Mission, Vision, Values… And The Missing Piece

Some financial institutions have mission statements. Some have vision statements. Some have both. Some companies have a defined list of core values, while others don’t. One thing is for sure: There is a lot of confusion about what each of these tools should do.

The difference between a Mission Statement, a Vision Statement and Core Values in the simplest terms:

  • Mission Statements – Say what you’re doing today
  • Vision Statements – Say what you want to accomplish tomorrow
  • Core Values – Define what you believe in

Reality Check: Most mission statements are full of trite, feel-good expressions. They only get approved because they say nothing unique nor courageous.

Here’s an example of a mission statement for an imaginary financial institution:

“Our mission is to be the premier provider
of superior financial solutions by
earning people’s trust in the most friendly,
professional manner possible.”

It is no one’s in particular. And yet it is everyone’s.

The day-to-day purpose, goals and beliefs of most financial institutions are almost identical, so it’s no surprise that they have similar-sounding missions, visions or values. They all want to “do what’s right,” and “hold themselves to the highest standards,” so they can…Yeah, yeah. It’s the same stuff you hear from hundreds of financial institutions.

Reality Check: In this economic climate, you’ll have to forgive the folks on Main Street. You may say you’re trying to do the right thing for your community, your employees and your shareholders, but right now, people are a little jaded and skeptical about such statements. When most people read a mission statement (including employees), they roll their eyes and think, “Phhbbbt…’a premier financial institution.’ Just more corporate mumbo-jumbo.”

Lookalike missions, visions and core values aren’t the real problem though. It’s when the board, CEO or senior leadership of a financial institution confuse any of these things for a brand strategy or brand position that real problems arise. In most cases, they aren’t anywhere close.

The missing piece: a brand position

All too often, senior management and the board are left trying to build a 3-legged brand strategy out of statements that essentially say the same thing as their competitors. The result? An undifferentiated brand.

Reality Check: The #1 thing that prevents an organization from crafting a brand position is that the CEO or board thinks the mission or vision is “the brand.” Odds are, these brands will live stunted lives.

What they need is the fourth leg of the table: a Brand Position. A Brand Position (or brand essence, or brand strategy, or USP, or whatever you want to call it) is where you can really differentiate yourself in relevant ways.

Things like mission, vision and values clarify what an organization is about, while a Brand Position says how you will deliver on those things. A Brand Position says how you will achieve your mission, accomplish your vision, and live out your values. It says how you will be different than your competitors. Will you become “the premier provider” by making banking easier? Will you be the most knowledgeable advisors?

Let’s use Disney as example. Their mission might be something safe, like:

“Our mission is to provide a wide range
of quality entertainment options
to families and children of all ages.”

Other entertainment companies could very well have an identical mission statement. And Disney’s core values are probably shared with at least some of their competitors. After all, Disney isn’t the only innovative family entertainment provider out there.

So what makes Disney special? It’s their Brand Position:


And they live this out. If you’ve ever seen a Disney film, gone to a Disney theme park or cruised on a Disney vessel, you should have had a fairytale experience. That’s how they provide “quality entertainment to families” differently than everyone else.

They can train people to live out their brand position. They can (and do) teach people how to make magic moments — how to use their imagination and creativity to do something people will remember. It’s engaging. Fun. Inspiring.

They are “The Happiest Place on Earth” because “The Magic Kingdom” is the kind of place “Where Dreams Come True.” (See the how a brand position can bring clarity, relevance and differentiation to tangible things like slogans?)

It’s a lot harder to help your staff understand what “premier” or “preferred” mean. Those kinds of terms are hard to train because they are vague, and have many varied interpretations to different people.


Give them something inspirational — that’s also credible — and watch them respond.

Jeffry PilcherDon't miss The Financial Brand Forum 2019, the biggest and fastest-growing annual conference for senior-level executives in the banking industry. Join 2,000+ of the best and brightest in banking April 15-17, 2019 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Banks and credit unions that register now save $1,105.00 and pay nothing until next year!

This article was originally published on September 29, 2008. All content © 2018 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.


  1. Jeff Stephens says:

    Jeffry, I too come across a lot of weak, cliche mission, vision and core values statements. And I agree that it’s the brand position that’s missing. Sometimes (maybe when I’m feeling particularly skeptical), I can’t help but want to toss out the mission and vision completely…leaving only a very well crafted and differentiated brand position.

    What are your thoughts–do you feel strongly that mission and vision statements are important to have? I think the fact that I’ve never seen a really strong mission or vision statement in a bank or credit union has left me feeling that they’re not really that important.

  2. Good question Jeff. No, I don’t think a mission or vision statement is important. They are most often the outcome of an exercise at a board retreat or annual planning session. The board and senior management are supposed to meet at least once a year, but what are they supposed to talk about? Eventually, someone suggests working on mission and vision statements. So a consultant is called in, grand terms are thrown about, and platitudes rule the day. Then, after all that “hard work” and “consensus-building,” the board feels so vested in it (or the senior management team is so fearful of changing it) that these hollow expressions get framed and mounted on walls and sit there for 10-20 years.

    A mission statement is the first thing I’d chuck. They all pretty much read like the one I wrote in the article.

    Vision statements could be worthwhile, but that all hinges on having worthwhile goals. “Becoming the preferred provider…” doesn’t cut it. I’d throw 98% of all vision statements out and start over.

    No one ever said you HAVE to have a mission or vision statement. Back in the 50s, these were the kinds of tools that USED to do the work of brand positions. But these days, our collective understanding of how brands are built make these tools a bit archaic.

    Core values are entirely different. They can really help define an organization’s DNA. But most financial institutions need to start over. They have core values like “trust,” “integrity” and “service” because those are feel-good terms. Few organizations really know who they are, and are in touch with their values. And even fewer do the hard work to figure it out. Just slap “professional” on the list and call it a day.

  3. Pam Alvord says:

    It’s the marketing buzzwords that make something sound so great, but yet end up being so ineffective. They will kill you every time. For a list of terms to avoid, in your brand positioning (and ideally your mission, vision and core values also) check out http://bit.ly/B32r


  4. Owen Romeo says:

    I think,having a Mission statement and a vision statement in a financial institution or a firm is peculiar in this economic environment.Any financial firm without a mission will never know what she is trying to accomplish,….
    Likewise without a Vision statement,any financial institution will not be focused on what she wants to achieve and where she intends to go,to be in the future…..( )
    To me it is a preliquisite to have both mission and vision statements.

  5. Great article!

  6. Vicky chebet says:

    A mission is very important coz it gives one direction and it even motivates the employees to work efficiently and it guides the F.I in making a good strategic marketing plan and to focus on the future

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