Ask your average punter what kind of relationship they have with
their bank and they will probably say ’what relationship?’ So low is the
public’s regard for banks that many people seem to prefer to conduct
their banking with purveyors of carrots, feta cheese and cotton
underwear, or even a business run by a bearded woolly jumper better
known for hot-air balloons and cola.
Any previous business experience, in fact, now appears to qualify a
company to move into banking services. A bizarre situation, perhaps, but
one which the banks really can no longer afford to ignore if they are to
stop the top supermarket chains, and other newcomers, from seriously
damaging their business.
How do the banks hit back? By taking a leaf out of the retailers’
marketing book and developing a brand proposition which is meaningful to
the consumer while at the same time underpinned by their business
Two successful retail examples are Marks & Spencer’s refund policy and
quality promise and John Lewis’s ’Never knowingly undersold’. More
recently we have seen Tesco’s acclaimed Clubcard, which actively
recognises the value of customer loyalty.
Banks could learn from these examples, possibly with a reward system of
their own. The opportunity is not so much for points-based giveaways but
for a brand-driven approach which builds real emotional value into a
bank’s customer relationships.
Unfortunately, there are four core problems which the banks need to
overcome before they can even get close to adopting such a strategy.
First, banks still take a product-driven view of marketing rather than a
relationship-driven view. Many still do not even know how many customers
they have got, let alone how they behave.
Second, as banks have sought to automate their processes, they are
driven by a silicon rather than a human heart. And silicon hearts are
not that good at taking a relationship perspective.
Exceed your overdraft limit and you are automatically whacked with
Third, banks (and they are by no means alone in this in financial
services) have taken an inconsistent and even Machiavellian view of
their charging structures, making customers unsure about the value they
How can the consumer feel comfortable about an organisation that prices
mortgages cheaply but only if you buy expensive insurance at the same
And finally, although banks have been quick enough to identify what they
want from their customer relationships they have been slow to identify
what they might give customers in return.
Regrettably, the first two points are so structural it is difficult to
see how marketers can make much difference. But by learning from the
experience of firms in other service industries, I believe that
marketers can have a marked impact in the last two areas.
The big question is not whether the banks have the ability to change,
but whether they have the will.
George Miller is planning director at DMB&B Financial.