Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Banking - Put your money where your (word of) mouth is

I have always thought that going into a bank is quite an unpleasant experience. Even if the task in hand is not particularly difficult, like for example lodging money into your account, what seems like it should be a reasonably straightforward activity can often turn into a long drawn out and somewhat painful affair.
The banks I have been to tend to invariably be poorly laid out, poorly air conditioned, understaffed and generally uninspiring and unfriendly places. Rudeness among staff seems to be par for the course and there is ALWAYS a queue.

Unfortunately up until now in Ireland we have not been exactly spoilt for choice, in the last few decades there has only been two major players worth mentioning and they are Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Bank which together hold 73% of all Bank accounts in the county, which has the 3rd most concentrated market in the EU. The two parties were smart enough to realise that because switching from one bank to another would be such an ordeal that they could just rely on customer inertia and retain their customer numbers by offering the bare minimum levels of service that a customer would put up with before leaving. And it was this practice of executing the minimum levels of service (and in turn expenses) led to Ireland having the most profitable banking sector in the entire EU.

However this did not go unnoticed by the powers that be in Brussels and recently they have released directives that aim to remove all those pesky barriers to moving from one bank to another all across Europe, implementation of these directives has began in the UK, where the banks have drawn up a switching code of practice, which sets down common rules that all the major UK banks have agreed to.
In theory this means that banks will now compete to keep us with them as soon as we find out how simple switching is, and now with the entry of Royal Bank of Scotland and other UK/European banks to the Irish market it looks as though things might get a little bit nicer at your local bank.

The question the banks have to ask themselves now is, how will I keep my customers from moving and how do I steal customers from my competitors? If you watch much TV you will see that the answer they seem to have come up with is to advertise like CRAZY, and seemingly advertise with ads that have very little to do with banking, and are more to do with funny computer animated characters. A recent survey carried out by MORI the UK based research group, showed that the single biggest factor someone taken into consideration when choosing a Bank was recommendations from friends family etc, this information should prompt those who are smart enough to understand it to stop spending money on advertising on television and spend the money on improving there service to the point where it is Word-of-mouth worthy.

In the book “purple cow” by Seth Godin, he mentions that the reason why American Airline, Jetblue, became successful was when they stopped advertising on TV and instead put TV’s in the back of their seats, then their customers did the advertising for them by word of mouth. Now I am not suggesting that Bank of Ireland put a whole load of TVs everywhere, but just make their service something worth talking about, Maybe one or two more staff would be a start.
Lets hope banks starts getting better.

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