Opinion

Banking on Brand Experience

Citi wall helper smart home device on white tiles in kitchen setting

Powerful forces are reshaping the global banking industry. Customer expectations, technology, regulatory requirements, demographic and economic changes are all impacting how customers relate to bank brands. With all of this in mind and as the new market entrants continue to define how people view and interact with banking service, it is imperative for banks to redefine how they meaningfully participate in consumer lives.

Powerful forces are reshaping the global banking industry. Customer expectations, technology, regulatory requirements, demographic and economic changes are all impacting how customers relate to bank brands. With all of this in mind and as the new market entrants continue to define how people view and interact with banking service, it is imperative for banks to redefine how they meaningfully participate in consumer lives.
Market Forces

One of the most compelling industries when it comes to brand building is high street Retail Banking. Historically, they have portrayed a warm personality with ‘community service’ and ‘trust’ at the heart, but now the banking industry is torn between two forces.  On one hand retail banking is still suffering from the damage done during the financial crisis of the ‘naughties’. On the other hand it is enjoying one of the most exciting periods of its history due to game changing digital technologies. Challenges conventional banks face today are exacerbated by the desire to be shinny and forward thinking. At the other extreme we have the dusty legacy of traditional branches and the inefficiencies that accompany them. Looking at these developments through a consumer lens it becomes apparent that the consumer experience and the brand interface is being diminished. Massive technology change is having transformational effects on behaviour across all consumer services. And when we recognise that millennials have far less loyalty to the traditional banking brands, it’s easy to agree that change is essential. Banks must reset the way they typically relate to and speak to customers to ensure future growth and prosperity. 

bank brand logos including Monzo resolute Citi Bank Transferwise
The Battle Field for Millennials   

No longer can banking brands play by the old rules. They cannot expect to regain trust by engaging clichéd campaigns claiming to be “on our side”. People have grown tired of a one way conversation, brands telling them how they should feel or how they should act. Say less, do more. We are in an experiential era of brands. There needs to be less of a monologue and more of a two way relationship with people. The influx of financial apps into the market has broken down traditional expectations around financial products. Modern banks like Tangerine or B and apps like Transferwise and Monzo feel more youthful and progressive and most definitely have more millennial appeal. These types of products began disrupting the market during a time of general cynicism towards high-street banks. The reality is that trust has been eroded and people ultimately have long memories. Many believe that last year’s retirement of RBS brand as a consumer facing offer was a result of this sentiment, trust could simply not be rebuilt. On the flip side, what banks do have on their side is the fact that they did indeed survive the downturn and that is still a question overhanging the likes of Monzo and N26. Are they sustainable and have they longevity? The risk is after years of marketing drought banking brands will fail to realign their true brand objectives with consumer expectation – bolt out of the traps failing to understand what is really important to the consumer. 

“They cannot expect to regain trust
by engaging clichéd campaigns
claiming to be ‘on our side’.”

six panels showing photosgraphs of current banking campaigns
Meaningful Participation Through Brand Experience

In order to build trust again banks must forge a new meaningful relationship with people. A relationship built on being an active trusted advisor – providing relevance, guidance and assistance in a real time way. One that puts the customer’s behaviour, wants and needs at the centre of their brand experience and service innovation. One that finds new ways of having relevance in the minds and hearts of people. Banks need to exercise their imagination when it comes to digitally engaging consumers. 

“Banks need to exercise their
imagination when it comes to
digitally engaging consumers.”

Services like Monzo and Revolut have entered the market leveraging ‘customer centric ease’ (such as lower transactional fees and FX rates) and beautifully simple and intuitive interfaces making it so easy to use them. Short, snappy naming and stripped back designs also added to the expectation of simplicity. In terms of product experience they open our eyes to built in budgeting, spending notifications, touch of a button in-app insurance to name but a few. When using the products the overall feeling is that their designers placed themselves in the shoes of the user and asked ‘what would I want it to do to make my life more convenient and easy?’. Once that was established they seamlessly delivered it through beautiful branding, naming, language, UX and UI. And while most of these new challengers are currently limited to FX and current account banking it can only be a matter of time before they move into other products such as savings, business banking and mortgages. We can only imagine the new innovation and disruptive forces they will bring to those types of services. In order to compete, traditional banks must first  go back to basics – to their core brand DNA. All customer innovation should be shaped by what they fundamentally stand for. New developments in A.I. and other technologies will pave the way for a new era of financial advice based on personal data that will far surpass current expectations. Surely traditional high street banks are incredibly well placed to adopt new technologies in order to extend their role in our lives and in a more involved way than ever before. Banks need to learn to be more than just a bank, to be an intimate advisor. 

One great example jumps to mind. 2 years ago we worked with Citi Bank to help shape a new future through wearables. For this project, we developed a Citi smart watch app concept for consumers that detected what product is in the user’s hand and would then alert the user if the product was available at a cheaper price in any other store locally. This interaction provided real time, meaningful advice to the customer as well as potentially keeping them on track with their savings program. Further developing on this ‘smart-assistant’ concept might lead to an integrated in-home advisor. A wall mounted interface that would act like a motherboard for all home finance matters; pocket money for the kids would be instantly credited to their phones, grocery supplies could be purchased at guaranteed best prices and utility bills could be paid and also suppliers compared at the touch of a button. These are examples of Citi actively participating in making our lives better. Far more meaningful than a cheesy advert! 

Apple smart watch with Citi Bank mobile app on screen
citi virtual home assistant circular device on tiled wall with Citi Bank brand logo
Cultural Role: Pillar of Community 

Recent years have seen a general reduction in the physical footprint within most high street banks as they move to online transactions and day to day banking. At the same time, online only companies spend a huge amount of time and resources creating a sense of community and the secure feeling that is a bi-product of it. This would beg the question, how do banks evolve or retain their current presence within our communities while continuing to reduce the ‘transactional’ facilities which we have long called the ‘branch’? With the emergence of brands like Apple who are moving increasingly into financial products it will be interesting to see how they will interpret this important community engagement. In years from now will we see a new bank called, say, ‘Apple You’ creating community spaces where parents come to learn how to manage their household finances through cooking demonstrations or a place you go to seek assistance with making important financial decision like a vehicle subscription or a vacation?  

“In years from now will we see a new bank called, say, ‘Apple You’ creating community spaces where parents come to learn how to manage their household finances through cooking demonstrations?”

apple you bank concept logo on faded photograph of a community kitchen
apple you concept logo with man and woman both looking at smart phone in man's hands
No More Silos

One potential obstacles that banks may experience in shaping this new future is how their internal departments are currently organised and relate to each other. Traditionally the marketing department had the responsibility of shaping their relationship with and understanding the customer. However in recent years the key customer interface is more likely to be a website or phone screen. When a technology department of the business is creating a digital product for customers, the skill set and knowledge base of the marketing department should help form the product experience, however it is often not. Silos between the marketing and technology departments cannot be good for creating effective experiences, they must meet in the middle for best results. In contrast, new entrants to the banking market do not have this inter-department complication as optimal product experience is the primary goal from the outset. Perhaps a new department function should form to help resolve this tension. A Chief Experience Officer for example who could bridge the gap. As well as creative agencies that are at the nexus of art and technology – agencies that are equip to create these consumer focused experiences. Human centred but tech enabled. 

Conclusion 

With great challenges affecting the global banking industry it is imperative for banks to think about how they redefine how they meaningful participant in consumer lives. 

  1. Say less, do more: The old rules no longer apply, we must create more of a two-way conversation with customers.
  2. Find meaning: Seek ways of making people’s lives genuinely better and happier.
  3. Be culturally relevant: Ensure we are continuing to connect with people on a human level within our communities.
  4. Break down the silos: To make change, we must change how we are collaborating and ensure we are solely focused on creating customer centric products.

Author: Graham Vard, Creative Director

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2019-06-14T16:51:59+00:00