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Tesco, Virgin, O2 and all … we don’t want your banks

Marketing week ran a fascinating survey of British citizens last month and their views about banking.

The results find that most people don’t trust trusted brands with their money, and would rather stick with the banks.

The survey sampled 1,716 UK adults and asked a series of questions, including…

Which, if any, of the following brands would you consider taking out a financial product with (e.g. credit card, savings account, current account)?

None of these               65%
Tesco Finance              20%
M&S Money                  18%
Sainsbury’s Bank          15%
A charity you support     6%
ICICI                             4%
O2                                3%
B&Q                              1%
Pizza Express                1%

These results surprised me with 65% of consumers saying they would not take out a financial product with any of their favourite brands. I was also shocked as Tesco, M&S and Sainsbury have been in banking and financial services for over a decade. After ten years, can it be true that people really don’t trust these trusted brands? What would the score be for Virgin, another major brand that has been digging into this space for a decade?

This was no more surprising than the shock result of the next question …

What are the most important features that you look for in your main financial provider?

Easy/convenient banking online                       41%
Competitive interest rates                              39%
Security                                                         37%
Overall stability of the financial institution       34%
Reasonable and non–punitive fees                    24%
Error–free management of accounts                 22%
Convenient branch network                             17%
Well established financial services brand          16%
Treating me like an individual                         15%
Friendly and easily accessible staff                  15%
Don’t know                                                      5%

The number one answer is easy and convenient online banking? Wow! Only a few years ago, most people would have said that they weren’t interested in banking online due to issues over reason number three – security. Amazing what broadband access can do isn’t it?

Mind you, with online banking used by four out of five households these days, maybe it’s not so surprising.

Then they asked which statements folks agree with, and these were quite surprising (or not) too ….

  • Both individuals and companies have taken on too much risk for short–term gain (62%)
  • It’s easy to feel you’re no longer in financial control (59%)
  • It’s hard to know who to trust in the world of financial uncertainty (53%)
  • Banks don’t care about the person behind the money (52%)
  • Too interested in new customers, banks have forgotten the basics (50%)
  • Banks are too focused upon profits and shareholders to have customers’ interests at heart (49%)
  • Too complicated and confusing means I switch off (20%)
  • I get more out of spending money than saving it (17%)

I can understand the first three statements, but these results mean that every other customer of a bank thinks that their bank is not interested in them as a person or as a customer. Wow! So why do they stay? Why don’t they switch?  Maybe it's because 1 in 20 have no idea why they chose their bank …

… or maybe it’s because, as the editor of Marketing Week writes, “a month ago I changed my bank. I’m already fighting with the new people in charge of my money over £70 worth of what I consider to be unwarranted charges.”

There’s quite a few other worthwhile things to quote from the article too, such as Philip Mehl, Head of Marketing for HSBC UK, who says: “We have avoided jumping on to the bandwagon of telling customers how to run their lives better in a recession, as we have learned that customers want banks to run their own businesses better before we start throwing out unsolicited advice.”

Jeez … a banker talking sense. Stick that in your diary.

The article about the survey has a number of classic lines too.

“It seems that while marketers are always told that trust in brands equates to commercial success, the financial sector does not appear to follow this rule. In a Morgan Stanley survey published last week, consumers claim they trust Tesco more than the banks and believe it offers better value. But a third stated they ‘definitely wouldn’t’ or were ‘very unlikely’ to open a Tesco current account and this figure rose to half when it came to taking out a Tesco mortgage.”

Mmmm … that’s good news for the launch of Tesco Bank isn’t it?

“When looking at which words consumers associate with their main bank, ‘loyalty’ and ‘acceptance’ rate highly while words like ‘anger’ and ‘contempt’ receive just a fraction of responses in comparison.”

So, the media are wrong about the general populous hating their banks then?

The article then gets into some case studies with banks and non–banks, with some fascinating conversation with Alistair Johnston, O2’s marketing director:

“We’re acutely aware the communications sector around voice and text has reached its [full] size and, if we’re going to grow the business, then we have to find new areas … we think we can offer new ways to manage money. In the future, people will be walking around with their phones, they won’t have cards or wallets”, he says.

That’s why O2 have launched a couple of payments cards, as have Phones4U, to test the waters of banking.

Even so, this is not necessarily the biggest concern for big banks. Their concern should be customers switching to small banks.

“Co–operative Financial Services claims it has seen a ‘massive increase’ in customers switching from the big names to smaller ones. Specifically, in comparison to last year, there has been a 636% increase in RBS customers switching, 236% in HBOS and 165% in Lloyds TSB.”

Yowzer! What does this mean for the big banks?

Maybe take a tip out of HSBC’s flagship customer brand, First Direct?

“First Direct head of digital marketing Joan Sutherland explains: ‘86% of all our transactions are now online, so our biggest challenge is how to replicate the fantastic rapport our reps developed with customers on the phone and inject the brand personality into the online space.’”

What did they do?

Lots of personalisation including the social media newsroom and Virtual Forest, a place where customers get to plant a tree for every time 20 accounts switch to paperless banking.

They also focused heavily on the mobile space, with 500,000 hits on the website from iPhones so far this year to July.

All in all, it’s about innovation, which brings me back to Philip Mehl of HSBC.

“The tendency in any recession is to go into lockdown mode and this is precisely not what we have done. First, if you don’t invest for growth, when it does arrive you’ll be slow to take advantage of it and second, innovation can take time to come on-stream so it needs to be planned well ahead.”

I told you he talked sense, didn’t I?


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About Chris M Skinner

Chris M Skinner
Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog, the Finanser.com, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal’s Financial News. To learn more click here...

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