Business banking. Who hasn’t lived or at least heard the stories? Getting a business account in the UK is a nightmare. It takes forever, the hoops you have to jump through are bureaucracy at its worse and no entrepreneur has ever come out of the battle unscathed.
But it is, of course, a necessary evil for any of us starting a business.
I’ve had the pleasure of this experience four times in the past 3 years. Once I have been at arm’s length as I opened Meniga’s office in London but since Meniga is by no means a startup anymore and is well established in Iceland and Sweden already, an accountancy
firm dealt with this for us so the only reason for higher blood pressure has been how outrageously long it took (tried to remember exact time frame but it seems I am repressing the trauma effectively and can not but it must have been over two months). The
frustration was even greater as I had incorporated an Icelandic company I owned with a friend a mere year before that in the UK while still living in Sweden myself by using one of the company formation set-up companies and that took 6 days in total to create
and 6 hours to open the account. Of these 6 hours, 5 were spent on a train to somewhere in the middle of England where this firm had their HQ, 30 mins were spent for them to drive me to and fro to the bank from the train station, 25 were spent copying documents
and having coffee at said bank and exactly 5 were spent in the HSBC branch manager’s office during which he pleasantly looked at my passport and wished our new venture the greatest of luck after spending 30 seconds intently looking into the eyes of the company
formation firm representative and asking him “so they’re good people who need an account to trade is that right, John?”.
That particular assistance firm was bought by a major chain and they no longer are in the market but my HSBC business account subsists. So when I needed to open a pair of others (a new venture and my consultancy) I asked them first if my history with them
would mean I could get a second business account faster/easier. They did all they could not to laugh but no, being an existent client would mean nothing in a new application for another business. Neither did being a retail account holder with Santander. I
take that back, it did offer me an advantage – that of the business manager in my local branch telling me in confidentiality it could take up to two months.
So I caved and entered a Metro. For the first business I was setting up we filled in the forms and then spent 30-45 minutes with a manager who asked us what seemed like silly questions about our business plan then walked out. 4 days later they called and
we were given the account and card. Seemed like magic and should that have repeated with my Consultancy account, this post would have been one to maintain that good solid service where I am sold a product when I want it, not made to wait after I had to beg and
threaten really does trump bad branch decor and an obsession with dogs but as you guessed already, it was not meant to be.
I waltzed in on a Friday morning with an already filled application form and asked if there was any way I could have it the next day as I am starting my first engagement very soon and I would like to have an account to be paid in. They said they can not
promise it on Saturday or Sunday despite being open but by Monday I should have it. 15 minutes of typing later we hit the roadblock.
Brancher: “Mrs Blomstrom, is there any way you could write more words in this box?”
Me: “Excuse me?”
Brancher: “We just need more information about what you intend to do and what consultancy means”
Me: “Fair enough I suppose, can I continue on the back of the paper?”
Brancher looking stricken “The back of the form?!?”
Me: “Yes, so I write more detail. I could perchance draw a small arrow to indicate it continues on the back or say so with words for clarity’s sake? I just need more space to fit a longer text.”
Brancher: “Let me ask my manager, Ma’am”
Brancher returning 2 minutes later looking dejected “No Mrs Blomstrom, I’m sorry it all has to fit in the front box”
Me: “Fine, please print another page 6 and I’ll write smaller and fit more”
And so I did and then left the branch in the knowledge that synonyms are good and long heralded concision and brevity bad and proceeded to wait patiently till Monday when I received nothing and my three calls were met with empty promises then till Tuesday
when I had barely sat down at Finextra’s Future of Money when I received this:
“To Mrs Blomstrom:
I am currently working on opening your business account with Metro Bank but just need to obtain a little bit more information around what you specifically do as a business. I have tried to call you but unfortunately haven’t been able to get through.
If you could tell me a bit more information about your day to day activities. My colleague has told me that you advise banks around their digital banking services such as mobile banking. Is this correct?
If you could provide some information on how you do this? Do you just advise the banks or design the products themselves? Who do you work for and how do you generate your work?
Please don’t hesitate to call the store on the below number. I look forward to hearing from you.
Metro Customer Service Representative”
Now in his defence Will is polite and we’ve all been faced with forms with a minimum number of characters and let’s admit it, Metro is keeping cost down, people are not employed to use critical thinking or look into the eyes of company formation firms to
ascertain suitability. Knowing this should have seen me add even more synonyms to my previous attempt, but I’m not in a forgiving mood seeing how we’ve been talking about “Invisible banking”, “seamless delightful experiences” and “emotional contextual experiences”
in Canary Wharf so I send this:
I have tried to call. I can’t speak today as l am attending an event called “Future of Money” which considering our context is ironic.Let’s see, l filled this form in and your colleague has stated it contained “too few” words so he handed me another
form to write more. No, l could not continue on the back of the form l was told, it has to be contained in the box on the front. So l crammed more words on the topic. Evidently this effort too has been deemed insufficient.
To answer your questions below l just advise not design products. In banking we all “just advise” really. Do l design the products? No. No one does that. Not in the last 50 years. Well not if you don’t count alternative lending, P2P and blockchain
technologies but I digress. The products are savings, deposits, cards, current accounts for private customers and businesses such as this one in question, etc and no on is much inclined to think of more – all we do is talk about (and if we’re lucky design)
the experience on top of these products.
As an example the product here is a business bank account and the experience is what l, as a customer, have to go through till that product is being sold to me. Incidentally banking is the only industry that makes buying something difficult, even
If l were consulting Metro on this experience l would have said “If the system-form that your business bank managers fill in for this product will ask for a minimum number or words, while consecutively the paper application form only offers a tiny
box and no indication on desired level of detail and furthermore, no one in the bank will use their critical thinking and fill it in on behalf of the client (such as Jay in the Bromley branch does, BTW, should promote him) but keep asking them inane questions
delaying an unnecessarily slow process further, the customer will become frustrated and disillusioned with the experience your bank provides which is the opposite of your intent. You must change this.”Makes sense?
I advise banks on a consultancy basis on how to provide their clients with compelling experiences on top of their existent products. I know about this because l have engaged with and consulted many other banks all over the worldover the past few
years on the same topics and l will use my personal name in the industry backed by my online presence such as Twitter and my website blog to further my personal brand and market my skills and knowledge and banks will buy these services from me. This I believe
to be my -admittedly still unproven- business plan and go-to-market strategy.
Lastly I should outline that parts of the “not enough words” account opening adventure will feature in a new blog post on www.duenablomstrom.com which l encourage you to read if you’d like more detail still and feel free to copy&paste as much or
as little of this response or really my website intro to complete this famous form of ours.I can expect the account opening to be completed today, yes?—
If you made it this far in this long story you’ll know that it’s likely resolved, otherwise I would have had to be mad to jeopardise it by posting this and indeed it is! I am the proud owner of a business account at the time of writing this, after a mere
5 other calls the next day, a Branch Manager apologised for Will and assured me they adore me and my business, they have sent my feedback about boxes and forms to “the centre” and that the account is one mere step from being opened – a few simple questions
about you guessed it…. what it is I do.Since many of my FinTech Mafia pundits friends have went through painful business banking account setup experiences of their own, I can only hope they’ll
share those with you in either the comments here or their own posts (looking at you Jim Marous and David Brear) and together we can try to make our banker friends remember that business owners are customers too, they too deserve some semblance of pleasant
customer experience while parting with their anxiety ridden cash!