The Power of Curiosity in Process Improvement Strategy

While there are many in-depth approaches to process improvement initiatives out there, often small- to medium-size financial institutions have neither the time nor the resources to tackle a complete overhaul of the organization. With that said, there are countless valuable opportunities available to make small improvements that will lead to excellent results. Cultivating an atmosphere of curiosity is the key to identifying these opportunities and implementing meaningful change.

Anyone who is a fan of the show Ted Lasso recognizes the darts scene against the Rupert character nemesis as a pivotal moment where Ted imparts the wisdom of cultivating curiosity over judgment. In this blog, Eric Stables, PRI consultant, looks at how curiosity can set the stage for successful process improvement initiatives with big bottom-line rewards.     


There is no shortage of white papers out there about process improvement for banks, but many describe nebulous or complex processes that can be intimidating and expensive. Stables said a more effective strategy is to create an environment that enables the bank to identify and implement lots of quick little wins instead of trying to “boil the ocean.”

“The executive team doesn’t always think to ask where the pain points are,” Stables said. “And the people on the frontlines doing the work don’t want to complain or they think, ‘If there was a better way, someone would’ve told me.’ They continue to dread parts of their jobs that could be addressed and improved if there was a safe environment for speaking up.”

Creating a safe environment where curiosity is encouraged and rewarded will reap many process improvement rewards. Generally, the team wants to contribute and those doing the tasks are often best suited to identify problems and suggest solutions.

Getting to the Heart of the Problem

According to Harvard Business Review’s article Good Leadership is About Asking Good Questions, “The kind of questions leaders need to ask are those that invite people to come together to explore major new opportunities that your organization hasn’t identified yet.” Stables said it’s a best practice of leaders to ask their teams the following questions on a regular basis:

  •  Tell me about the parts of your job that are “painful.”
  • What tasks do you dread doing and why?
    • Do the tasks take a long time to do?
    • Are they repetitive or redundant?
    • Do they keep you from doing other more important (customer-centric) things? 
    • Do they require multiple approvals or inputs/references?   
  •  Tell me what you would do differently if you were in charge? Suggest a solution.

Stables said that one example from many years ago of a process improvement he initiated sticks out in his mind. At a bank where he was a senior leader, he discovered that in the afternoons, his customer service team was not answering the phones because they were too busy hand-stuffing printed statements.

“This was a manual, repetitive task that was not ‘customer-centric,’ and it was easily solved with technology,” Stables said. “Once the expectation was set with my team that they could identify problems and offer solutions, we started to see some powerful change.”

Stables said that the onus cannot be put on the frontline team alone, however. FI managers and executives should actively solicit feedback and be prepared to offer resources where necessary including empathy, training, time, money, expertise and follow up.

Implementing a Culture of Curiosity and Process Improvement

Banks often use process improvement frameworks to enhance efficiency, customer satisfaction and compliance. The most common operations areas where banks may apply these frameworks and where they can encourage a culture of curiosity include:

Customer Onboarding and Account Management

  • Streamlining the account opening process.
  • Improving Know Your Customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering (AML) processes.
  • Enhancing the customer verification and authentication procedures.

Loan Processing

  • Accelerating loan approval processes.
  • Enhancing credit risk assessment and management.
  • Optimizing documentation and validation procedures.

Transaction Processing

  • Improving the efficiency of payment processing.
  • Reducing errors and exceptions in transaction handling.
  • Enhancing fraud detection and prevention mechanisms. 

Customer Service and Support

  • Optimizing call center processes.
  •  Improving the resolution time for customer inquiries and issues.
  • Enhancing communication channels for customer support.

Compliance and Regulatory Reporting

  • Ensuring adherence to regulatory requirements.
  • Streamlining compliance reporting processes.
  • Enhancing data accuracy and transparency for regulatory purposes.

Risk Management

  • Improving risk assessment and mitigation processes.
  • Enhancing fraud detection and prevention mechanisms.
  • Streamlining processes related to credit risk, market risk, and operational risk.

Branch Operations

  • Optimizing the workflow at bank branches.
  • Improving cash handling processes.
  • Enhancing customer experience in physical locations.

Mobile and Online Banking

  • Enhancing the user experience for digital banking platforms.
  • Improving security measures for online transactions.
  • Streamlining the process of introducing new digital features.

Back-Office Operations

  • Optimizing back-office processes such as data entry and reconciliation.
  • Reducing manual interventions through automation.
  • Enhancing the efficiency of record-keeping and documentation.

IT and Technology Operations

  • Improving IT service management processes.
  • Enhancing cybersecurity measures and incident response.
  • Streamlining software development and release processes.

Cross-functional Collaboration

  • Improving communication and collaboration between different departments.
  • Enhancing coordination between front-office and back-office operations.
  • Streamlining end-to-end processes that involve multiple functions.

By continually seeking input from all levels at the FI about processes and pain points in these areas of operation, process improvement becomes a natural and ongoing way of working. A culture of curiosity rather than judgment will foster not just identification of problems, but smart, effective solutions that will make a real difference in people’s day-to-day jobs and in the overall profitability of the organization.   


Good Leadership is About Asking Good Questions – Harvard Business Review

Profit Resources specializes in identifying profitability improvement areas for financial institutions through revenue growth, cost control, streamlining processes, and effective use of technology. Contact us to learn more about our personalized approach to propel growth and improve profitability.

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