Colin Pidd engages Jaap Jonkman, a consultant with decades of executive experience in the financial industry, in a conversation about leadership in the landscape of global finance. They discuss the importance of instilling shared purpose and empathy in organizations ranging from banks to correctional facilities, and the roles that both shared purpose in the workplace and a growing shared economy will have on the future.


  • The lay of the land in banking is vastly different depending on geography and the strategy each country’s banks used to deal with the 2008 financial crisis, but what stays the same is the need for purpose.
  • Instilling purpose is the future of banking, and it hinges on the ability to relate both to your customers and your employees on a genuine, empathetic level.
  • In order to work toward being a successful banker or CEO, thinking long term and having the bravery to stand up and do differently is what will set you apart and ahead.
  • Catering to customers and making money are not mutually exclusive aims. In fact, the more seriously you consider your customers and employees, the more superior your returns.
  • The bridge between empathy and success in business is matching the purposes, concerns and circumstances of the other party with your own to meet a common end.
  • Purpose is considering what it means to be human, what your opportunity is here and how you live that every day.


Leadership From the Netherlands, All Over the World

0:43 Colin: With me is Jaap Jonkman, who spent a lot of time until recently in banking and finance. Today we’ll talk about the connection between purpose and empathy, which you don’t usually associate with finance and insurance. But first, Jaap, what made you decide to go into banking?

1:13 Jaap Jonkman: In university, I did economics with the purpose of getting out of the Netherlands as quickly as possible to see the world. I applied to many companies and the one that would send me abroad most quickly was a Dutch financial institution by the name of AMRO. So really, I joined banking because AMRO was the first to send me abroad.

1:56 Jaap: I worked in many countries. As the son of a diplomat, traveling was already in my blood. We went to Pakistan, Amsterdam, Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, Bangkok and many other places.

2:25 Jaap: We came to Sydney and Melbourne after I left AMRO and joined the National Australia Bank (NAB). I spent twelve years with them.

The Global Banking Landscape

2:38 Colin: What do you see in banking right now and what is it time for?

3:23 Jaap: Because it’s difficult to see from a global perspective, it’s useful to split up into four different groups. You have American banks. America’s economy is going better than most of the others and what they did in 2008 was very rapidly take all their bad loans, put them into a separate vehicle and start again. You can see those banks starting to move back to the returns that were there before the crisis hit. They won’t get back to the same levels of return since 2004-2007 were quite extraordinary, but they will get to decent levels of profitability.

4:22 Jaap: If you look at Europe, it’s a different story. The countries went to austerity. The banks did not write off all of the loans and kept them on the books. As a result, their returns are dismal at this point.

4:59 Jaap: In the Australia system, there are four pillars so we came through 2008 quite unscathed. Our returns have been high—the highest in the world.

5:18 Jaap: The fourth category is the Chinese banks, which have been lending to a lot of state-owned companies, so it’s very hard to see how many loans are performing and how many are not. China’s economy has boomed, but it’s been a credit-fueled boom over the last few years.

Purpose-Fueled Leadership in Banking

5:51 Colin: As we speak to CEOs of banks all over the world, they talk more and more of this notion of purpose.

6:08 Jaap: Purpose is the future of banks—or at least some of the banks. Without banks, the economy would struggle. As an example, I was running a business bank for New South Wales in Australia and it was such a privilege to see the customers who had built small businesses from scratch.

6:40 Jaap: When we would visit, they were so proud of what they had built and said they owed some of it to their first bank manager twenty years before. When I was feeling down, I would go visit these customers.

What is the decision I can make today, the value I can add today, that someone twenty years from now will talk about that silly Dutchman who had confidence in them?

7:30 Colin: Beyond what drives you, tell me about organizational purpose. Is it the same thing, and how do you use it?

7:41 Jaap: Purpose has an economic element to it, and banks play a very important element in that. There are two other elements: customers and employees.

8:01 Jaap: Currently, not just in banks, but in organizations we both work with, customer satisfaction and employee engagement are seen as methods to get more shareholder value. But if you think about purpose, they’re actually fantastic in their own right.

If you ask the people who work in an organization, “What makes you tick?” it’s not that we had 12% ROI; it is really that they made that customer leave with a smile on their face or the community they work in is more of a community than when they began work there.

8:36 Jaap: To hold onto all of those elements at the same time is where purpose comes in. For humanity, our opportunity is to live and banks can help us do that.

The Respected Banker

9:19 Colin: There’s a bank CEO in Australia who talks about wanting to make bankers more respectable, so people are proud to be bankers. Is that possible?

9:31 Jaap: It’s definitely possible, and it’s very important that it happens. The key question is, what is the timeframe? If you think you have to outperform this quarter or this year, then it will be much more difficult.

It’s fun to work for a respected bank. It’s great to be a customer of a respected bank. And it’s great to be the shareholder or CEO of a respected bank.

10:06 Jaap: The first week Paul Polman arrived at Unilever, he went to the different hedge funds. He told them their plan to go longer term and that, while he understood the role that the hedge funds played, he said Unilever was not the right company for them to invest in because they had the longer-term view.

There’s bravery in standing up and saying the type of shareholder you’re looking for are the ones who want to be around for the long run, with the promise to repay those returns over that period of time.

Trying on the Customer’s Shoes

11:10 Colin: What does it really mean to be purpose driven and customer-centric?

12:01 Jaap: There’s a need to do something that’s right for the customer that’s a very heartfelt and genuine intent. It is perceived as bullshit if people say they’ve looked at the analysis, and to outperform the market, they have to focus on the customer.

12:30 Jaap: The wider view is to come back to purpose.

Do you really want to add to your customers or do you just want to make more money? There is room for both. They do not have to be in conflict.

12:40 Colin: What you’re saying is being in community together.

12:57 Colin: That means you have to walk in the shoes of your customer, but that requires extraordinary self-awareness to become empathetic and neutral at the same time.

13:20 Jaap: When we talk about conversation, the fundamental premise we start with is if I have your best interest at heart and you have mine, we will feel that from one another.

If I know about what you’re concerned about, what your purpose is and what your circumstances are, and you know mine, then together we will create something.

13:34 Jaap: This ability to step into each other’s shoes is the starting point for creating value. If bankers step into the shoes of their customers or the people that work for them, there’s huge progress to be made.

13:45 Jaap: And vice versa. Customers can be asked to understand the position of the bankers at times. It comes from both sides. You can’t expect a bank to support requests that are not worth supporting.

14:35 Jaap: I was reading a book the other day that talked about three things that define success, one of which was mutuality. These are principles not to live up to, but to live into. How can we, in any transaction, begin this together so it’s best for both of us?

15:14 Colin: It’s not about true altruism, is it? It’s actually what Peter Block talks about as “enlightened self-interest.” You’re self interested, but there’s a connection inside of it.

15:30 Jaap; If you listen to astronauts or people who do a lot of meditation, they say we are all one. So the idea is if 6 billion people are in a bad space and I’m in a good space, how does that feel? Mutuality can bring us together one-one-one, but also humanity as a whole.

If banks start thinking, “What is our role in bringing forward humanity?” then over the long term they will get superior returns.

Empathy as a Source Hope

16:06 Colin: Besides banking and finance, you’ve also worked in corrections. There’s the balance of issues of safety and protecting people through the notion of rehabilitation. What have you seen that gives you hope around that sector?

16:44 Jaap: It’s such a difficult place to be and comes back to empathy. If you’re in an environment where you feel physically threatened every moment, how do you strive for mutuality?

17:05 Jaap: What gives me great hope is that I’ve seen two expressions. The first one is the therapeutic (over punitive) approach.

How can we help people move in the right direction beyond punishing them for what they’ve done?

17:32 Jaap: The other one is people who deal with difficult kids. They talk about trauma-informed learning, which also comes back to empathy. At any point in time, when you have direction with someone, you immediately put yourself in their shoes and think, “Where does this come from?” Instead of taking it personally, you understand the trauma this person has gone through. To step into these shoes takes so much patience, awareness and understanding, and the results are extraordinary.

18:48 Colin: That’s not just going to take a quick orientation program. What are some of the methods used in that kind of organization to get to that point? What can we take from that self-awareness, patience, discipline and courage in that kind of correctional organization into other places?

19:24 Jaap: The word that comes to me is integrity, which comes back to purpose. I’ve never comes across someone who doesn’t believe they have integrity. Everyone has integrity, even though our opinion of other people’s integrity is much easier to be negative about.

Integrity is asking, “How do I want to live my life? Who do I want to be as a leader? What contribution do we want our organization to make to society?”

19:58 Jaap: The leaders that have inspired me are ones that have a high integrity in what they are trying to do in life and they way they showed up in every minute. Purpose is considering what it means to be human, what your opportunity is here and how you live that every day.

20:34 Colin: Another thing about working in a correctional facility is if you feel like an island, it’s really hard. But if you’re together, that is a source of integrity and purpose as well.

20:53 Jaap: Absolutely. And integrity is considering what the intent of the collective community is, what the strategies are, and how individuals behave inside that.

A Shared Economy and the Future of Banking

21:50 Colin: This whole shared economy—Uber, Airbnb, etc.—what’s the future of that in banking?

21:58 Jaap: With crowd funding, you mean—people coming up with great ideas and other people supporting them?

It will flourish. Everywhere we see any sharing going on it seems to work really well.

22:14 Jaap: The only thing I can’t get my head around is (probably because I’m an institutionalized banker after twenty years) is the idea of credit worthiness. There’s so much effort that goes into bank systems to identify what is a credit worthy activity to get into and what is not. For novices to do that on the web…I think there would be a lot of tears. So that’s the only thing I’m not sure if I can reconcile.

22:44 Colin: We also know that if I’m vulnerable with you and I trust you, I’m more likely to be accountable.

22:55 Jaap: Absolutely. Look at micro-financing, for example. People were skeptical about that.

23:05 Colin: What about the future of banking in a more general way?

23:08 Jaap: There will be commercial banks and I think there will also be another breed of banks that have the purpose of adding to society as much as they can.

People will make a distinct choice to work there, bank there, and invest there.

23:44 Jaap: You’ll see a sharper delineation between the two, and there’s room for both. The question is where do you want to work, and where do you want to be a customer?

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