long before a training (and really informative) program is aimed not only at bank personnel but also to its clientele? The banks themselves are to gain, especially in terms of loyalty, an asset so precious that no advertising campaign, no matter how costly, could ever guarantee.