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Challenging the challengers on customer communication

Anthony Thompson, former founder of Metro Bank, laid down his vision for banking recently in an interview with Marketing Week: “nobody cares about banking”. For him, he sees banking as a basic service. It’s under this maxim, he created Atom Bank, which is mobile-only - with no plans at all of ever launching a branch.

Challenger banks like Metro and Atom Bank are responding to the expectations of the now completely connected and online modern customer base. This is traditionally seen as a play for the younger generations - however the general public’s willingness (and preference for) digital channels continues to grow. Even if you dismiss this as a play for the younger generations only - as time goes on, millennial spending power is inevitably going to grow considerably. The high-street banks have to compete against these banks and their digital platforms...and they need to put the technology in place to do this now. But it’s a bit more complicated for them than a straight race to digitization of services.

This outlook on banking is unique, but also involves peering through a narrow looking glass. It is undeniable that traditional banks need to innovate faster and embrace digital platforms. However, in doing so, they must not lose sight of their older customers who may in fact prefer face-to-face meetings, print and/or telephone communications. What Anthony Thompson is choosing not to consider, or perhaps is taking advantage of, is that traditional banks must become the best of both worlds. They cannot tunnel in and focus on a single aspect or demographic when it comes to banking. Traditional banks must borrow from Anthony Thompson’s own playbook when it comes to think of banking as a “customer-centric business” - but they also must go one step further. 

Creating and issuing timely, personalised communications regardless of channel isn’t the difficulty it once was. In the past, complicated and siloed infrastructures were the norm and this business structure has limited banks from making the necessary changes quickly. It is often this perceived sluggishness within traditional banks as they work to break the siloes that is capitalized upon by more “flashy”, modern competitors.

We’re under no illusion there is a simple and easy fix – breaking business siloes of information and expertise can be difficult. However as the pace of change in customer expectations appears to be getting faster, simplifying and streamlining operations is unavoidably necessary. Customers now expect innovation – and doing this from an old model of operations makes the task exponentially more difficult. There’s the technical aspect to consider too – upgrading or a straight “rip and replace” can be costly and risky. Especially when you consider that, from a communication standpoint at least, modern communications platforms can work with and sit on top of legacy systems.

What Anthony Thompson’s message really highlights is that time is running out for big banks to become the master of all trades. So whether the traditional high-street banks choose to go in-house or work with an outside provider to begin streamlining operations and work towards truly omnichannel communications strategies, it is vital that these banks move quickly or lose important momentum to the challengers.


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