Strategic Planning Basics for Financial Institutions

Four pillars for smart strategic planning that will lead to seamless implementation

Image of business people working at a desk

Four pillars for smart strategic planning that will lead to seamless implementation

In his recent article on How Banks Can Compete In The Post-Neobank Era, Forbes Senior Contributor Ron Shevlin talks about strategic planning season as an opportunity to assess how banking delivers today while making progress for tomorrow at the same time. In planning, he says, banks should revisit the three core questions that address: “Which customers will be most important; which products will be the lead products and how do they have to be improved to be more competitive in the market; and where and how will we reach the most important customers.” In short, his advice focusses on critical considerations for sustainability and growth.   

From our vantage, we see some significant similarities at a high level between his strategic advice and our own, but where we differ is in the details. As partner to hundreds of financial institutions on their brand to branch strategies, we’ve seen firsthand the types of initiatives that come as an outgrowth of the strategic planning process by banks and credit unions. As banking leaders head into mission-critical strategic planning sessions for 2023, we’ve rounded up four principles and practices in strategic planning for financial institutions to keep in mind.  

1) Prioritizing Activities

As any leader knows, a good strategic plan includes a bucket list of action items that will get resources and attention – dependent on shifting conditions and institutional priorities – with decisions about what to advance and what to hold. Assessing capacity for smaller milestone steps during organizational prioritization will help the speed and smooth the process. Often, it’s too much of an ask to prioritize an entire initiative, but don’t underestimate the benefit of tackling a bite size chunk at a time and using it as a milestone for what’s to come. Leaders can learn important intel from that one step or at least make progress for the entire initiative. 

2) Enlisting Help

To help with the decision-making process, financial institutions have the option to enlist third-party expertise to help define a division of labor between internal and external resources. This third-party should bring more to the table than one asset line of accomplished work and instead focus on overall efficiencies for the organization. For example, while your marketing director and team are focused on launching that new loan program, your partner team is advancing the ball on brand awareness in a growth market.

Keep in mind that overburdening internal departments with the implementation of initiatives in the strategic plan can result in operational inefficiencies and unintended deficits that come from being stretched thin. The reality is that banks can often get more accomplished and do it well by budgeting for the right expert help upfront, to achieve organizational goals in both the short- and long-term. The end sum is going to be more progress, faster, smarter, and better. 

3) Efficiency Versus Growth

On the flip side is the acknowledgment outsourcing inevitably carries more cost. That means bank executives feel they have to pick between the initiative on their list that is about efficiency and saving and the initiative that is about growth and expansion. While those decisions shouldn’t be either/or, but rather both/and, we recognize that resourcing is a constant balance and a consistent challenge. But just because there’s a balance that doesn’t mean you have to abandon or deprioritize important parts of the plan. With the right support internally and externally, there’s a way to both control your resources and maximize your results. 

4) Decision-Making 

Every strategic plan will inevitably list several big categories and big goal statements. But where the rubber meets the road is how these goals get broken down into actionable items to implement across time. With the right intelligence and insights, institutions can see where attention ought to be and begin to apply a sensible, logical process to activate areas of the plan. Using data-driven market intelligence, executives can make sure they’re not acting on their own biases. Further, leveraging expert information, banks and credit unions can help put shape around plans to prioritize, inform and implement. 

For more information on strategic planning for growing financial brands or to speak with one of our banking experts, contact us at info@adrenalinex.com. Be sure to also stay tuned in to Believe in Banking as it highlights industry information and insights for banking leaders and Adrenaline’s Insights channel featuring banking and credit union strategies for success.


Adrenaline is an end-to-end brand experience company serving the financial industry. We move brands and businesses ahead by delivering on every aspect of their experience across digital and physical channels, from strategy through implementation. Our multi-disciplinary team works with leadership to advise on purpose, position, culture, and retail growth strategies. We create brands people love and engage audiences from employees to customers with story-led design and insights-driven marketing; and we design and build transformative brand experiences across branch networks, leading the construction and implementation of physical spaces that drive business advantage and make the brand experience real.

Related Insights