top of page

All the World’s a Stage: Lessons from theatre to inform bank/fintech partnerships

The mercurial and moody Jacques from Shakespeare’s As You Like It exclaims, “All the world’s a stage.” It took adulthood and two computer monitors to understand how true that statement is, especially when it comes to banking, technology, and, most importantly, the partnerships that occur between them. 

Obviously, there are self-explanatory similarities: Pitches, speaking engagements, and even short Zoom meetings provide a stage and an audience. You can be the smartest person in attendance with the best idea ever thought, but if you don’t know how to connect to the audience in the room with you, you’re either going to come across as someone who doesn’t know that they’re talking about, or a giant prick. I’ve seen both. 

We all want to see a good movie, just like people in the industry want to see fruitful a partnership. Here are some of the more nuanced parallels from theatre I’ve seen applied to partnerships: 

It’s All About the Other 

Art is subjective, but one of the best ways to tell if an actor knows what they’re doing is to watch how they respond to their scene partner. Are they truthfully reacting to what is being said to them, or are they standing and waiting to say the lines they’ve memorized? 

Bankers, the next time you watch a pitch or find yourself in a demo hall, really listen and observe how founders and salespeople are interacting and communicating with potential buyers. Sure, one-on-one conversations at the hotel bar are one thing, but is that person sticking to a script, or are they taking in not only what is being said, but how it’s being said? What’s the other person’s body language saying? Are they distracted? Are they excited? 

Fintechs, if you’re thinking about your next line (preformulated or not), you’re not being present with your partner. And it doesn’t take a theatre degree to figure that out. 

Not Urgent? Not happening. 

Plays, musicals, and movies happen because of urgency — we wouldn’t watch it, otherwise. 

It can take incredible measures of conflict — truly, right up to the wire — to spur financial institutions into action. Frankly, they have a lot going on, and just because they're experiencing a problem doesn’t mean that the resolution of that problem needs to happen immediately. 

Some banks are better at parsing urgency than others; some need assistance in figuring out what they need to target. The right fintech can be a huge help in spotting and uncovering urgency, but they must communicate that very clearly. Bankers have too much going on, and will not always connect the dots for themselves, or, more importantly, for their executive team. 

I was recently talking to a fintech company that solves a lot of problems. That’s an incredible feat, but it’s actually too broad for a lot of bankers to grasp. By solving every problem, what’s tackled first, what’s tackled well

Fintechs, know the problem you’re solving for banks, when to broach solving it, and why it needs to be solved now. Timing is everything. 

Protagonist is King 

Banks are the protagonists of this story. 

I’ll say it again: 

Banks are the protagonists of this story. 

In improv (art that is made up on the spot), we say, “Protagonist is king.” What this means is that during a show, the only responsibility a protagonist has is to say yes or no to what is presented to them. If the protagonist wants to become an astronaut, it is the job of the scene partner to act as the head of NASA and offer the protagonist a job offer on the spot. 

As the solution to a bank’s problem, fintechs have to A) make themselves known (don’t bet exclusively on inbounds), and B) adapt, respond, pivot, and re-present when necessary. 

True partnerships shouldn’t be completely one-sided, but don’t make bank partners have to work hard to make the partnership work. Make it easy for them to say yes or no. And if there is a no, figure out why — don’t assume the bank “isn’t ready” or “just doesn’t get it.” 

Don’t end up as the villain of their story. 

Collaboration is Key 

This seems obvious, but I’m listing it last for a reason: It’s still the most important part of a partnership. 

It’s easy to be bogged down or even shut down by deadlines, budget, misalignment, and stress. I’ve been part of some gnarly productions over the years — the ones that were most successful never had anything to do with the actual production of the show, but rather on the process and experience working with other people on the project. 

This isn’t to say that end-results don’t matter, because they very much do in banking. We want adoption, we want a problem to be solved, we want the experience to positively improve. But I think the actual work of partnering is an undervalued component of bank-fintech partnerships today. That partnership process informs so much more than ROI or adoption; it changes how institutions operate and how they view working with future partners. 

Over lunch (or dinner), I highly recommend that you watch the 2013 intro to the Tony Awards. It’s an eight-minute masterclass in having a hundred different departments come together to create an unforgettable live experience for viewers, never forgetting the “why” behind why they’re doing it all (you’ll know it when you see it). Fundamental alignment isn’t always a given when working with external partners, but when it is, it creates magic. 

The feeling of being on stage is incredible, but it’s the experience of the production that brings me back to the audition room time and time again. Engaging in partnerships shouldn’t end with a champagne toast or stamp that says, “I did it!” They should make you want to get back on stage and work to get better and to do it again. And again after that. 

Because once you have a taste, it’s hard to stop. 


bottom of page