Digital Banking and the Consumer – “It’s complicated”

When outrage and indignation turn to “meh”

We, the digitally savvy customers, stopped hating banking. Not sure when and not sure why but while if anyone shakes us to ask if we love it, we’ll admit it’s a pain the hinny – we don’t actively hate it anymore.

Now of course loving them would be a preferable emotion but in the absence of the positive the negative was still reflecting some type of connection and a hefty amount of expectation and yet that seems to have faded too.

Citizens against bankers sleeping outside – where did that go?

Where are the street protests against the latest Wells Fargo wrong?

More importantly, who’s painting the protest signs demanding digital on-boarding and financial insights?

We seem to have succumbed to believing this is the sum total best we can obtain from our banking experience and that yes, we are expected to remain loyal to it even when we can objectively can see all our other digital experiences are faster, more available and useful and infinitely more pleasant. But is that loyalty or a Stockholm syndrome?

It’s fascinating to meet people who do CX across industries and hear their understanding of terms such as NPS and Loyalty as the gap between their understanding of consumer expectations and what we are privileged enough to have in banking is staggering.

I called it the real Irrational Loyalty it can’t possibly be rational that we stick with an experience that is so far removed from the standard we are used to in other offerings.

Has peak dissatisfaction passed?

A few years back we had protests, we had consumer demands and we had hope in what digital experience in banking was going to bring. It seems to have all but quieted down.

Banks no longer trumped the customer-centric mantra -presumably in an effort to outline how it has now become part of their every breath- and we no longer demand and expect much of anything.

The percentage of people who declare themselves unsatisfied with the level of service they get from their bank is often lower than what we saw several years ago and that can’t be  attributed to better offerings, it is simply a matter of higher tolerance.

We are no longer disappointed because we no longer expect much.

Why is the gap between expectations in technology and expectations in any type of financial service widening, instead of it narrowing?

How come we expect Google to finish our every thought the second we typed the first letter of a search but we never expect to find a transaction in our mobile bank?

How come we get annoyed when Netflix suggests something we don’t instantly enjoy feeling the same way we do when a friend forgets a deep secret we shared but we think normal the extreme degree of aggravation making a simple transfer brings?

How come we install updates to our favourite apps with glee, anticipating the extra level of simplicity and fun with giddy anticipation but put off updates to our banking apps for months or years because we fully expect them to either lock us out entirely or deliver an even more disappointing experience we’ll have to learn a whole new set of work arounds for?

How come we would never dream of waiting for Whatsapp to react for 10 seconds before presuming it’s hanging but patiently give our bank minutes of blank, hypnotised stares at loading screens, willing them silently to reward our patience with displaying a meaningless balance and dreading having to get to this point in the process again should we be foolish enough to restart?

Personal responsibility

Do we as consumers really tell banks what’s what though? Do we complain, suggest, insist? We really don’t.

How many of us filled in a contact form to report on  how many clicks you spent trying to find the contact number? How many of us picked up the phone to tell our banks that having to log in to the online site and dig around 3275 different link before finding our IBAN is ludicrous?

With the lowered expectations comes a higher treshold for the fact that our time and sanity are being sacrificed and we don’t end up saying anything, at least not before we have exhausted all the absurd paths and possibilities we can think of to extract our service out of the clunky digital experience.

We have to take responsibility for this, fellow digital banking customers (and you bankers reading this, you’re a customer as well, you’re not exempt because you understand how hard some things would be to change) – it won’t get better before we moan louder.

Our self-esteem has taken a battering in banking but we can’t allow it to continue. We have to demand our “MoneyMoments™ not Products” and “All-other-apps level emotionally charged experiences” from our bank. Because we’re worth it. Because this relationship  needs to get better, healthier, more satisfying and match our general relationship standard with every other piece of technology.


Let’s face it, with every other digital experience we are in a clear relationship status – most that we interact with daily are enthusiastically under “engaged” or “married” and some, the ones that disappointed us, are firmly under the “divorced” category.

It’s only digital banking that needs the sadly all-too-apt “it’s complicated” status and it’s time that changed.







Santander and the Disposable Client

We are all constantly  bombarded with articles about banks individually or collectively wronging their customers to the point that we seem to have built resistance to being indignant.

It’s no secret that, for reasons that warrant attentive study, many account holders have developed a Stockholm-syndrome-like relationship with their bank where a hefty amount of “Irrational Loyalty” makes them immensely more permissive towards being given poor levels of customer support. Last week’s story though, is taking the cake.

Santander sent a letter threatening to close a customer’s account.

Let that sink in. Close. Her. Account.


Was this because she failed to maintain any of her contractual obligations? No. Was it because they suspected she is involved with any dodgy activities? Nope. Was it because she failed any payments? No Siree. It was because she made an offhand remark in a conversation with a customer representative that offended them.

Now for those of you not familiar with the story you’d be forgiven to think the poor woman lost her cool following one of the many failed interactions with her bank, where they upheld their firm habit of failing to serve her, and finally gave the bank, through their representative, the phone worker, a piece of her mind. (After all that’s incidentally the primary reason why AI will be slow to completely replace workers in branches or on calls, in my opinion, because it’s infinitely more satisfactory to scream at a human when we can’t take it anymore.)

That’s not what happened. While in the process of making a human connection and trying to make conversation Mrs. Leigh mentioned a term recently coined by the media about his place of residence. The man was from Bradford which was recently dubbed “CurryLand” in the press as it has the highest concentration of restaurants providing the delicious dish in the country. She remarked on that probably in much the same way she would have remarked on tulips about Amsterdam or on chocolate about Switzerland, mindless small talk designed to further the conversation and then promptly, forgot about it. Imagine her shock when receiving the letter all but accusing her of racism and threatening to close her account.

If we leave the Political-Correctness-gone-mad angle out of it let’s look at it from the perspective of Santander – if you listen to their PR teams, examine their marketing and watch their latest acquisitions in FinTech, you’d be thinking they are well on their way to the trendy state of CX Nirvana – being “Customer Obsessed”.

And then they send this to Mrs. Leigh:

Should there be repeats of this behaviour when contacting us, we may have no option but to review our banking relationship with you and we may then decide it is in everyone’s interests for you to seek alternative banking arrangements.’

Oh dear.

Now don’t get me wrong, no one claims banks can turn into Zappos over night and drill the importance of PEC (Personal Emotional Connection) into their employees while expecting them to be fiercely invested in making their caller happy like they do, but “seek alternative banking arrangements“?!?

It’s not like we expect Santander to surprise and delight Mrs. Leigh or that they would wow her with relevant and emotionally charged Money Moments™ she would fondly recall for years to come and that would turn her into a fervent brand advocate, but “review our banking relationship“?!?

It’s not exclusively Satander’s fault either.

This – the lack of customer service excellence, the subpar digital experience, the absence of true desire to serve, it all amounts to an abusive relationship and we, the battered consumers, stick around. We have to take some responsibility for it. They don’t know any better, we don’t switch banks, we don’t leave, we stick around and stick it out again and again. We have to shake the victim mentality and collectively sanction it before it will get better. We can’t carry on with the inferiority complex and this diffuse feeling that banks are doing us a favour by engaging and as a result, constantly demand so much less out of them than we do of any other service provider.

Even taking a closer look at the amount of attention this story got is telling. The field day the press should have had with this, yet the Little Britain”Computer says “no” and the “no soup for you!” Seinfeld Soup Nazi references are nowhere to be seen. It has only been reported in a handful of fringe or weekend papers and main media has, so far, stayed away from it. That’s likely because of the “Snowflake angle” but what if it is also a symptom of our general resilience and nonchalance to the dismal levels of service we get from our banks. What if they deemed it unimportant because “hey, it’s just banks, what do you expect?”

Back to Santander though. The banker that wrote that letter is the banker who is meant to have the passion and knowledge to put the customer at the heart of every interaction. The banker that wrote that letter is who is meant to keep clients coming back to Santander when they could bank with Starling or even Amazon. More terrifyingly, the banker who wrote that will be informing AI.

Good luck to Santander and good luck to us all.

TSB and The Remainers

If we work in Banking in the UK, or even if we are involved with Digital Banking anywhere, we can’t *not* talk about the TSB debacle. I’ve been called by various publications from the most obscure to the BBC for comment over the past week and with it still not having been resolved this is certainly un-ignorable.

I’ll admit this one is a difficult one for me because I see both sides clearly and I have empathy for both. Typically, I can find myself firmly on one side of the issue or the other. With TSB, it’s hard to be my usual fanatical-about-experience customer self, exasperated with the dismal amount of service the bank provided when they could have easily done better because there is no clear-cut “easily” about this.

Now don’t get me wrong, the migration, however necessary (and not simply to cut 100M of cost as the press claims) was certainly botched. No contest about that. Not even Mr. Pester claims otherwise. Irrespective of the objective tangle level of the legendary “back-end spaghetti”, there must have been ways in which this nightmare could have been prevented.

I think this instance raises interesting questions in general about the expectation of availability of digital services and whether or not perchance, the regulator has a duty of care for the visibility of data if not for the availability, but this is by no means the last time this will happen no matter how much more cautious other banks will be when they replace or improve their respective disastrous back-ends.

When the Facebook data debacle happened, I could see how that will provide an excuse for banks not to investigate and use data for the benefit of the consumer, this scandal won’t provide any excuses for banks not do away with their own spaghetti simply because the former was a business growth strategy paused, the latter is a sine qua non condition of business-as-usual.

What I’m most curious about is how TSB will raise from this. How much trust was objectively lost, how many clients have truly switched, how they plan to ultimately rebuild.

Compensation has been mentioned – there have been declarations that no customer will be out of pocket as a result of this and to a degree, that may be achievable where everyone will claim for genuine expenses caused by this but what about intangible matters such as loss of opportunity for business owners?

Worst still, what about the shock some of the customers have went through? Seeing your mortgage balance at 13M may be erring on the absurd and the amusing but seeing (what appears to be) some other John Smith’s account information is instantly frightening and makes you think your information is at risk as well.

Between the customers that had the above happen to them, and those that couldn’t log in at all, there will be inevitable loss. Having followed the dismal rate of switching in the UK over the past few years, I’m very curious what the % of total customers that eventually amounts to.

If the percentage is not significant, it will be a price TSB may just find was worth paying to have the right foundation. Short term, that is clearly inevitable, but is it inevitable long term?

My bet is that long term, this is not the disaster it looks today. Once the first wave of heavily disappointed, significantly spooked or heavily annoyed customers take their business elsewhere -and it will be very interesting to watch carefully whether the “elsewhere” is incumbents or challengers-, the remaining ones who opt to “wait it out and decide later” will not leave.


I would urge TSB to focus on their “Remainers”. Really focus.”Truly, Madly, Deeply”. Investigate how exactly they feel and acknowledge it in every interaction. Find out what they always wanted and give some of those services or experiences to them. FAST. Be transparent and honest about what happened and why it won’t happen again. Recall why they value them and fight to communicate that, then re-commit. Be all in.

This is a classical marital crisis. The contract was severely breached. The options are divorce or working on it and studies show that couples that got help to rebuild the respect and reignite the connection have greater longer term satisfaction and a much stronger bond as an outcome.

TSB and its Remainers will need loads of therapy sessions to encourage honesty and a conscious effort to build new ways of meeting needs and expectations and unquestionably,  if the bank wants to really make it work, they will have to put their best foot forward but this negative, No-Service-Money-Moment could also be turned into a positive defining occasion to give their customers the Emotional Banking™ experience they deserve.


P.S. For those of you who read me regularly I have a “Mea Culpa” to offer. I’ve slacked on publishing at the same time every week. If you’ve ever had to wonder if I’m still alive since I haven’t posted anything, I apologise. It wasn’t out of arrogance but ill understood modesty, when my dear friend Jim Marous pointed it out to me, I thought “ah but how many people could have possibly subscribed and expect me to write” and then I checked the stats and I owe quite a few people an apology for the lack of consistency. This will change. I can’t promise brilliance but I can promise every Tuesday.