Quite a few people talk about invisible banking today. The idea is that banking transactions and services should be invisible as if they are noticeable, as in visible, then that means you have pain and friction which should have been removed.
A good example of invisible banking is the iTunes store where I can download apps and just register my thumbprint to approve. Everything is packaged in the background and invisible to me. The process has been wrapped up into an easy and enjoyable experience. Another example is my taxis apps, Uber and Lyft. I take the ride, jump out of the car ad leave. No payment needed as it’s all wrapped up in the app for an easy experience.
In other words, apps take away the conscious decision to pay, and do it all for you. You just live your life. That’s what invisible banking is meant to be all about.
The thing is, I have two problems with invisible banking. It’s not that I want the customer to have pain and friction, but sometimes pain and friction is good. Here’s one example: the drunken Amazon. You know, that late night moment where you’re on your third glass of wine (!) and decide that the advert for the Delfonico Ultraluxury Cappuccino maker for £699 is worth having, even though you already have one. When it arrives by Prime the next day, oh dear, two hours out of the day repackaging and sending back to Amazon. That’s ok, but you should see what I’ve brought on eBay recently. Well. Maybe not.
So, the first issue I have with invisible banking is that it makes it far too easy to make impulse purchases. Good for the merchant and good for the bank, but not so good for the consumer who can sometimes feel it’s all too easy when the banking moments are invisible.
The other issue that comes to mind is branding. For a bank to be invisible is surely not a great thing. Whose brands am I remembering and reinforcing above? Apple, Uber and Lyft. My banking colleagues who like the idea of invisible banking say it is no issue, as you still know who’s got your back at the end of day. Yes, your bank. But really? Do I really remember that Santander, NatWest, Lloyds, HSBC or Barclays are there? Nope. But then the bank is like the charger for my phone: a utility.
I don’t care where the power comes from, who generates it, or even which manufacturer made the charger, I just want my phone powered. I know the brand of my phone, that’s all. Is that what a bank wants to become? An invisible provider of payments in the same way as energy firms are the invisible providers of electricity?
Maybe. Maybe that’s what they should become. Invisible and commoditised. Or, more to the point, maybe that’s what they have become.