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According to one banker, banks are just like sewage

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Now I didn’t make this statement, to be clear. A banker did. He was talking about the four quadrants of service, and said that banking needed to become like the sewage system: invisible, but incredibly important that it works especially when it’s urgent.

I liked his ideas, and he presented it like this.

Banking today is complex, difficult and a basic utility. Because it’s complex, difficult and a basic utility, it’s a burden. If anyone can simplify the process and move it away from being utilitarian to useful, they have an opportunity.

Most FinTech’s and challenger banks are therefore focused on either simplifying complex banking processes or making them more informed and pleasurable.

If they simplify the process, but the product is still just a basic utility, then it’s moved from being a burden to a chore. That’s ok, but not a sustainable business future. If it’s moved from being difficult and basic to being something that gives me more pleasurable experiences, through information-rich transactions for example, then it’s better. Often, to achieve this, the information-rich transaction is still very basic, but it’s telling me more than before. It might be that it tells me where, when and what I spent on a particular day in a particular place, integrated with Google Maps and other services. That takes away the burden and the chore of remembering where, when and what I paid for on a particular day, but it’s only moved me from a basic chore to an assisted chore. It’s assisted by information to make me a better, smarter and more informed consumer.

But the real sweet spot is to give me an invisible banking service. A service so simple and pleasurable, I don’t even realise it’s there.

Now I’ve blogged before that banking shouldn’t be invisible, but I got this guy’s point. What he was getting at is that banking is boring, tick; it may be boring but it’s important, tick; and often it may be boring, but it’s important and must work NOW, tick.

You cannot send money and find it lost in the network somewhere, especially if it is time essential, which often it is. That is when he likened banking to the sewage system.

Going to the toilet is boring, tick; going to the toilet may be boring, but it’s important, tick; and often it may be boring, but it’s important and must work NOW, tick. Don’t ask me the number of times I’ve been desperate for a pee and needed to find a place to make that transaction. And he’s absolutely right, I make that transaction and it’s no longer of any interest to me but, if I couldn’t make that transaction, boy would I be in pain.

Banking and sewage. Never thought those two could be strung together in the same sentence but hey, always happy to be proved wrong.



In hearing his story another friend sent me this link. Basically, it’s about upgrading legacy sewage systems in the New York system. Ye Gods! These two industries are more aligned than I thought:

The operations staff at our Hunts Point Wastewater Resource Recovery Facility in the south Bronx clean more than 200 million gallons of wastewater produced by 700,000 residents in the Bronx every day of the year. This essential work protects public health and the environment—and also requires a great deal of electrical power.

As part of a $67 million comprehensive energy efficiency upgrade, we’re replacing the facility’s 13 existing centrifuges with 16 new energy efficient models. The new centrifuges will consume 60 percent less electricity and process 25 percent more material than their predecessors, reducing our carbon footprint by 826 metric tons of greenhouse gases a year and lowering operating costs by $1.7 million!



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Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog,, 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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