Bank X – The Road to Money Moments is through the Heart of your People

Bankers ask us all the time why they can’t jump over this people betterment malarky and just go ahead and use our CX workshops to create Money Moments.

Many of our conversations go like this:

“We at Bank X love the idea of Money Moments instead of Banking Products!”

“Thanks, that’s great.”

“We think that’s spot on!”

“Brilliant.

“Can you guys come in and roll out some “EX not UX – how to Create Money Moments” workshops with some best practice examples please?

“Sure… Before we talk about that, what have you guys done to challenge the status quo of the offering so far?”

“Well we have various internal initiatives and projects.”

“Excellent – such as what?”

“There’s… well a multitude of things. There’s the overall digitisation priority of course.”

“…”

“And we are launching another innovation lab!”

“…”

“AND we are nearly ready for Open Banking!”

“Right. So are you guys fully Agile?”

“No – well that’s being implemented in some teams I hear.”

“Has everyone in Product and Proposition reentered around HLD? Have you popularised design with the rest of the organisation?”

“Well we’ve always designed well.”

“What have you found when you re-examined the full proposition with a “What if we had a blank slate, what would we build?” lens?”

“We do a lot of blueskying in every innovation sprint, I’m sure we have done some of that.”

“Have you asked your customers what counts for them money wise to design those moments?”

“We constantly listen to user feedback, sure.”

“What can you tell me about your culture? How empowered do you think your people are?”

“Huh? We attract the highest percentile of top graduates in the industry,  and we recently went through a strong re-branding exercise, we even changed the name of the digital offshoot so that’s not the issue – what’s the connection to changing products into MoneyMoments?”

“OK these banking products you want to change – how many of them do you have today?”

“…”

“Can we start by first taking an honest look at your organisation?”

“What? No! Why can’t we just get some of those killer-app style quick wins a consumer would like? Isn’t that a MoneyMoment?”

Leaving aside how MoneyMoments refers to the collection of all experiences the consumer has with their financial provider, whether overt or invisible, online or in person, conscious and subconscious, and not mere specific features or interactions, the answer to that is that even if the bank could create the most magical of UX while not having worked on Knowledge, Passion and Courage, then it would simply be masking the deeper issues within and it would be futile exercise with little end value.

And that’s a big “IF” because painting by numbers when it comes to the end-user experience simply doesn’t work.

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Moments of CX delight are unique and unless genuinely authentic and born of a true need to make the consumer happy they don’t resonate so they are non-transmittable.

This is why the extraordinary touch points that set Zappos, Disney and Apple aside have not become the norm cross industries.

It’s not for lack of information – everyone knows what makes the Apple store experience magical in terms of tools and processes – but while widely desirable it’s unrivalled. Everyone understands how Zappos goes above and beyond but offers mechanical copies of their wording at best. The technology Disney employs to make the experience seamless is easily accessible to any other experience provider be they a museum or a cinema and yet we don’t see it anywhere else.

What makes them unique is the intensely consumer-driven intention that built the experience. Their customer driven purpose. Their obsession with making them go “wow”.

Unless that spirit comes from the inside, unless the company  has enough good people with courage and passion who deliver against this purpose not because they read it in a white-paper, or it was mandated in their KPIs but because they live and breathe the conviction that it would make their customer’s life better – the “wow” can’t be copied and bolted on. Not consistently, not genuinely.

Supercharging emotions on top of the best of human centred design practices creates such magical experiences that we consumers fall -and stay- in love with the brands that can consistently give us that.

I ask bankers to imagine they could hook up the majority of their employees to a lie detector and ask them if they truly, genuinely, from the bottom of their heart care about their consumers.

Unless they are prepared to bet the summer cottage on how the answer would be a heart-felt, resounding “yes!” they shouldn’t wonder why their bank can’t delight and build MoneyMoments.

The Banker and the Sour Grapes

*Warning – the following may cause your knickers to knot. If it does so, please re-read as it is meant as compassionate analysis not mindless bashing.*

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Today’s story will be about bankers’ cognitive dissonance when it comes to consumers’ needs.

We are all “grown” here so I’m sure everyone is familiar with what “cognitive dissonance” stands for but a refresher may be in order to help us along:

In short, it’s the feeling of really uncomfortable tension which comes from holding two conflicting thoughts in the mind at the same time.

The most well known example of cognitive dissonance can be found in Aesop’s “The Fox and Grapes” fable where a fox is really keen on having some grapes but can’t reach to eat them so decides to end its internal turmoil by concluding they weren’t going to be tasty as they were not ripe yet, originating the “sour grapes” expression.

Let’s replace the Fox with our Banker.

The fox’s thought is “I believe I fancy some grapes and I think I will reach and jump and generally do what is necessary to reach them and consume them which would make me happy“. Our banker’s equivalent is “I believe I am a good at my job, surrounded by good people and knowledgeable enough about FinTech that I accept fast changes need to occur in our digital proposition so I am working hard to ensure we make them fast enough to keep our customers happy.

The dissonant thought on the part of the fox is “I know can’t reach the grapes” whereas the banker may think “I know that I am part of a nearly paralysed monolithic structure that is slow to come up with newness and implement it, that all the agile new challengers will bypass us on the race to the consumer no matter what I do.

After having decided he can’t do it despite its better efforts, the fox thinks “‘They’re sharp and hardly worth my while!” while after seeing his first thought being uncomfortably challenged by the pace with which others are moving, the banker said no further than last week “Seen that there Tandem losing its license? Challenger -schallengers, no danger there, they won’t even make it to consumers, no need to hurry anyone, business as usual!

Having personally heard variations of the “sour grapes” thought above from the mouth of a few different bankers, I was aghast. These are uber smart, uber hard working, very knowledgeable bankers, surely they can’t truly believe that.

Surely, I thought, they know that’s generally untrue and that examples such as Tandem’s story or Monzo’s tech issues or even the delays in Starling and Atom they use to make the same point, are not true illustrations of their license to relax as the customer will get better nowhere else, yet they say it. And momentarily believe it.

Furthermore, surely they know that the real threat and why they should not start leaving the office at 5 pm again and cancel their innovation labs, is not the challengers but the huge technology giants and what they are cooking in the background in digital money experience and yet they say that.

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Don’t get me wrong, I know for a fact bankers are aware that there’s threat in the immediate propositions too – after all no one contests that the challengers and the experience-layer-banks will serve to wet consumers’ appetite for impeccable UX and really contextual functionality and once wetted it may be impossible to keep critical dissatisfaction at bay, but when you add to that same CX magic the mass that the giants have – it should keep every incumbent banker awake at night.

Here’s the kicker though – they are human beings, they can’t keep being awake every night, they work double hard without the luxuries the other FinTechers have – the freedom of expression, the speed to see results, the feeling of being part of change at a suitably innovative, fast paced rhythm so they need the momentary relief.

I’ve said this many times before – no other industry behaves quite like ours or has been affected by the sharp advent of technology and its effects on customer experience in quite the same fashion so we’re experiencing unprecedented levels of discomfort in many ways irrespective what part of the industry we are in. All of us – bankers new and old, technology makers and commentators, we are all impacted by this spectacular time in the growth of digital and the money retail business. There’s no time to complacently relax into anything, deep conceptual thinking is nearly banned if we wanted to keep up, there is definite uncertainty to accompany ever growing demands and it feels like the more we learn, and the more we try, the harder it is.

FinTech these days has become like an immensely fast paced game with absurd levels of difficulty thrown in for ever-diminishing (or at least largely unclear) pots of gold. No one has to bare the stress more than those working in large incumbent banks. Spare a thought (and occasionally a pint of beer) for their painful bouts of cognitive dissonance, look them straight in the eyes and remind them “Forget Tandem, they’re not sour, keep trying to reach.”

Holy Banking Paralysis Batman!

The long writing hiatus was chiefly due to being busy but also having to process how I feel about a rather bedazzling find: “Tangible Banking” stood still while I was “away”.

Not all of it of course, there was much done on the launch and proposition of challengers and front-end of neobanks but for traditional, big retail banks time shockingly stood still. A time they hardly afforded to lose to begin with.

As some of you know, I left the very practical side of things – selling and designing a core transaction and data FinTech product for banks who desperately needed it as it could dramatically change the consumer experience- about 18 months ago to do the “Less Tangible” banking stuff and ask them to stop and think of the consumers’ feelings and take introspective long hard looks at their organisations. One would argue I moved from a “doer” to a “thinker”. Some would argue I moved from being FinTech-er to being a professional finger pointer. Call it what you will, I spent that time writing as a banking consumer advocate, advising lots of FinTech companies how to approach if not defeat inertia and even working with a handful of genius banks who “got it”.

A couple of months ago I went back to “Tangible Banking” by working closely with a company who also has an amazingly smart and technically briliant product to dramatically change the consumer experience, this time on the onboarding side and I was blow away by where banks had gotten in the time that I was “away”.

Nowhere much.

Reaching out to some of my old clients and prospects I heard the same complaints and excuses and I attributed them to natural moaning needs of unsung heroes – bank employees who stuck it out during this FinTech palooza and tried to make these organisations move. A task worthy of Sysyphus.

Sadly, as I got a deeper understanding of what exactly their organisations have brought to the consumer in the time I had joined the “Intangible Banking Fixers” brigade, the complains are genuine – nearly nothing substantial can be pointed to and some of the same projects that were slow moving back then are still around whether on hold or being resurrected now. The big worthy ones. The ones about IRL data access, the ones about replacing spaghetti back-ends that prevent change, the ones about vision that is truly digital, the heavy stuff.

Look, I get banking inertia caused by “Business Prevention Departments” (J.P. Nicols Perpetuity TM) as much as the next frustrated doer or thinker in the industry, and I realise to my FinTechMafia gang this is another article on “same stuff I’ve been writing about since 2000” but this is a whole new level of ludricous, when I left “tangible banking” there was impossibly much buzz about how banks were “finally getting somewhere” and heaps of really solid projects in the works and they have all but vanished.

Here is who and what I blame:

  • Blockchain. Yes it’s complex and yes it’s potentially revolutionary but did everyone in every financial institution have to drop everything else they were thinking of to read and learn about it?
  • The slow pace of industry innovation. Just look at a Finovate Buzz words card and you’ll know nothing much was offered to the banks from the FinTech innovation side of things in the last 3-4 shows. This is partly because there is state-of-the-art front-end and no easily approachable back-end proposition fodder out there, but also because FinTech needs to make a buck and pushing the innovation barrel too far ahead of the banks makes no ROI sense.
  • The inability to catch-up of knowledge houses. 6-7 years ago the big consulting giants were woefully behind in offering any kind of serious strategic guidance to big retail banks in digital and top product designers stood in for them. They still are and they still do.
  • The FinTech commentator inflation. A few years ago there were 30-50 voices internationally who stepped in for the knowledge void created by the analysts and consultants. In the last 2 years that number has immeasurably exploded and while in the future that will be great for the industry as it will filter into real value and some of the newcomers are providing that already, it’s simply just massive noise for the banks for now, furthering their confusion.
  • The Great FinTech Distraction (TM). The mere number of Innovation Labs, Funds, Incubators, Aggregators, all other “-gators” says it all. How is one to focus on getting things done when one is not sure what the next best thing is and needs to keep on scouting?

Much as I would rather find reasons to praise the big retail banks and distance myself from the mindless bank bashing that some have taken up as a sport, for the reasons above, I feel everyone dropped the ball and allowed a vicious sort of analysis paralysis to take over. Let’s pick it up again and get going on that Free-to-Spend project from 2001.

I am a Banker – therefore I lie

 

While I came up with the Emotional Banking concept a few years ago, it’s only been a year now that I’ve waved my banking-change crusader flag and inflicted my indignation of banks not caring about their customers’ feelings, full time. I’ve learned a lot in this past year.

I have learned in utter consternation that banks have no interest in being a serious brand like every other consumer business does. I’ve then learned why this is and dissected its utter perceived lack of imperative that comes from a lack of mobility that no other industry has the luxury to experience.

Next up I questioned how banks can be neigh but blind to the imminent changes in the industry – the peer-2-peer plays, the internet players, the experience layers (neo banks), the technology giants dabbling with financial services and the new challengers. How they justified being able to afford more of the lack of care to the way their clients really felt about their money.

“I lie to myself all the time. But I never believe me” – S.E. Hinton

It turns out their blinds are handed out as soon as they become decision makers in banking. If life were a science-fiction work by Philip K Dick there would be a higher evil mastermind that keeps bank’s boardrooms topped up with pre-Y generation males and then ensures they speak McKinsey talk in lieu of real English while loosely discussing hip FinTech words they once read in the Guardian for all of 2 minutes before returning to P&L and share prices.

This would help this evil mastermind ensure there’s no regard for the consumer, no insight into his or her needs and desires and surely no understanding of how to get, motivate and keep the right people who can put that new fangled technology to good use.

Sadly this is not a novel but our reality.

More worryingly, in the past few months I’ve witnessed the famed challenger banks, a wave of new and promising structures that Britain bet its farms on, start down that path as well. Business models that were courageous and disruptive iterated again and again to at most, tamer, pale versions of their initial selves, or worse, a completely different animal that amounts to more vivid colours on a version of the high streets current accounts. I’m sure if they cared to admit this is the case, they would blame it on the FCA license grilling but I believe it’s simply normal start-up pressure to demonstrate model which in their case means go to market half cooked an half stripped of dreams.

Maybe there is still time for the UK challenger banks to turn the boat around and do what’s right for the consumer but they need to stop crowd-funding till they break servers and charming conferences and journalists for vanity and put their heads down and give us insight and action.

Insight is all but absent in the industry. We never learn anything new. The same dusty statistical tidbits about amounts of tooth brushes versus mobile phones in the world and the length of marriage versus banking relationships are repeated over and over again. And it isn’t only the establishment that is guilty of it. Of the former (as undoubtedly they are even more today) 27 founders and CEOs of challenger banks the FCA has reviewed and that I’ve heard speaking in public or private contexts, do you know how many have had any revelation to share about consumers? If not “I’ve found the holy grail of savings” at least a “We saw huge anxiety when they tap in the overdraft so we change the colour of the app and the language to reassure”. You guessed it. Not one.

The incumbents blame the immutable inertia created by tens of years of patched, spaghetti-like backend systems, for their paralysis in real interest of what would truly make consumer’s lives better from the money point of view. If only they started all over, they say. The challengers don’t blame anything as they won’t admit it, but suffer from the same unwillingness because of natural constraints of being at the beginning and having to start proving their case. If only they had systems and mass, they think.

Meanwhile, the protagonist of the consumer centric mantra falls in between and gets what is, for all our FinTech sins, a flat design version of their online banking of 3-4 years ago topped off with an ever growing dread of customer support and mistrust in its uptime and an ever more futuristic in design cow-webbed branch.

It isn’t’ just the banks (big or small) either. We’re all guilty of it in the industry. We write articles, go to industry events and pat ourselves on the back for beginning to understand AI and Blockchain but we allow basic customer research to not happen anymore. We say it politely when we should allow ourselves to be alarmed and shake every banker we ever meet into action. We hear no revelations about consumer behavior about their money but we accept that what they really want is a new currency in identity and disruptive data and trust models. We have no serious interest in how to modify virtuous monetary behavior but we wave the “millennials want instant access to information” flag as if we came up with that nugget ourselves.

We lie. There’s no point in sugar coating it. When we collectively claim all we care about is the consumer and we will put them at the center of our every thought, but we banish design to a de-facto after-thought to prettify existent cumbersome products, we lie. When we say we’re building disruptive new models that will integrate money into larger digital contexts, but we don’t have the backend technology to even begin to understand the data, we lie. When we know as a consumer, as a human, that our needs are nowhere close to met in our interaction with our money holder, but we spend no time seriously studying those needs and feelings but say we do, we lie.

I fundamentally believe bankers old and new are not comfortable with this particular lie (research clearly shows they are ok with other kinds) and given the means would like to change it so let’s start with an honest look.

Where is experience design in your organisation? How many of the products and features you offer have been designed as compared to copied and modified?

How many people and how much time is devoted on good old fashioned customer research? Not the odd focus group to prove the choice of green on the left corner of the mobile app is correct but honest, intense research about their attitudes, emotions and views about money and the interaction with their provider.

How many innovation labs, funds, in- and ac-celerators have you poured (granted, non-significant) amounts of money into over the last 5 years? What can you point to that has trickled down to the consumer? How has it changed their financial lives?

Saying “it’s about the people” sets you aside from the old and dusty ones who won’t even admit that but is that rhetoric confined to water coolers and hip events or brought into the board room and made a priority? How many of you reward knowledge if you happen to accidentally have FinTech industry voices with strong opinions and a name working for you instead of treating them as having a shameful hobby? In your list of KPIs, OKRs or any other Rs does it say “Get, keep and nurture mega smart and passionate people who put the consumer first”?

Here’s the thing, we all agree the status quo won’t hold.

We all know you could become pipes (and that goes for challenger banks as well when it comes to invisible banking). We’re up against companies who get experience intimately, have brand, have people, have an obsession with understanding the consumer and don’t have to lie about it. We absolutely must shake the lip service, the convoluted meaningless language, the excuses about too much legacy or too little funding and the hope that these other guys “would never enter banking, why would they?” because at this rate, our lying amounts to such abuse of the consumer they may enter banking as sheer compassionate charity and not in the hopes of turning a profit.

P.S. My faithful readers – hi honey!- know, I end articles with a bang so the above phrase would have been the perfect point to leave hanging to emphasise the doom and gloom but that would make me guilty of the same demagoguery. This is not in the scare mongering series we all seem to write these days. This is a call to arms. I know so many of you reading this well and you’re amazingly passionate, smart human beings who struggle with the fact customer centricity is reduced to a lie despite how you still feel everything you do is with the consumer in mind. Changing it is daunting, but it’s doable. Let’s break this down and figure out how to listen and care and tell the truth about our culture and what it needs to fundamentally change and we will eventually get there. 

Dear Bankers – feelings make bank

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Tapping into emotions and driving positive ones through addictively delightful interactions- pays. That’s why you need to be a brand. No seriously, I know I’ve been repeating this like a broken record over the past years but it most certainly does.

There are three areas where the connection between customer’s feelings and their shopping behaviour becomes most evident. Areas where the Rational Consumer is but Myth.

TECHNOLOGY PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

Recent research shows that the way we relate to technology and its digital manifestation has drastically changed over the past few years. We started our pre-digital relationship to technology by perceiving it as an objective enabler for various goals with practical benefits. Now-a-days technology translates into an instant appraisal of how it can “express and enhance who I am” – an emotional goal touching on motivation and needs.

CONSUMER GOODS

Nowhere is the connection more surprising than in purchasing decisions when it comes to everyday goods. Dr. P.N. Murray and his team found that:

“…consumers’ beliefs about a brand’s personality are based primarily on their interpretation of its “story” – the narrative expressed in communication, packaging, and other marketing elements. The narrative communicates what the brand means to them … the emotional connection. It is this connection that makes consumers loyal to brands.”

LUXURY BRANDS

We all know that luxury items are maybe the most emotional of purchases with no reason to buy a Tesla versus a Mercedes SLK beyond the fact that it intrinsically appeals to our aspirations and sense of self.

This new research also uncovered subconscious reasons behind each aspirational purchase decision

“unconscious perceptions about a brand’s authenticity and timelessness – what consumers describe as its “truth.” These perceptions evoke emotions – the sense of trust and security that is the essence of luxury for consumers.”

If you’re in banking and quickly scrolled down to see if Financial Services was listed only to let out a sigh of relief not to see it I would suggest it’s time you hold that breath and look up again because no matter how much we may not like to admit it, banking is part consumer goods, part luxury and it’s all underpinned by technology and digital products so all of this, the irrationality of consumers, their need for an emotional connection is highly relevant to us.

So Mr (or, sadly far more unlikely, Mrs) Banker let me ask you this: do you know how your CBBE (Consumer Based Brand Equity) pyramid compares to that of Levi’s, Amazon’s or Google’s? Does your bank have one? Shall we grab someone from the Customer Behaviour team and ask, maybe a Neuromarketing expert? Does your bank know what it is?

I’d wager the answer is “no, no, who?!? and no” because we’ve already established banks do not lift one finger to become a brand. In their defence there was no need – if they did not build delightful experiences and expressed their story and “truth” then what? What would the consumer do? Go to the next non-delightful-devoid-of-truth bank? The reality of it is that while there’s ample safety in numbers and banks can continue to abuse its consumers by withholding delight some of them have where to go now. And the places they go to will fundamentally have built an identity and the type of strong brand that will make people join them and fall in love with them hence buy from them

While we struggle to understand why we should even put the consumer truly at the centre of what we build in retail, private banking and wealth made some –timid- steps in researching emotions and some studies such as this and this have been surfacing. That’s because they care, they want to make money.

That 1 point change in mortgage rates you debated for 3 months won’t move the needle. The 0.02 higher savings offer or the 100 quid signing bonus won’t make anyone a loyal, invested customer because your premise doesn’t work. It’s not about the numbers, it’s about the feelings. That’s what pays.

No matter how much denial they invest in it and how many times they roll their eyes at the urgency to understand and act on Emotional Banking, retail banking will have to soon stop avoiding the issue, rip off stifling culture to inject experience design into the DNA as a sine qua non technology enabler, and become a loved brand, as opposed to just paying customer centricity lip service sometime very soon.

 

 

Money 2020 Europe – this is how we rolled

 

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Let me tell you what this won’t be. A play-by-play of the conference. It won’t be that for several reasons including the fact that I missed a few general sessions due to meetings and the occasional hospital stay so I can’t comment on the full content. What I can comment on, is my experience of it.

First off, while I publicly flogged them for the iffy WiFi the rest of the organisation was flawless in terms of location and endless delightful perks such as DJs, laser beams, ice-cream and pancakes, cute huts for meeting places, mini Lego figurines for each speaker, smoothie bars, cool exhibitions and even the occasional bejeweled wheel chair for the temporarily impaired. As many people remarked it had a trendy, hipsterish, festival feel to it. Which made it an experience.

Which sadly, was in stark contrast with the content of most of the sessions I attended.

Stiff. Corseted. Jargoned to the gills. Wooden language galore. Many speakers other than the usual suspects who tried to liven it up, sounded like media trained drones repeating soul-killing messages about collaboration, technology and customer centricity devoid of critical thought or meaning. Why is this?

I find this fascinating and genuinely think this is a FinTech specific illness. The way in which we slip in and out of meaning and the way many people are genuinely passionate and bit by the bug one moment, and deadpan and businessy the other. Why can’t we say precisely what we mean in plain English?

Is it because the excitement of the Technology world only recently met the Finance world where being stiff has traditionally been everything? Many of the people in FinTech are new to both sides of the story, the new wave are new to the working force altogether yet they seem to adopt this same non-meaningful half unicorn, half sloth language.

Maybe it’s a sign of how everyone is more or less out of their depth and all the experts are still in the making. Even the most knowledgeable of the FinTech world have only had a few years to work this out as they go along and while in the Tech world one can easily be proud of the outstanding speed of change and focus on innovating for the sake of it, when we apply that to financial services it has to have application and it has to be worked out fast enough to allow the ridiculously long cycles of buying and implementing in banking so it is all scarily fluid. Having to translate all this Tech excitement into Banking value may be what makes them sound like a Silicon Valley hipster one minute and like a retiring McKinsey consultant the other.

Or maybe, more likely and hopefully, it’s all about the fact that before technology decided to stuck its hedonism inducing nose into finance, it was all about numbers and being stiff and corseted was necessary to perform the right math whereas now, banking has had to notice the consumer and attempt to start matching these moments of delight they get elsewhere thanks to digitisation.

UX is only “a thing” that bankers have to take seriously because our mobile phones is where we bank rather than where they’ve been expecting us for the last hundreds of years and the table has turned – it’s no longer the consumer shyly coming to the branch hat turned in jittery hands asking for the banker to make some incomprehensible number magic and sell them a product, it’s now a case of the banker holding out their top hat asking for the technologists’ best tips on how to get to a consumer through this new fangled device. Digital technology brought CX to banking and with it a new language and if it has to be a weird combination between real talk and consultancy speak for now while we build new paradigms for the consumer, so be it.

To me, wheeling my chair through its delightful networking areas and entering panels that felt like annual reviews for shareholders, Money2020 was a good metaphor for today’s banking proposition. Beautifully packaged, hip and trendy on the outside and tangled, stiff, immutably old school and rather useless on the inside.

Top UK Banks – As Seen on TV

 

TV Adverts are not Branding, dear Banks – but if they were…

seen When I write I sit down and pour it out. Many of you remarked that it’s sometimes not even proofread and I’ve taken to forcing myself to re-read once before I publish so I avoid that level of disrespect, but nonetheless it’s not my style to work on a piece for days, it either “flows” or it’s not worth writing. Not this once. This one needed a lot of research. Some of it was pleasant but most of it was painful.

I’d recommend you save this article for some evening when you can pour a cuppa, put your feet up and open each link in a new tab because we all know what happens once you see one YouTube video…

It started from having caught my first Nationwide commercial in a cinema this weekend and having found it moving.

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The only other one I could cite off the top of my head that I liked was HSBC’s “Museum of Procrastination” -which I loved so much I wished they’d hire that ad agency to run the whole bank- while all I could remember of Lloyds was that it had black horses. Having lived in the UK for over two years now and making a living from examining banks this was a situation I needed to correct.

I watched a good 80-100 commercials from the major UK banks (and one day when I retire I may do the same for all the major international retail banks) and at first intended to be utterly exhaustive (and was not, the likes of Coop and other smaller banks and building societies were left out) and diligently organized on scoring them based on audience, targeting ability, likability, clarity, etc. As I was going, I realized my scoring system is far from foolproof and I am not conducting a scientific study here so that good intention was replaced by “How it made me feel” as sole determining factor for the following top so feel free to sharpen those “but we won an award with that one” pitchforks.

TOP 8ball1

 

8th (and last) Place: LLOYDS

Whose idea were the creepy horses series, guys? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6eZ3WQCjhA this is as failed in its artsy pretentious tone as Barclays asking Samuel Jackson to talk about chickens. Not that it’s your only painful one – the Take a Second campaign is cringe-worthy – no one will give me back my 3 minutes of having to see this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppoZ8Tq6HJ4

While the low production value such as the Filling Station TV advert https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fr_bGCLRio and the Clubs ones https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQ6epPKnS4A kind of work and functionally do what we expect them to – tell us we can get features, this brand new one is absolutely taking the cake as the worst I’ve seen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=siBRvC9YSc4 not only is the angel of death horse back again but the Mad World Donnie Darko sound track makes it extra creepy! Please stop!

7th Place: BARCLAYS

If you can afford Hollywood why not use it? I hadn’t seen the Big one with Sir Anthony Hopkins https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_39b8e5PXWw or the Samuel Jackson series https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oAY3Eoyr9o but neither made me feel anything at all.

Here is one that made me feel something. The LifeSkills campaign. A mixture of emotions – none positive. Mainly awe at how far removed I must be from the millenials that are the target market that I can not comprehend how they would find it anything but patronizing and condescending. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBzyzGcgpQs – not to mention it is just objectionably badly made.

I had to dig to the end of the internet to find this very old Truman Show inspired Barclays commercial that was not bafflingly bad https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1w_OprCuFI and dig out the only funny one from Pingit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZmWhFfujL8U but neither rocked my world.

6th Place: RBS and NATWEST

I found the following – the NatWest 1991 advert https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qbz95LdqMko, that one time when RBS was funny on the old Less Talk campaign https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvJJDjkVwhM and multiple NatWest haters https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-94qDCn1yXM who bothered to make songs about their dislike https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-o1tHVa7VV4

But this Bills Reward account advert is not bad at all as it’s all too relatable, don’t we all have that one light switcher-off-er in the house? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-cQVPJueSTE

And this one is absolutely on point on what it feels like to pay with ApplePay (when it works) even if that’s universal to all banks who offer it and nothing to do with NatWest in particular https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ytvWBsT6R0 as compared to this Lloyds one for ApplePay that’s perfectly pointless https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_8i7FTcp8s

All in all I was stunned to see that for all the care Lloyds and HSBC take to try and make their portfolio discernable individually with various degrees of success, RBS and NatWest do none of that and are one big lump messaging wise.

5th Place: TSB

This gets me dizzy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YJzJCd_pwy8 but it’s worth seeing as a –true- story of community banking ethos. The current cartoons are underwhelming but clear and some may like them although the new pointy characters are not as endearing as their Disney like predecessors of a few years ago. All in all middle of the road and non-objectionable but with somewhat of a brand identity hence why they deserve an entry of their own.

4th Place: Halifax

If you dig as far back as 2008 you find their corny but cute Something New https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aX_XaLmCIS0 or Who let the dog out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-W0i6Xl2U0 series but then they had their Howard Brown light bulb moment and it all changed for Halifax https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZKcbnRvUmA – a coup to make a regular employee a star – what better way to get people to feel intimately engaged in the story?

These days their X-tra kind of person series are sweet and well executed and their Jargon Buster series is the only serious financial literacy attempt I’ve seen.

 3rd Place: Nationwide

I admitted already I liked the BestDad commercial, a lot. By the way watch this behind the scenes which is a strike of genius on the part of the agency as it’s sweeter than the commercial in itself https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEyFWmwfSxQ&feature=iv&src_vid=hWimDK4tpg0&annotation_id=annotation_1276550967

And then there are the Annoying Bank Manager series and the iconic Ladies Little Britain one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMABzvhHZkw

The only negative is that when I found this commercial for Impulse Saving https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOov9RNSbd8 it spoke to me so much I downloaded their app! But evidently got nowhere with it as the Impulse Save thing is only available to customers and I have to go to a branch to become one and bring 100 papers yadda yadda– such a missed acquisition opportunity, there was no reason not to let me set a saving goal before I signed in!

2nd Place: HSBC, First Direct (and Atom!)

I went looking for this – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGKNPuLB14o and I still think it is a strike of genius that resonates with anyone but before I could enter another search term the next video YouTube served me was “Panorama – HSBC the Bank of Tax Cheats” which has 20k views as compared to the 4k the actual commercial has which seems a bit unfair.

Nonetheless I dare you to watch these two oldies on the importance of local knowledge and not laugh – the infamous Eels one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lw3F9dMfC9I and the Flowers one https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=boN2rsS6K_c

There is a concerted effort at the heart of what HSBC does to both tell stories and position themselves as local and yet connected. This sadly still doesn’t make them a brand, simply a strong name with a good marketing story or this quality of effort and thought would have trickled down to their customers who meanwhile endure painful digital experiences. Their ad agencies and Wealth and Retail Marketing department should stage a coup and take over the whole thing and force their digital into this century of technology– heaven knows they need it.

HSBC won awards for their genius Airport series and if one has to choose a bank that did amazing on marketing it would be HSBC in particular with their FirstDirect efforts. Whether you love or hate the Black and white Platypus series you can’t deny Mark Mullen is a marketing genius and if you’re not convinced go to Atom’s website today and click on “Uncomplicated”. Go on, do it, I’ll wait. Exactly! THAT is why this category includes all three of these names.

First Place: Santander

Adverts can be of two kinds really – either funny or heart string pullers and while most other English high street banks seem to dabble in both sequentially, Santander manages to do both at the same time and that makes their overall message powerful. Who can deny that their keep on getting a little bit more out of life” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Q8sGfd7pLY is sweet and more importantly how genius of a line is this one? “Dads, keep on dadding” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tX0RUqrjMw

Then there is their continual effort and an experimentation with viral tries – if you haven’t seen the campaign look it up as the #SecretSantander stuff is SO endearing I’m proud to be their client this one from 2014 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Don2bq1_ww and then last year’s https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F1Jgzxv-NtU

They say it’s “Simple, personal, fair” – heart stringy but then they also add a bite with “it’s what a bank should be” and that spirit can be felt across the brand.

And if that was not enough, there is one major reason why Santander wins this one for me and if you watch none of the other ones watch this one – it will make it all worth it, believe me – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tPyTz5jiHg

To be fair, none of all these made me feel like my favourite bank commercial or rather, bank-brand commercial – this one from CheBanca! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJyLHmn5CeQ but then again someone suggested the other day that “it is preposterous to presume such corny debauchery could be presented on English screens” and that can well be the case.

Lastly and most importantly again: marketing is not branding dear banks, it’s only a part of the overall impression you leave us with.

The length of the phone queue and the music played meanwhile is branding, the carpets in the branch are branding, the words you choose when answering a customer on Twitter is branding, the way the mobile app feels helpful or annoying is branding, what your CEO looks like is branding (maybe Lloyds should have fared better now that I say that…). All of it. Everything you do translates into an experience and how that experience makes us feel is what your brand is like to us. I know you’re not confused about this dear banks, as it’s a fairly simple concept so don’t be using it as an excuse to be lazy and leave this to your Marketing department which clearly already has enough trouble trying to make non-horrible adverts.