“Did he talk about silos?”…..” of course he did,” I said.  “We have to break down the silos that separate the academic side of the house from the Student Retention Office apparently.”….Emma wrinkled her nose: “ why is it a good thing to break silos? All that happens when you break a silo is that the grain spills out.  Or the missile falls over.” 

(Frankie Bow, The Musubi Murder (Professor Molly Mysteries #1) 

Admittedly, not the most conventional prelude to an article that otherwise lacks any such frivolity in addressing one of the financial services industry’s greatest foibles.  

Silos: Towering constructs that dotted the landscape of a childhood spent around farms now replaced by the equally pervasive “business as usual” constructs which have become somewhat endemic to today’s financial services industry:  necessary evils” in the name of industrialisation, efficiency, cost-cutting and “doing more with less” Siloed ways of working which, in fact, are the complete antithesis of that which they seek to achieve.  

Constructs, not dissimilar to those found on a farm, that whilst indeed preservative in nature only serve to obstruct, stagnate and impede progression, thwarting collaboration and interconnectivity between departments, teams and systems.  Silos are the preservers of legacy ways of thinking and doing; of legacy systems that have been bastardised far beyond those purposes for which they were ever designed; of knowledge ascribed to the sole domain of key individuals. Preservers that have engendered a culture of “button-pushing” operators who lack the inclination to understand the “whys” or the “wherefores” of what they do on a daily basis or the ramifications of their actions or any concept of what the bigger “front-to-end picture” actually looks like. 

If we are to believe, as Emma does in the above excerpt, that all that happens when you break a silo is that a “little grain falls out”, why are we so persistent in our quest to protect, promote and indeed somewhat nurture the existence of such silos within our organisations?  What, after all, is a little spillage amongst friends?  Why is the opportunity to get rid of the old and replace it with new, fresher content met with such aversion?   

Perhaps it is not so much the spillage per se that concerns us when a silo is broken, but rather the content of that spillage and how, or what it will expose about our respective organisations: Inefficiencies, inaccuracies, misassumptions, outdated knowledge, disregard for regulatory obligations; indifference to clients; a mismatch between technical solutions and operational reality and a clear position of the “left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing” being left painfully bare. 

With an ever-increasing focus on robust governance that sees regulators increasingly demand transparency around decision making, processes and controls and increasingly holds responsible individuals accountable, how is this to be realistically achieved when many organisations lack such internal transparency or clarity around roles and responsibilities, not to mention any sense of the upstream and downstream ramifications of certain activities within those said organisations. 

To achieve this and meet regulatory expectations and true optimisation of their respective business models, organisations and the individuals tasked with ensuring their success will have to demonstrate a decisive move away from such siloed methodologies of working.  Instead, the focus needs to be on achieving true integration and interconnectivity between individuals, departments, functions and systems; adopting a holistic “front-to-end” approach where internal transparency and “talking” is the order of the day.  

With that, let’s return silos to where they rightfully belong: on farms, fulfilling the purpose for which they were designed: 

“Silos are for Holding Grain in” (Greg Hobbs) 

That way we need not concern ourselves with spillages or the contents thereof! 

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