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.

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