Over the past week, I’ve had the chance to reconnect with some of my Australian banking colleagues. Australia is very unusual from a financial services perspective – they were largely untouched during the global financial crisis, and my suspicion is this has made them a bit complacent.
Whilst the rest of the industry has started its thinking around the future of the industry, and in some cases, has started to modify itself, I couldn’t help but feel I was stepping back in time a bit last week. Nothing much has changed in Australia since I left it six years ago.
Mind you, not all that much has changed in the thinking of traditional banks here, either.
For example, everyone is still parroting on about “customer experience” and “customer relationship”. I say parroting because both of those terms imply something which just doesn’t exist in banks: a cultural imperative to put the needs of customers first.
Working in banks, it is never first about the customer. It is first about revenue and share of wallet. Anything a bank does in terms of relationship and experience is all about making more money under the guise of helping, and this sets up a relationship which is false. Its like the motor mechanic guy who says he wants to help you to your face, but actually cares about working out how to get as much money possible out of you for as little effort as possible. That situation feels false to customers, and when you translate it to banks, it feels just as false.
I mean, why not just admit to customers that you’re out to make money from them, and get rid of the falseness about it all? Banks aren’t there to help customers, they’re there to help shareholders. Would anyone really mind a bit of candour about this?
So I actually said all this to banking people when I was visiting last week, and most of them didn’t get it. Not only did they not get it, they didn’t even agree that their first imperative in all things was to make more money and reduce cost, not to service customers.
Theirs is the extremely dated view that “bank at centre of financial universe” is still appropriate today. It might have been the way things have been in the last several hundred years, but today things are changing.
Banks, today, should be aiming to be invisible, not the centre of all value. When you get a mortgage, the point is the house you’re buying, not the financial services product. You go to the bank as a consequence of house-buying, not because you want a multiple decade loan for its own sake.
Bankers should try embedding the loan into the house buying process so that the money part was as invisible as possible. Why is it even necessary that the bank has a brand on that, anyway? Loans are all about price, and you care about brand and stuff only if you’re going to have a “relationship”. That’s all part of the falseness, of course.
Clever institutions – including one in the UK - are already starting to get the fact that the best strategic option is to integrate their stuff into things customers really care about, not be the centre of the universe themselves. If nothing else, it removes them from the falseness of their traditional approaches to customers.
Yes, that means giving up on owning the customer. Yes, it means giving up these dated notions that customers actually want a relationship with a bank beyond it working properly. And, yes, it means that the new game is courting people who will integrate your services, not those who will eventually be using them.
This last is the most important point, actually. I’m of the view that the bank that gets the largest number of organisations to integrate with them will win in a particular market. They’ll have a critical mass that makes it more attractive for more people to join up with them. Everyone else will be left in the dust to pick up crumbs.
Now, of course, in Australia, this is not going to happen any time soon. They haven’t had the burning platform the rest of us have had to make change. It is simple and easy to continue the way things always have.
But I will say this: the time is coming when a global major is going to show up and do this. It may not be soon, because there are bigger profit pools available right now. But it will happen, and they will be great at integrating businesses with them. They are already working out they need to be invisible, not the centre of everything.
So, Australian Banks, if you want to play in this new world order, you need to start getting to this stuff soon. The problem you have is you don’t know how much time you have.