The UK retail banking industry has always been a fraud when it comes to technology; it invests heavily to keep up with its savvier, more glamorous counterparts like retail and entertainment. But while it's busy playing buzzword bingo (website, tick. CRM
database, tick. BI system, tick.) its customers are still not getting what they need: a simple and enjoyable service. As an industry, it has one of the worst reputations for customer service and this is seen in the increasing churn of customers.
So how does the financial service industry stack up compared to other industries in terms of innovation?
Setting the benchmark at the top of our league table is the publishing industry. This world embraced the concept of user-generated content before anyone else and the likes of YouTube are showing us how it's done properly. Then there's the content; multimedia
content is intrinsic to broadcasters so naturally the BBC et al quickly saw the benefit of delivering this online to ensure that every touch point with their audience was engaging and stimulating. Since then, print media is working on the same principal and
providing interactive experiences online.
Next up is the leisure and travel industry. Companies like TripAdvisor were quick to recognise the trend towards collective wisdom. As such their business model is based around aggregating their customers' opinions to give intelligent recommendations. It's
the savviest move of all; why invest in employing reviewers when your very own customers will do the job for free! Retail had the same idea, which is why Amazon's model is envied across the industry. Retail also understood the importance of giving customers
a joined-up experience, so when Woolworths launched it's ‘order online, pick-up in-store' service, others soon followed suit.
The professional services industry isn't normally considered glamorous but take a look at the websites of some of the biggest consultancies, systems integrators and law firms such as Accenture and IBM. The heavy investment in usability, presentation and
content is shocking.
Gas, electricity and telecoms providers have taken heed of their terrible press and responded with heavy investments in technology to improve customer service. They still have a way to go but with the advent of online bill management they're making up ground.
The public sector isn't quite an innovator when it comes to technology but they're certainly recognising the importance of it. As such their (sometimes misguided) commitment is what bags them the number six spot.
So there you have it. The finance industry is even being trumped by Utilities and Government.
Utilities and Government! So what can banks do to claw their way back and regain some of their dignity and customers?
With a large proportion of the population now banking online, financial services needs to recognise this channel as the simplest and cheapest way of delivering an engaging experience that does more than just allow their customers a snapshot of their finances.
It can do this by taking the lead from some of businesses we have already name-checked and doing away with those clunky, transactional sites.
Unlike many other industries, finance has the added pressure of overcoming the hurdle of trust in online banking. While there is no quick fix, the tide is turning and consumers are starting to have more faith that their personal details are secure. Banks
can help this along with simple changes to the tone of their sites that replicate the trust that people gain when dealing with baking staff face to face. An online avatar, better visibility of the security features and general tips on keeping safe online,
could all help to instil faith.
I'm sorry to say, the UK public is a shallow bunch - we want sites that look fantastic. Delivering the basics well, in an attractive way, is easy to do and can yield staggering rewards. Look at First Direct and Egg: when they launched they were THE people
to bank with. Now they're looking a bit tired and lacklustre but they know what to do to rekindle the passion.
Throughout 2007 and 2008, added value services are going to be the key way to reduce churn and stand out. The great news is that some of these initiatives are very affordable, yet bring great benefits. Imagine linking your outlook calendar with your bank
account so you receive reminders when payments are due and those reminders then take you straight through to your bank account. Or being able to drag and drop transactions into different groups so you have a simple view of monthly grocery or petrol spending.
The possibilities for improving online banking are endless and now is the perfect time to realise them. Most banks know they are in need of a refresh - here's hoping some of them decide to go the whole nine yards and do it brilliantly.