Dude, where’s *my* bank?

In a time where the gap between digital offerings of all kinds and banking is widening in lieu of the much anticipated closing, it’s hard to argue that any specific type of consumer is well served.

Mobile apps and online experiences from our retail banks and, more baffling, sometimes those from our wealth and insurance providers, are much closer to one-size-fits-all than any type of special treatment and a differentiated experience depending on who we are or even, what group of people we belong to.

Back in the FinTech stone-age, circa 2012-2014, “personalisation” was the word du-jour. Every bank was clamouring over what they could do to allow each consumer to make their interaction with the newly minted mobile apps “personal and customisable”. Those of us in technology at the time had to content with  many an RFPs which were invariably asking whether or not that was possible in the product, in particular since this was a time when banks weren’t anywhere near building their own front-end but were instead happy to use whatever us technology providers had already packed for them to put in front of the consumer.


The ironic part was that, often times, the extent of our collective imagination regarding what can be done to personalise the experience was reduced to two concrete things: “Can the various features be reordered on the screen?” and “Can users choose a different skin for their app?”. Even sadder still, as time went by, it transpired doing any of the reordering was a bad idea as while doing so was allowing users to move boxes with features on the screen, it also allowed them to click them off and they quickly ended up in a panicked phone conversation with the call center as their balance disappeared off their screen and, for all they knew, out of their coffers.

Personalising using visuals such as different backgrounds was soon stripped in implementation to people getting a choice between the regular branded appearance the bank offered for their online site or the colour pink. In the more “sophisticated” banks, some UX geniuses would add a dark scheme – think Window’s “night mode” from the early 2000s. Soon, the last bastion of “user-led” seemed to be the debit cards one could upload their own dog’s face to.

Unsurprisingly, users didn’t flock to avail themselves of these extraordinarily pleasing experiences allowing them to reorder the box with the closest ATM on top of the balance on a pale screen background and they weren’t reporting the expected levels of elation so after the “personalisation craze” passed and was replaced by the new darling of the banking world,  the almighty -and surprisingly resilient!- “omnichannel” which is another FinTech story for another rainy night.

What the failed “skinning experiment” seems to have left us with today, is a unitary experience and the admission of defeat from the banks’ side that they will offer the same app or online view to everyone.

Part of that is reinforced by excuses such as “with the exception of retail where they have to do it, most of the rest of the apps on the market only have one presentation as well, personalisation is dead, users don’t expect it anymore”. I think that, aside from being debatable as a fact, as research shows that 74% of digital users get annoyed when they realise any piece of content wasn’t created with them in particular in mind, that excuse is absolute poppycock.

The huge difference between other apps and banks is as usual, the amount of information having massive amounts of data offers. These other companies do not have the luxury of knowing who their user really is, and they rely on anything from rudimentary sign-up forms, to intelligent behaviour analysis to find out as much as they can about their consumer and target the way they present them with anything from information to offering.

By contrast, no-one reading this can dispute that banks have this data, nor can they claim they truly make use of it. I’ve denounced this lack of intelligent foray into what makes a consumer tick by use of the vast information banks hold, many a times before in this very blog and recent events have, as predicted, only made banks even more reluctant to dig deep into their data coffers allegedly refraining in order to protect us, the consumers.

An aggravating factor to this is how keeping in step with the reluctance, banks have slowed down on the accompanying appetite to acquire or build analytics platforms that would allow them to even slice and dice the data should they decide to do so. As a result, many are today not only unwilling to “personalise” but solidly, unable.

Working in the very belly of the beast changing the levers that matter and seeing banks willing to perform painful and lasting transformations I sometimes tamper on my “Why don’t banks care enough to examine the consumer’s feelings about their money for crying out loud?!?” indignation when in fact, while all this work of laying foundations is finally getting off the ground indeed, customer centricity becomes more and more of an empty sound-byte and work to understand the consumer is even further from commencing in earnest.

One indicator is that less and less agencies are called upon so that they look at yet another darling word of the yesteryears now nearly fallen into relative disrepute: “segmenting”. Part of the reason is that the digital world as a whole is now learning about individuals not generalisations and groups. Nonetheless, while the world of UX and Design has indeed moved on from categorising broadly on anyone’s age or income bracket, and has found deeper ways to ensure creating relevant human connections, banking is even further out of step, firmly left behind, having never done this homework  and never asked the right questions about said “segments”

For all the obnoxious talk of Millenials, how many banks do you know who truly care about and cater to pre-Z Generations and their understanding of money? How many banks intimately understand the financial behaviour of stay-at-home parents? What about newly widowed women? Or single men in their 40s or 50s? How do these people spend and save? What do they stand for? What do they enjoy and abhor, how are they feeling about the one-size-fits-all digital experience their bank puts in front of them?

If we are to be honest, the only segment that seems to be afforded the courtesy of being studied with a hopeful and watchful eye is that of small business owners but that’s only because they have their own business units within the financial institutions dedicated to making that, one of the last profit generating relationships banks have, work. Even there, no one is spending any time understanding if gender, age and psychological make-up play any role in how an entrepreneur behaves with their money.

The above applies to incumbent, traditional retail banks across the board and the only exceptions are -in particular in the US- smaller outfits such as credit unions that sometimes proudly cater to niches and in theory are meant to afford the time to pour over their particular slice of population that they are meant to financially serve, but even in their case, if we are to honestly sit the mobile app experience of a 60 year old retired nurse from Iowa next to that of a 32 year old software developer in the Valley, they would look and feel painfully similar in their depersonalised scarcity.

I talk about the lack of consumer mobility as the main factor why banks “don’t care” enough to investigate their customer’s feelings but they reality is that there is yet another major reason why they don’t – retail banking is not truly profitable.

In other words, in the mired jungle of banking products we’ve constructed under this artificial umbrella of “retail”, there are but a handful of actions that make good business sense for a bank to facilitate and as a result there’s no incentive to dig any deeper into how to offer everything in a more pleasing fashion. SME, Wealth, Insurance, etc – they have a lot more to lose by not failing the expectations of their consumers, Retail doesn’t.

Here’s a constructive First Principles idea to save retail: when we do away with the antiquated notion of banking products (and heaven knows we have to do that yesterday, before everyone else builds real Money Moments™ but us!) why not redefine segments and categorise them not by age, income or product they happen to be most profitable buying but by a whole other classification system based on them as a human being, their personality, their affinities, their risk appetite, their moral values, their hopes, their dreams, their likes and their hates.


If and when we accomplish that, we won’t be forgetting anyone anymore and no one will delete their balance off their pale-green background but instead, at long last, we will understand how to be a welcomed companion that seamlessly enables life moments through what we used to call “financial products”.

Here’s to the dystopian future of being in a comfortable segment of one where my bank powers the moments that have to do with my money in a manner I absolutely love even if I’m not your average small business owner Millennial.

The one with the bank that “kept it real”

A few weeks ago I promised I would start on the “Bank X” series. What the series will be, is a way to talk about what I’ve experienced with various banks without of course, breaching any of the iron-clad NDAs in place. The reason why we should talk about them is because, as I’ve deplored many a times before, our industry is drowning in negativity in lieu of striving for better and there is no reason to let that stand when there are real life examples of Banking Heroes and Hero Banks who do great stuff.

In today’s episode, this Bank X caught itself digging its own grave by choosing consulting-speak over growth and did something about it.

A few days ago, my amazing friend Sharon O’Dea posted someone’s piece about the fact that brands will need to start using “plain English” to connect with consumers and I responded that’s welcomed but insufficient if internal communications are not to undergo a complete shift towards real talk.

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Of the 5 programs that are the pillars of the Emotional Banking method, the “Keep it real” program was one of the last ones I have arrived at. Designed to rapidly improve the content and truth quotient of the internal dialogue in banks, it wasn’t because the importance of it escaped me that I was delayed in arriving at it, but because the main element it aims to change, namely “language” is one of the most complex ones.

In my journey to write the book and develop the method, I’ve known early on that unless we do something radical about the cancer of “consultitis” and get people in banks back to “speaking plan English” again, the other wins I was constructing – the kernels of passion and courage, and the way they were amassing knowledge- will be unusable.

The dialogue in banks was often neigh but impossible after years of consulting jargon that laced every sentence and stunned any communication.

When I had started the “State of our Culture” assessment with Bank X, I saw from the start that they were far from truly talking to each other and I underlined it to my executive sponsors. One of them was a newly minted CxO from a completely different industry with an unquenchable thirst for “saying what you mean”.

He admitted he has been stunned by how most important meetings dissolved in acronyms and stiff, wooden language and once we both stopped rolling our eyes at the wealth of extraordinarily frustrating examples, we both agreed this was “one of the ones we have to do something about first”.

Now it’s important to note that Bank X had brought this future Banking Hero on board, along with a handful of other great minds with a transformation mandate around rebuilding their mobile proposition on the basis of a shiny new analytics engine they were plugging in on the back-end, and the pot of gold for this exercise, as well as the enthusiasm for the outcomes, were excitingly extensive.

In other words, the team had the money and the mandate to construct the most awesome proposition they could think of with a reasonably blue sky and all the goodness of a Human Design Led philosophy and the quick and effective agile way of work du jour.

Ideal, right?


Meeting after meeting passed without them moving any closer to constructing greatness even on paper and as some of the execs I had interviewed were describing it, the frustration was based on how everyone left the room thinking progress had been achieved but then realising, not long after, that wasn’t true at all and the nods around “seeing what sticks” and “getting out of the building” had little if any substance.

I sat in on a couple of these digital strategy planning meetings and I was stunned at the dynamics. There was no lack of enthusiasm to start with and people would often bring in an idea and construct a vision around it but then, not long after, something would flip and the tone would shift to nearly meaningless pretentious business talk and be covered in forced political correctness. From then on, the chats quieted, the ideas dried out and the “we are now businessy adults saying what makes us look professional” replaced the initial fervour.

Having witnessed this same phenomenon in several other banks, I find it nothing short of fascinating to dissect. The best I can describe it, is akin to a switch being flipped from real conversation with meaning and passionate intent, to the automated-pilot of a bad episode of any office parody where the protagonists speak in no recognisable, every-day word.

In the middle of the most innovative, ideas birthing sentence it often takes but one of these consulting-ly Big4-like phrases being uttered by someone in the room (often as support to an objection to some big change idea) before the mood shifts and the language becomes universally unusable and the real discussion disappears in favour of a meaningless dance where everyone takes turns using the same type of expression that they believe would sit well in an official report.

This moment of mass hypnosis towards pervertedly empty language in a group that’s there to reimagine what truly addictive experiences are for the consumer, is the real cause of lack of innovation and progress in banks because the more “unreal” the language, the lesser the dialogue and in its absence nothing but incremental change can and does happen.

Bank X’s new Hero asked me what we should do. Was he to simply instruct the teams to “not speak consulting, use real language”? Would that be efficient? I suspected it would, eventually, but what we did was first roll out a few of my “Keep it real” workshops.

In their case, aside from the fun bits such as the “Say it again in English” exercises and the “Swear-fest” practice designed to loosen and reframe that are by default packed in my program, I focused on catching the moment they glazed over and turned into corporate drones.

I’d bring up an issue still on the agenda and ask a couple of controversial questions and watch as they launched in a debate about what should be implemented next or what technology should be used or even what some segment desires over another and let the dialogue develop to that -sadly inevitable- point where someone would slip into consultitis and jargon and halt it right then and there to analyse the triggers and show them the dynamics.

A method borrowed from individual therapy, if you need a behaviour to change, the only way to do so is to identify its triggers, develop an internal narrative to combat them and then try and catch yourself in the act. In a professional setting, group dynamic is based on a collection of individual behaviours and if they each learn to stop when they hear themselves or others slip towards meaningless and to instead go back to basics, it can prevent the rest of the session being of no value.

In each workshop we ended up with a list of “coping mechanisms” to help them identify and fight “consultitis” and, while the formulation may be different, for the most part they can be found in an internal check-list looking much like this:

“Am  I saying this to add value or to look good to my boss or my team?”

“Is this the way I would say this at the pub/around the dinner table/to friends?”

“Is this acronym or piece of jargon necessary or can this be said in English in a more efficient way?”

That quick check-list alone is a good start. Keeping each other honest and true to this -often uncomfortable- practice of language honesty is then paramount.

No one, not those in tech or those in business, those in banks or consultants, no one whp wants to see good, innovative things happening should be exempt from this “no BS, no consultitis” language pledge. We must start talking to each other in an open, honest and intently constructive way.

A few weeks back I met two people from Bank X. They were young, freshly imported from a big name consultancy and from another country than the head office we had done the “Keep it real” program with, but before I could reminisce about my  time with them, they proudly informed me that their organisation is different “you should hear us in heated debates, we sound like so unprofessional!”.

Here’s to all the unprofessional bankers keeping it real for us.



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.