I am a Banker – therefore I lie

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.



June 13, 2016 / by / in , , , , , , , , ,

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