Hey Bank, wanna be an Airport?

Last week I was reminded how fortunate we are in banking. No, not fortunate, lucky. No, not lucky, immensely damn spoiled!

I spoke at an event called CX Ireland and while listening to everyone else before my turn came, I felt tempted to repeat the same sense of awe and shock in every 140 characters as I realised I couldn’t live tweet points of data I was gathering from the speakers because it had absolutely no relevance to us in banking. None.

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The professionals on stage knew and cared about the amount of clients that will be lost with every bad interaction point. How many of them would never recommend at the end of a month of merely average service. How designing the right experience could double the number of new clients. How it’s imperative to test leadership’s commitment to CX. The magic of connecting NPS as a score to make CX the business of the entire organisation. How to delight customers or perish. All of this is so disconnected from our industry I felt I could be live tweeting from a Dr Who conference so after a few stunned facts and some shocking numbers I stopped.

When the head of the Dublin Airports Insights took the stage she started by saying “we all have terabytes of data in real time but true insight that’s rare, we only get that once every few years” – how utterly inspiring they even made the distinction or really that they even have the job title and appetite considering they should have an even higher degree of inertia seeing how they are the de facto monopoly. Yet they care about being a beloved brand so deeply they test and tweak their airport experience around their different types of travellers experience until they obsessively click on that smiley green face button of the satisfaction meter they dared place everywhere.

One the many things she spoke about with intense passion was the experiment they run of strapping a heart monitor to airport travellers and asking them to go about their normal run. Unsurprisingly their heart rate neared heart attack levels when they passed security and helped them arrive at the concept of “customer happy hour” as it settled and elation replaced the terrified moment and travellers started spending like there’s no tomorrow once they found themselves airside.

A brand does this kind of thinking. A brand cares. A brand is curious and a perfectionist. A brand therefore wins.

There’s a lot of similarity between banking and airports. The de facto near-monopoly. The experience being both high frequency commoditized and connected to intensively important life events. There is a lot that’s different too. We in banking are not all that invested in the customer being nudged to buy more with us. We don’t have to be scary to our consumers, we’re not protecting world peace and security by any of our processes. Maybe the most important difference is that we don’t care like they do. After all why should we? None of the other numbers mean anything to us, who in banking is afraid of the youtuber Zoella giving them a bad review that will result in lost customers?


Here’s what we are going to do banks. We’ll change all this. We’ll buy some of those silly customer satisfaction stands with the happy faces and place them in every branch. We’ll strap heart monitors to people faced with inputting both memorable words and password and pins before they can see their account balance online. We’ll start designing and obsessively re-tweaking those happy hour experiences.

We will, right?

Right?!? If not then maybe FinTech can come up with an airport API so we can threaten Dublin airport’s business because they are sure smart enough to see there is now technology and ample room in customer dissatisfaction to threaten ours.

Irrational Bank Loyalty – Part 2: Banks and the Accidental Brand

(Continued from Part 1 which can be found here.)

“Oops I guess we have a brand” –  Accidental Branding

The opposite of intended branding -Awareness, Identity, Advertising and PR as we discussed in Part 1- is what I call “accidental branding” and this would be the total experiences and emotions that a bank has created, and responses it has elicited in its customers without meaning to, over time. Some of it is intrinsically positive but most is not. Stands to reason that the former should be amplified and the latter minimised as soon as we dissect which one is which.

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This is where things become truly interesting and banks really should make it a serious to do to explore this in painstaking detail. A really serious to do. Not one of the “P.S. tasks” at the end of long strategy execution and implementation plans after all regulatory, compliance and security to dos and at the end of the unattainable “fluffy” digital and cultural change goals but top of the list: “To find out why our customers won’t leave and how to make them love us”. Below are a few examples of this but this is by no means exhaustive, it should simply be seen as a teaser list to start us off.

A lot of the banks’ brand capital has to do with “tradition“. The definition of the term in this context is worth exploring as it includes key terms such as “respect”, “identity”, “safety”, “nostalgia”, “heritage, “reputation” and the all-star-term of banking: “trust”. Tradition is of course not intentional branding but it can become so – brands are studying tradition and the smart ones are capitalising on its huge potency to bridge with new generations.

Some of the banks’ brand capital has to do with “fear“. Sheer loathing of going through the process of change. It cannot be underestimated despite the great lengths switching campaigns have been through to both make the process simple and to communicate its simplicity effectively to the public. Realistically, to overcome the fear of change when it comes to something as life critical as one’s bank account, most people need to invest upfront, a disproportionate amount of ad-hoc trust in the competing offering being exponentially better and that’s a huge ask. I can only hope that Challenger Banks have taken this issue to heart and have done all the homework they can on this.

Paralysis” is for better or worse part of the brand capital a bank still has today by nature of the service. In banking services are bundled and securely tie consumers to one provider. It’s a beautifully captive consumerism model high street brands can never ensure. While I can sometimes cheat on my intense relationship with Ted Baker by buying the odd Louboutin on eBay or even by nipping into Next or Primark on a whim, I can’t as readily decide to save my money for the day with someone other than NatWest. This is changing, if you look at payments as a behavioural issue and you see people electing to use PayPal, Venmo or even Apple Pay over their bank’s app or card, the fact that the rails are the same is irrelevant as the brand loyalty coins fall in the jar of these brands not that of their banks.

Golden service hacks” – it’s sad that this is accidental but it’s one of the few positives along with “tradition” so it’s worth mentioning. Whether by wanting to be innovative or by wanting to show change some banks have sometimes hit on improvements so grand that they’ve have been transformative to people’s lives and have boosted their brand capital. At times it’s been as small as Bank Simple’s famous “Free-to-spend” feature allowing people to see what’s left that they can spend when they do a balance enquiry, or as complex as offering consumers the ability to see all of their bank relationships in one place as Bank of America pioneered in the US. In other industries, offering a disproportionate amount of value or extreme ease of use is intentional and designed as brand addictive (the other night Alton Towers sold me a “no questions asked, in case it rains or you no longer fancy it” cancellation policy on a vacation for seven quid, I’m in love despite the maiming potential!).

On a great comments thread about this someone mentioned “entanglement” as a part of the branding. This can mean so many things – everything from an unhealthy Stockholm syndrome where we hate our bank captors but we won’t leave once the doors unlock to a positive mishmash of attitudes and feelings that are interwoven in our life fabric, and add to the positive brand capital pot. Bankers: if you’re too busy with whatever else is on the list of “serious stuff” – at least mandate someone else to explore this, it will only pay off.

“We’re doing just fine, thank you!” – Measuring Brand

The examples we talked about last week are built from near-scratch – in the grand scheme of things even ING Direct is a challenger let alone mBank and CheBanca. Smart, bold visionaries decided to start with the emotional connection in mind. With the excellence in engagement as the first brick. At building a lasting brand. Their Net Promoter Scores and other measurements no less those of their ever growing coffers demonstrate this was the correct strategy. No contest.

What of the giants though? What of the old school incumbents, of the oldest banks ever, what can they do to correct course? There are many voices to ask for them to spawn brands. And they have done so all over Europe (see Hello and Consors banks and BNP, Comdirect and Commerzbank, etc) and aside from the sad story of Egg there’s a successful example in the UK: FirstDirect.

Yes it is head and shoulders above others in terms of customer satisfaction and people love it but at the risk of ruffling all feathers let’s call a spade a spade – they have “Best Customer Satisfaction in the UK”... for a bank not for a brand. Our expectations in banking as a consumer have been lowered by every other provider to the point that decent treatment will render us ecstatic.

More importantly, if you look at its model intimately and if you examine its total number of customers acquired in what is now tens of years the results are far from stellar. I personally think it’s a good example of why becoming a brand needs to be a transformative whole-bank process starting as a mindset at the top – HSBC has elected to do “Exceptional customer service as an experiment” not engage all its consumers but almost isolate those who needed to identify, belong and appreciate them in this corner of a design-led universe where services are the same as the mothership but the way they deal with problems exceeds expectations.

“All banks are the same” – Perceived Lack of Choice

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“All men are the same” is the well known adage of battered women who choose to stay in a bad relationship – why attempt change if you don’t believe in better and don’t feel that there’s an alternative? I bet a few of us instinctively thought that if we read the many “yet we won’t leave” of Part 1.

In the UK the rhetorics often goes like this “Go where?!? There’s no choice, just different names and they offer the same thing! First Direct is still HSBC, TSB is Lloyds and the Challengers are not exactly out there yet!” -but realistically there are notable differences between these, maybe not in current accounts but in savings, investments, etc. Then there’s nimble Metro, there’s the incumbent of challengers, Santander, and there are the many other services you would need to only download the app of to nearly construct your own bank between Nutmeg, OnTrees, TransferWise, LendingClub and others although I recognise doing so requires a level of FinTech Geekery blissfully unbeknown to the general population.

“So what’s the answer?”

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 08.49.35I don’t have formulas, there are great minds who struggle with how to understand branding intimately, and a lot of what banks are doing today will help even if again, accidentally, to improve the brand the don’t even know they have, I would just like to see a serious dialogue started in banks on “How to become a Brand? And Fast!”. Maybe the answer is to read more, explore more, copy more, dream more and feel more. Whatever it takes.

Bankers – OWN the Owning, you OWE it!

I’ve spent the past few weeks on the road on a mini-FinTech tour Amsterdam to NYC to Barcelona with another stop in London. I’ve been part of two cool industry events – my beloved TedXofFinance TM Next Bank in the U.S. and my newly acquired taste FinTechStage in Barcelona and I’ve watched the new Techstars cohort at Barclays and attended their Digital Conference as well as debated with the Cream of the Cream in Level 39 for the Banking Innovators Lafferty event so it’s been an intense few days that packed all the community has to offer from thought leadership to the new wave of FinTech dreamers and builders.

You’ll be relieved to hear I won’t do a full recap of each of them in this page. What I want to talk about is something that came up both during the “Great Digital Debate” between Brett King and Michal Panowicz in NYC and in the Oxford debate in Barcelona where Alessandro Hatami, David Brear and I argued against true innovation coming from banks hence making Brett’s Bank vs. FinTech argument.

You’ll also be relieved to know I have no intention to rehash the argument and have stated my position here where I argued Bankers have undercover Experience Supermen among their ranks and if they raise in time they can still win this race.

What I want to slash and dice is the notion of “owning the consumer”. This has been brought up every time we managed to dissipate the smoke screens of muddy banking terms and realised numbers and comparisons to other industries won’t really help, but we will eventually have to boil it all down to the relationship to the consumer to declare winners in this duel of ours.

“In the end, it will be all about who owns the consumer” was met with “hells yeah” nods in the audience but on Twitter it seemed to elicit a different kind of response which I found puzzling and frankly demagogical “No one owns the consumer” voices raised on the hashtags, “the consumers own themselves for crying out loud” the indignant misguided advocates claimed.

I’d like us to examine that because I find it dangerous.

Come on now, we have enough issues in banking without becoming coy about core truths. No one mistakes the nature of this term for an offensive throwback to slavery, do we really? No one presumes what we mean is connected to having their data or assets prisoner. We all understand what the spirit of the phrase is. We own a consumer with whom we have a strong relationship. A bond. Part of that bond is circumstantial (the unwillingness to switch banks in the UK proves it, in fact I am preparing another post about Irrational Bank Loyalty) and part is emotional connection with the bank’s brand (and that includes receiving value in service, advice or money). Whether that connection is conscious or insidious, whether the connection is positive or negative that’s a different topic but it’s there.

Purple-CowEvery other part of Technology puts money, sweat and tears into finding Purple Cows to create stickiness, to have us come back again and again. Banking doesn’t have to, the sheer nature of the information and service they perform for us (badly or not) guarantees we come back. The real reason for the huge gap in customer experience between other technologies and banking is that there is no imperative to competitively create a positive, innovative and addictive experience, the banking customer has to come back, of course.

That’s a relationship. Not a hard earned one and perchance that’s what makes it less valuable to banks and if we’re lucky, FinTech propositions, neo and challenger banks will create slightly more tension in the market and reverse the trend on bankers even Googling what a Purple Cow is after reading this (there’s no link on purpose – pedagogy 101)  but for now, no, they haven’t worked hard to get us so they do take us for granted.

No serious initial investment in acquiring something makes one think it less valuable and when reminded of its ownership one may well declaratively denounce it as a figment of someone else’s imagination “We do not own the consumer!”. How non-committal! But banks are not even a commitment-phobe really despite how they fit that label because in fact that phobia implies an element of pull, of seduction before the push, banking customers get none of the charming and all of the abuse – in other words the push only. Their reaction is just immaturity – a lot like that of a teenage boy hearing “I love you, I’m yours” for the first time when he didn’t expect it or indeed want it. And he reckons that if he doesn’t acknowledge it, if he blushes and says “that’s nice but I don’t own you, you’re your own person” then maybe he doesn’t need to do anything about it.

The -arguably eerie- comparison stops there, the teenage boy doesn’t need to then still help her and communicate with her and more importantly he doesn’t still benefit from this relationship unrequited as it is, the bank does.

keep-calm-and-own-the-owningSo it’s not just “nice”, banks do own the consumer, they may not have their hearts but they have their money and their habitual attention and consumers need banks to grow up and own up to it. The more banks will own it the likelier it is they will start the hard graft of making it better, laying the foundation for staying relevant when it will be all about the consumer having a certain set of relationships who will give them most value.

If you want yet another point of difference between a Bank and a nimble FinTech company ask each of them if they own the consumer and listen carefully to their different reactions.

This is not a manifesto to eradicate the Stockholm Syndrome in Banking, it’s a plea to develop the Lima one. Please admit you care even a little bit, Mr Banker, you know you owe it to me….

P.S. Before anyone else points it out, I’m well aware how much of a game changer Automatic Aggregation (be it by EU directive or technology) can be and how then the customer will have so much more freedom and more tangibly see the data they practically own on top of the money which is evidently theirs. I’ve been talking about it for many years and it will indeed potentially enable change but just because Gladys can now move to Monese and see her entire financial life in one place (will she, guys?) it doesn’t mean she won’t still feel like her entire life belongs to HSBC, like they own her financial self and elect to stay put.

An Open Letter to the Challenger Bank

Open Letter

Preface: Several tens of Challenger Banks are coming to change the Financial Services landscape in the UK.

If you’re a banking consumer that is not in our oh-so-controversial Financial Services industry but are counting the days till all these new Challenger banks in the UK hit the market so you can finally have the experience you deserve when you handle your money, you’re right to be excited, they will deliver much needed awesomeness by comparison to what you have today. Please avert your eyes, we have some boring FinTech-y things to discuss and they may give you anxiety. Don’t worry, everything will be fine by the time it hits your mobile screen.

If you are a UK incumbent also avert your eyes, this is not written so it makes you feel less inadequate just because some of these issues are clear to you. You’re every bit as behind on your to-do list as you were when they came in the market, you’re exponentially less potent in achieving any meaningful understanding of the consumer and acting on it and the fact that the first wave may get some things wrong ,does not buy you that  much time, even if they all vanish by 2016 PSD 2 is still upon us and anyone can still get a banking license. Hurry up and wake up. 

***Warning – Major Spoilers Ahead!*** 

Dear Challenger,

Pull up a chair and let me get you a cuppa, this could take a while.

Let me start by saying I’m here to kill some of your dreams. I’d apologise in advance but it’s necessary cruelty, you can hate me all you like but we both know this is not about me and not about you but your consumer.

I buy it that you love your consumer already, Challenger. I really do! I think you’re honest in your pursuit of a better way for them, I know you’re right to be indignant in your assessment of all thebanks you’re challenging on their behalf, I believe that you’re feeling less like a new business owner and more like a newly minted social worker, I am not doubting any of that enthusiasm. Go dreamers, heaven knows the consumer needs all the help they can get.

But they won’t get it unless we clarify some terms. You don’t need a pen, you can take notes on that iPad.  The terms we’re here to discuss are almost the opposite of my usual easy-to-mistake-for-fluffy “let’s think of people’s feelings” stance and that’s because you, my dear Challenger, have nearly got that right. You get what Millennials want, what busy professionals are frustrated with, how to make cool experiences that delight and you use fancy and oh so delicious terms like “Invisible Banking” so I’m proud and hopeful.

We’re here to talk about four things without which you can forget it – pack your bags and go back to the incumbent you want to escape. Those four are: core technologyproduct  and two key business terms – adoption and retention.


When I say “technology” I need you to tell me what you bought to make this happen. Or built. No matter. Open that box, what does it have in it? A core banking system you say? Great. You’re anxious because you bought what you used to think you hated in your other job and you’re not sure it will hold up to scrutiny? Don’t be, they’ll get smarter with you, pull them along. You’re worried because you’re not positive the mainstream tech you’ve pulled together in your own makeshift box may make it disintegrate? That’s possible but you’ll deal with it. Either hating your backend provider or wondering if your hacks will hold is part and parcel. Welcome to being a banker. I’m here to ask you to look for two things in that box. Get your arm in and tell me if you feel anything shaped like a sturdy transactional categorisation engine and something that feels like an automatic aggregation framework. Found them? Marvelous, we only need to worry about some of the other things now. You can skip straight over product even, those two will keep consumers in love even if you have none.

Wait what? You only found one or worse still, neither? Uh oh, Huston we have a problem. We don’t have a minor, easy to fix in time problem, we have a major one that will not let us get those two magical things called Adoption and Retention because you know what? You won’t be able to show the consumers what they did with their money and what they did in the places they spent it in, because you do know in your heart of hearts that no matter how many new features you think of, and how amazing your APR proposition is, you won’t be anyone’s primary bank, right? At least not to start with. Not for a long while and they need to kinda look at the entire picture of their finances or they won’t come by… You need categorisation to show them WHAT and you need aggregation because the WHERE happens in several places and primarily elsewhere.

Yes, yes, finding (and affording) those bits of technology is nearly impossible and your provider had no such thing and utterly impossible to built so your team and your other technology providers said you’d be fine without them, that you can wait for the change in legislation to add it easily later on once all the APIs land in your lap, or better yet wait, did they promise you that your sheer awesomeness will make you the primary bank of choice to your consumers immediately and even more, that if you gave them aggregation you wouldn’t force them to make a choice. You’d be the spouse ready to accept an open marriage rather than threaten to take its awesomeness out of the equation if full exclusivity and eternal fidelity is not restored. They will have to recognise your value and promptly close their HSBC Premier account or just never get that doggy bone in a Metro for crying out loud!


Please settle down, I can see it, you’ll be their everything, got it. Which brings me to Product. What are we giving them? Beautiful funky cards. Mustn’t forget those. Savings of course. That’s easy and that’s where all the money’s made. Loans as you’ll maybe partner with some Alternative Lending FinTech unicorn. P2P payments with a twist as they all need to split bills and the UK has no Venmo. And of course Current Accounts where they will see all this and sort what they are really left with, pay bills and get their salary in. You can wait with mortgages or investment or even SME awesomeness if your target is the main street consumer. Wait what? No payments? It’s ok, we can integrate the Apple and Samsung later, maybe you’re right. No lending as it’s too much hassle for now? O..k… I’ll stop you right there because if what you are about to say next is no Current Accounts either then Houston we have an even bigger problem and not a fixable one.

*Sigh* Didn’t we just agree you want to be their primary everything day one and that’s why you’re not getting aggregation? Well what do we do now because if you don’t give them a way to get paid and pay they’ll have to get it elsewhere, surely you understand that? Dear oh dear… let’s see what we can still do to save this.

Adoption and Retention

Adoption first – look into the coffers, please. Don’t tell me what you see, this is an utterly rhetorical question. Deep? Loads of pounds left after buying that back-end, hiring those ex-bankers and paying for that license? Enough for the reported, disputed and dreaded cost of acquisition? What did you budget for it? 50£? 100£? 500£? How many people need to move to your new bank to make this work? How many of the other 26 new banking propositions will you have to wait out? Would getting as many customers as the only other challenger be enough? I’m referring to Santander, dispute it all you like, but they kinda do that now in the UK. Of course you also have to wonder – would their business model work in isolation with only 2M consumers or is it just because they own the rest of the banking universe elsewhere that they do well? Ok maybe not 2M but surely you must be shooting for 1 Million consumers in 3 years? No? 500k? Ok 500k – let’s see what that is for a conservative 50 quid a pop. Wow that’s still a lot of dough. Are we good? Great, now all we need to worry about is how to keep them once we get them – retention. A few million short? I’m afraid we’re hitting a dead end.

See this is the deal – it’s a simple equation – if you give them the needed technology and a full stack of product, then you don’t need to buy them, you’ve brought them so much value word will eventually spread and you’ll quickly grow organically when the entire customer base finds out how you are the Holy Grail of banking but that’s not your plan is it, so you need to afford acquiring these customers to get any adoption to your semi-valuable-but-shiny-features.

Ok, let’s imagine you’ll go out and get a few more tens of millions to either buy more tech or pump up your product offering before you go live or pour it into aggressive TV campaigns and get some people to try you after we did. Now all you need to worry about is Retention. That they stay. That you build that mythical trust. That you keep them delighted. Except you don’t because this part you have right, this is the quality of the Experience and that’s going to be there. If you sorted the Tech or the Product and you managed to get Adoption, you’ll get your Retention, you’ll be awesome and make them fall in love and want to stick around, that will be easy and magical.

It’s only here that you can count on the Social fun, the Gamification, the Telepathic Authentification, the new Free-2-Spends, the Causes, the Offers, the Notifications, the Trading Simulations, the Savings Ladderboards and all the other exciting, hopefully addictive features you dreamt that will grab them by the heart. But to get here you need to have sorted the steps above.

So dear Challenger, to survive you can miss one of these three but not all three irrespective how much awesomeness you packed in the Experience. Either strong tech (categorisation and automatic account aggregation) or compelling full product stack (current accounts being a sine qua non condition to engagement) or money for adoption (loads and loads of it so you buy these people and then pray to the Gods of banking they stay till you fix the other two). Pick your poison.

That’s to survive. To thrive and succeed you need it all. Tech, Product, Adoption and Retention aside from your undoubtedly beguiling Experience.

I’m sorry this was upsetting and please don’t think it is too late, you can still change course and get yourself in shape, of course you can, you’re not one of them old, stuck mammoth banks and we all need you to succeed, we really are rooting for you and would like you to see you do well for all our sakes.


A Hopeful Future Customer