We were always taught that the two topics that you never bring up in polite conversation are religion and money.  Well, bankers, lets stop being polite!

Religion, in general, interests me … the psychology, sociology and history of how religion has dramatically affected our world … good and bad.

As marketers, we are naturally analytic and geek-out over what makes people tick. That said, we should pay particular attention to religion. After all, only 16.3% of people, worldwide, do NOT affiliate with some kind of religious doctrine (31.5% Christian, 23.2% Muslim, 15.0% Hindu, 7.1% Buddhist, according to 2010 Pew findings). Though, at least with American Millennials, that trend is taking a drastic turn (see the inset to the right).

In the past, I’ve talked about Branding’s Holy Trinity.

As community banks and credit unions, we should study up on the Buddhist philosophies that focus on the Cessation of Suffering.

But today, I want to focus on Islam.

Especially this week, after “The Donald’s” controversial (read asinine) comments about not allowing Muslims into the US, it seems like you cannot turn on the TV without hearing about Islam.  As someone who grew up Christian and has recently been studying Buddhist philosophies, this intrigued me.  I’m not one to get all of my information from Fox News or MSNBC (in fact, I tend to disbelieve BOTH of these “sources”), so I set out to research Islam on my own. I am by no means a religious scholar, but I found that basic Islamic principles can relate to your bank or credit union.

Islam is built on Five Pillars:

  1. The Creed: This is the foundation for all other practices in Islam. Most religions have some form of creed. A summary statement of what you believe. Much like Muslims are expected to recite the creed in prayer, your staff should be able to recite your institution’s creed: your mission and brand story.
  2. Prayer: In Islam, ritual prayer must be performed five times per day. The intent is to focus the mind. While doing anything ritualistic five times per day would essentially shut down your branches, there is value in a daily ritual to focus your staff. Remind them, every single day, that banking is not a “simply pick up your check on Friday,” job. We change people’s lives, we deal with people’s money. From tellers to call center to collections, this should be the focus of every member of your team.
  3. Alms-Giving is meant to assure that those who have help those who do not.  Again, we are in the business of affecting people’s lives. For our purposes, in financial services, we should celebrate and share the experiences when we are able to help our customers. Helping to lower someone’s monthly payments, assuring a family can keep their home, assisting a young mother to purchase the car that will allow her freedom and wider job opportunities …
  4. Fasting is to encourage a feeling of nearness to God. I’ve visited Muslim friends during this time and it is brutal! Giving up chocolate for Lent has nothing on Muslim fasting! I believe that the “nearness” comes from a certain empathy gained through a degree of suffering. While we do not need to make our staff suffer, we certainly need to cultivate a culture of empathy. When that man rushes into our branch at 4:55 on Friday afternoon, it may be to deposit a check that will help him keep his heat on that weekend. We must always put ourselves in our customer’s shoes first! Empathy is possibly the most important trait that we can have as financial institutions.
  5. Pilgrimage, which should be done at least once in a Muslim’s lifetime to help them to connect with their past through rituals that relive or reenact significant moments in the faith. We are all products of where we came from. You should always be helping your team to understand your company’s past. In our case, we had a holiday party in the exact same restaurant were the idea for MarketMatch was sparked. It allowed, even new employees to understand the foundation and feel more connected with the company and the brand.

The Ten Commandments
Here’s another thought. In my research, I also learned that all of the major world religions have some form of the Ten Commandments. Christian and Jews, of course, have the tablets that Moses carried down from Mt, Sinai. The Quran speaks of them in Surah Anaam.  Buddhists have the Ten Non-Virtues.

You should have some version of your own ten commandments. A set of well-defined internal standards that your team lives by. They should be detailed in your employee handbook. Trained on day one with a new hire. Repeated on a regular basis. They should be the foundation of your staff reviews. Everyone should know them … no excuses.

In the end, we are more similar than we are different and, for the life of me, I can’t understand why we discriminate, berate and even kill each other over personal beliefs. But, by understanding these beliefs, we can all become better people and better financial providers.

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…

Imagine there’s no counties
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace..

~ John Lennon

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