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Banks Need To Care About Emotional Banking Before It’s Closing Time

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Almost 5 years ago I came up with the concept of “Emotional Banking™” which can only be described as an overall amount of outrage in the face of a stark reality: retail banks spend little to no time, effort and money on investigating the consumers’ feelings about their money.

I wasn’t the first to have thought of the concept in itself with thinkers such as the well respected, wonderfully snarky and infinitely wise FinTech pundit Ron Shevlin having written opinion pieces and reports to outline how banks need to invest in understanding the psychic of the consumer a couple of years before I arrived at the concept by traveling the road of meeting each and every of the respective offending banks and witnessing first hand how dire the situation was.

My personal indignation had started to bubble under the surface early on, when I had entered the FinTech industry and started working with these big banks with a piece of transformative technology in one hand and a goal to change the way they see what it is they owe their consumer in the other. As I said in my book “Emotional Banking: Fixing Culture, Leveraging FinTech and Transforming Retail Banks Into Brands”, I had at first presumed that all these organizations do indeed spend time examining their customers’ feelings but I was simply not privy to those efforts.

As time passed and I was getting deeper in the belly of the beast, getting to know those banks’ innermost workings, it was becoming clear there were no secret labs and no bankers in white lab coats tasked with caring.

Here was this, one of the most important relationships in our lives after that with our family and friends – the relationship with our money, and here was an organization making a living from serving that relationship – the bank, and it was brazenly and disturbingly spending no time understanding it.

Many thought leaders in our industry including Brett King and Chris Skinner were speaking about the glaring issue banks had that hindered them from offering the consumer the type of experience they were starting to expect from the tech giants: their inability to design (or redesign as it were) their proposition from First Principles and create truly beloved experiences starting with a tabula rasa.

To me the “why” that was when they had clear signals of that being design best practice employed by successful offerings everywhere became instantly interesting, and the main culprit quickly emerged as this deeply seated lack of concern for truly comprehending the emotions of the consumer and I had started writing and speaking to bank boards about it when I realized I had to keep walking the road and go a “why” further.

Then it finally dawned on me. It wasn’t because bankers are evil or they didn’t care. It wasn’t because they were missing the money or the tools. It wasn’t because they were missing the knowledge to design the theoretical exercise and methodology to see them investigate consumers’ feelings. It wasn’t that they didn’t know other industries transformed their customers into fans and built solid brands with the help of technology.

It wasn’t that they had no clue there’s an immediate economic imperative that could see them lose their business to disruption and extinction in the near future. It wasn’t even because they didn’t know what an ideal banking experience could be like or that they had lost sight of how they were not only bankers but consumers themselves.

It was that the beast they lived in the belly of, rendered any attempts to rectify this injustice virtually impossible. The bank’s culture, its organization’s DNA is so eroded, entangled and yes, corrupt, that honest, open exploration of ways to design Money Moments in lieu of banking products are just not possible.

As I dissected this sad state of affairs, I raised my head out of the book of banking and looked around and while the problem takes different shapes and sizes it is sadly endemic and prevalent everywhere, in every industry. The product and service may be different, the way it reaches the consumer is, the ethos and mission statements may sound particular, the boards and employees may think theirs is special and utterly different, but at the end of the day, the size and the age of an organization alone open it up to the same ailments – the paralysis, the systemic failures, the legacy of systems and thought, the fear of genuine change and innovation, the lack of true honesty and dialogue and ultimately, the lack of heart.

The book I wrote, the cultural change methods I designed, the software for change I helped build over the last few years, for all of them the road is leading me further from banking as a particular industry and closer to the true root of the problem which is that banks are, inevitably and regrettably big, stale and often sick organizations and that fact holds them back and this same pull and break is a problem across the board in every industry.

But before we give bankers even more fodder for excuse by giving you examples from aviation or energy where big and complex kills nimble and innovative, let’s examine where the concept of “Emotional Banking” is today, years into advocating it and almost a year since my book was published – where are those secret labs? Have they been built meanwhile? Is design getting any bigger a seat at the decision-making table? Has the pace of innovation terribly accelerated and are we employing FinTech in a way that brings us closer to MoneyMoments? Are consumers falling in love with their bank? Are they at least experiencing less friction and heartache? Are banking digital experiences anywhere near the level of all other technology empowered interactions?

If you work anywhere near consumer finance you know the answer to all those questions.

Heartbreakingly – nothing much has moved. In fact, it all reminds me of Leonard Cohen’s “Closing Time”

“…and I swear

it happened just like this: a sigh, a cry, a hungry kiss

the Gates of Love they budged an inch

I can’t say much has happened since”

Despite the furiously excited nods at the conferences, the thousands of copies of the books that laid in the hands of bankers, the comments, the emails, the meetings of the mind and the genuine mountain of good intentions, for all intents and purposes, if we are to be realistic, nothing has truly changed.

The other week I met a banker who had empathy in their title and for a brief moment my heart skipped a beat, I thought they were the “Guy Assigned To Care About Consumer”. I was wrong. He told me he was “internal empathy” – in charge of getting his employees to be kinder and more understanding not in charge of caring about the customer’s emotions about their money.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a worthless task, I write about having to turn all our employees into real designers, into caring technologists and tune into their deepest of their human reserves starting with empathy all the time, but he still wasn’t the one holding the key to the imaginary secret lab. There still isn’t one where banks test how to alleviate a widow’s grief, help students start out life right and carry people through divorces all by understanding the life moment and translating it into a money moment. Not in any bank’s basement.

If it’s frustrating for those of us who have been preaching it, I can only imagine what the bankers feel. Bankers are not the bank. The tragedy is often that they have the knowledge, the courage and the passion, it’s the organization in itself that lost it and as a result, stops them from showing theirs, so it’s safe to assume that they have been looking for these secret labs themselves.

It’s 2019. Transforming the organisation and using technology so that no-longer-fit-for-purpose-banking-products can turn into intensely relevant and emotionally laden Money Moments built on data and empathy can’t wait any longer, it’s now or never for incumbent banks with GAFA and challenger banks breathing down their neck so it’s time every retail bank sits their customer down, looks them in the eye and says “Right, now it’s time for me to care about how you feel about your money, I don’t want to lose you, I don’t want it to be closing time”.

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