Yet again the world of banking is in the spotlight. The Co-op is has been downgraded, Metro Bank posted larger than expected losses, and surveys suggest that given the opportunity a significant number of us would switch their accounts away from the majors in a heartbeat, even given the devastating factoid that more people get divorced than change their bank. Barring the direct impact on your own personal finances, most of us can't muster up the will to care. Why? Because regardless of how much the industry tries to clean itself up - be it retail or investment - they are perceived as greedy, untrustworthy and downright ugly.
In fact there a great number of adjectives used when talking about banks, and most of them aren’t terribly complimentary. Funnily enough, Beautiful is not one of them. Given the interest I had from looking at Barclays Business social media a few weeks ago, I thought it might be interesting to imagine what the 'Beautiful' Bank of the future might look like, especially when it’s held up to Wikipedia’s definition of beauty!
Perpetual experience of pleasure or satisfaction
We know who you are. We understand your pressures and we like talking to you. We are not off-shored; we are in-sync with you and your life. We want your business, we don't discriminate on size or circumstance, we are for everyone. Your family, your house, your business, your passions. Wherever you are in your journey it's one narrative, one story, one life. You are more than just a demographic, a segment, or a cross-sell opportunity. We look at the whole picture and proactively suggest, reward, remind and inspire - not just to win you over initially, but also to keep winning you over throughout.
We actively pursue a long meaningful relationship with our customers, putting long-term value ahead of short-term gains. Every interaction recognised as significant, and action taken swiftly to resolve issues. We promise that you’ll find the right person to talk to, as quickly as possible - be it online, in branch or by phone. Our staff are well versed and helpful, even suggesting money saving opportunities along the way. We track and hold ourselves against how satisfied you are with the resolution and your willingness to share the experience. We are beholden to you and hope we earn the same level of trust in return.
An entity which is admired
We are active in the community. We must contribute to the building of the society wherever we are. We help local businesses; providing a central hub for all discussions around finance and more. As with the post-office of old, or the local pub, we connect our customers together providing shared growth opportunities, both locally and nationally. Our success is measured by - the relationships we have nurtured, the lives we have changed, the communities that have blossomed, and the growth we have contributed to.
In balance and harmony with nature
We are a catalyst of change, not just in your pocket, but also in the world. If we are for everyone, then everyone is a stakeholder, and henceforth the definition stakeholder value is extended to demonstrate social good. We know the world is a big place and that our own, and our customers', investment in our future means nothing without investing in those around us.
We subscribe to the highest standards and try to make a positive impact on the environment. Being 'Green' is no longer seen as a ‘nice to have’ but as a mantra for efficiency across our entire business. Using less means more in so many ways.
In the eye of the beholder
We ask ourselves every day - why would anybody want to talk to us? We know many of the things we produce are only required at very specific times in your life. So when your ready we’ll be there be listening, chatting, helping. Our job is to provide options not upsells.
“The truth is not always beautiful, nor beautiful words the truth.”
Closed door's close off opportunity - opportunities to listen, to engage, to understand, to share, to innovate, and to evolve. The only confidence we keep is that of our customers. If our actions cannot be communicated to the public, then we probably shouldn't be doing it.
This also applies to the language we use, many use jargon as a weapon to confuse, cajole and confound. We don't. We translate, educate and simplify. We present our products and services, as they should be - straight forward, human and flexible. We avoid presenting a million variations designed to entrap. We pride ourselves in ensuring that you know what you are buying, why and what the alternatives are. We provide the tools, we provide the insight, and if you like, we'll sit down and explain it all.
Our openness extends across all of our activity. When we charge we promise to tell you in advance, and not just how much, but why. We believe that we should be paid for providing an excellent service, not because you made a mistake. When making big decisions, if you desire, we offer forecasting services to illustrate what might happen over time, so it's crystal clear what the potential outcomes are. And not just the good news, we'll even show you the worst-case scenario - all based on your life as it is, and how it may change. Where possible everything we sell has a returns policy, a cooling off period, just in case you feel you made a decision in haste or in error. We want to get it right for you; otherwise we have failed.
Where nothing needs to be added or taken away
The only truth is that everyone is different. We enable you to write your own rules and automate how your money moves around.
• About to go overdrawn? Set up a rule to be notified and move some money from somewhere else
• Working to a budget? Set a monthly limit and be notified how close you are to the edge
• Hefty bill coming in? Automatically get an overdraft and automatically adjust your budget to quickly get back on in the black
• Need a statement? A month is a long time to wait, so you choose how, when and where you get the information you need to effectively manage your finances.
• Want to buy something big? Set up your own short-term savings objectives, which protect just a little bit every month. And if you want to divide up your money across different budgets you can do that to, all from one account.
We recognise that you may not conduct all your financial business with us. But we make it as painless as possible to move money around, from account to account, and from bank to bank. And if for any reason you want to leave us, we promise we will make it as painless and quick as it was to join.
When you need that little extra we provide the best terms. The necessity of having to 'manage debt' tends to come from bad products or bad planning. We ensure we will never knowingly put you in a position where you feel you are stuck, stressed and struggling to pay us back. If you need to change the terms on the fly, because your situation has changed, we'll do it; in fact we will provide you with tools so you can do it yourself!
Beyond loans, we believe we can maintain margins by providing flexibility across all products and services. We are all-weather friends who understand when things are tough and can adjust, defer or waive additional costs, which we know tend to come at the worst time. We offer services that dismiss bank charges entirely when you are down, in exchange for a slightly lower interest rate when you are up. Not good enough? - We are open to suggestion.
How are we going to build the ‘beautiful’ Bank? We can tell you but we’d have to bill you.
One final thought from St. Augustus: "Beauty is indeed a good gift of God; but that the good may not think it a great good, God dispenses it even to the wicked."
Jon Bains is a partner at business futures practice Atmosphere