Core Values: Do All Banks Really Believe the Same Thing?

What are “core values?”

Financial institutions often get confused about what the difference is between mission statements, vision statements and core values.

Quite simply, core values are an organization’s philosophical ideals. One easy easy way to define a core value is to simply finish this sentence: “We believe in ___________ .” If it doesn’t work within this sentence structure, it probably isn’t a core value and belongs somewhere else in the framework of a brand strategy (e.g., you wouldn’t say “We believe in ‘friendly,'” because “friendly” is a personality attribute and not a core value.)

What do banks believe?

The Financial Brand studied the core values of 50 banks with assets ranging from the millions up to hundreds of billions. The conclusion? No matter how big, how small or where they are in the world, banks all pretty much share the same beliefs. Shocking? Not really. But there are a couple of surprises.

Here are the values most commonly listed by the 50 banks studied.

  1. Integrity – 34 banks
  2. Teamwork – 15 banks
  3. Excellence – 11 banks
  4. Commitment – 10 banks
  5. Honesty – 10 banks
  6. Respect – 10 banks
  7. Service – 10 banks
  8. Professionalism – 8 banks
  9. Customers – 7 banks
  10. Trust – 6 banks
  11. Community – 6 banks
  12. Loyalty – 6 banks
  13. Innovation – 5 banks

The most common core values cited by banks are depicted in the Wordle diagram at the top of this article. The more common the word, the larger it is (the colors don’t mean anything).

The average was 4.66 values per bank. No matter what the consultants say, there is no “right number” of values to have — not too many, not too few. Your organization is what it stands for and believes what it believes, however many things that may be.

Ironically, one bank listed “staying true to our core values” as one of its core values.

Integrity was offered by over two-thirds of banks. Many make an effort to define the term, although most agree on the general principle, “It’s about doing the right thing.”

Most of the 50 banks’ core values were dull, uninspiring bullet lists that eventually all blurred together. But there were some interesting values that popped up once or twice: Agility, Creativity, Knowledge, Passion. But where are themes like Transparency? Accountability?

There are a few exceptions. Take Mulukanoor Cooperative Rural Bank in India for example. Its core values aren’t just shallow corporate cliches:

  • A belief in being true “sons of the soil”
  • A pride in a calling called farming
  • Help thy farmer brother, you are helping yourself
  • Self discipline and honesty
  • Complete transparency and accountability

Cornerstone Bank also receives an honorable mention for its unique Christian values.

Some of the more interesting core values comes from the failed financial behemoth WaMu:

  • Fair
  • Caring
  • Human
  • Dynamic
  • Driven

These are uncommon core values, and they were something WaMu tried hard to live out. Indeed one could argue that WaMu was perhaps too “Driven,” since it was their subprime assertiveness that drove them into the ground.


If your core values include any from the list above, they probably aren’t doing much to differentiate you… if they are doing anything at all.

Key Question: If your core values are the same as everyone else, then what strategic role do they play?

Just like mission statements, financial institutions’ core values are loaded with bromides — safe expressions that executive committees  and boards can rally around without argument or struggle. Who could possibly object to “Teamwork?” Who isn’t in favor of “Excellence?” For many institutions, these kind of core values are pretty much hollow, meaningless corporate B.S., something The Financial Brand calls C.R.a.P.

Bottom Line: Core values are meaningless unless you…

  1. Use them to evaluate prospective employees,
  2. Measure employee performance accordingly, and (most importantly)
  3. Stick to them.


What would happen if there was a “Financial Constitution” for consumers — a Banking Bill of Rights — that laid out what people should expect from any bank: Integrity, Excellence, Honesty, Respect, Professionalism? If that standard applied equally to everyone at all banks, what would your core values be then?

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