A CMO Show Blog Post
Once more with feeling: Why banks are saying the right things, the wrong way
A CMO Show Blog Post
Once more with feeling: Why...

There’s a line in Coldplay’s new song Adventure of a Lifetime that caught my ear. As the chorus rolls around, Chris Martin sings: “I feel my heart beating, you make me feel, like I’m alive again.” 

It’s a love song of course, but it perfectly illustrates what’s happening in financial services where disruption and change is the status quo.

The reason is this, the entire sector is squarely focused on one pervasive idea: customer experience is everything.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a bank, insurance company, superfund, or fintech startup, the name of the game is keeping customers happy. Or to adopt jargon from the social zeitgeist, it’s all about the feels.

Customer experience is a giant melting pot of emotion, sentiment and business strategy. There are whole branches of psychology dedicated to the emotional connection we have with brands, and the phases these relationships go through are disturbingly similar to the phases of human-to-human relationships.

As a result we’re in an era where customer feelings are running the show.

What show? It’s a twisted love story in three acts.

Act one is customer churn, or switching between banks. The reality is we’re all pretty lazy, and can’t really be bothered to switch unless we get particularly moody.

Just 10 percent of Australians have changed their everyday bank account during the past 3 years, according to RFi. Even NAB’s famous breakup campaign a couple of years did little to move the needle, with BRW saying it “promised much, but delivered nothing.

But it’s not just switching that’s got them worried. Banks know that a sexy neighbour; “non-banking competition”, has just moved in next door, and that’s got them spooked. They’re worried that we’re peering over the fence looking at the green, green grass on the other side, and assuming things are better there.

Or put different, the risk of us switching in the future is higher than ever.

To that point, Telstra’s thought leader in Financial Services, Rocky Scopelliti raised eyebrows at FST Media’s annual Future of Banking and Financial Services conference by pointing out that younger generations actively planning to switch.

In fact, according to his latest report – Mobile Identity: The Fusion of Financial Services, Mobility and Identity, 1-in-3 Gen Ys don’t want to use any bank within the next 5 years. In other words, if there’s a viable non-bank alternative they’ll switch camps.


Think about that in light of the current battle over Apple Pay. Of course the big four don’t want to play. Why let Apple get any closer to their customers? Aside from the profits to protect in the payments space, Apple is getting uncomfortably close to “their customers.”

The logic follows that non-bank competition is a big problem. What would happen if Apple, Google, or say Woolies or Coles got a banking license? The latter two are already keeping the financial services sector on its toes with insurance products.

In the second act the banks react to this fickle financial loyalty by reinventing themselves. Rather that lose to the younger, fitter, faster competitors, the banks are having a makeover – and directing enormous energy into a new type of R&D.

Like a bunch of fintech startups banks are running hackathons, creating innovation hubs, and investing in tech labs. And the phenomenon is not limited to Australia, it’s happening in the financial sector of just about every country is Asia, Europe and the Americas.

What’s new here is the hackathon has almost gone viral – or at least mainstream. For example, Westpac’s Rachel Slade, told FST conference attendees the bank now held quarterly innovation sessions and were pushing to make them monthly.

I think that’s a big deal. Financial institutions can afford to get caught flat-footed when it comes to tech innovation, or at the bare minimum, demonstrate they’re actively responding to customer sentiment.

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 3.40.41 pm
Enter Apple Pay, the non-bank competition that have the big four fall over themselves.

What happens next?

In the third and final act we’re set to discover whether or not these changes are real or merely a desperate attempt which will end in tragedy. Tragedy for the banks that is.

While I don’t want to give away the ending, I have my suspicions the banks have undergone a temporary make-over, rather than a profound change.

As a storyteller by trade, I realise how difficult it is to change not only what you do, but the way you talk about what you do in compelling, relevant ways. I’m also a conference MC,
and I’ve sat behind the podium and listened while more than 100 financial services execs tell their innovation and change stories over the years.

And while they’re all saying the right words – something’s still amiss.

Mostly because they’re all saying the same words. The script goes something like this: I’m a bank, our customers are thinking about swapping to our non-banks competitors, we’re going to act like non-bank – look at our shiny new innovation lab! – competitors in some limited capacity, this means we’ve changed and our customers will stay… we hope.

It’s all a bit predictable, because they’re speaking from a script and not from the heart.

You want to make me believe something – you’ve got to believe it. You’ve got to hit me right in the ticker. You’ve got to make me have…. feelings!

how banking is changing
New Bank of Queensland stores are designed not to look like a bank. (Source: Image via: Sydney Design Awards.)

To get back to the show analogy – we’re all hanging out for the third-act catharsis, but we’re still not feeling the feelings.

Without feeling the feelings how are we supposed to know that stuff is really changing? We’re all lined up for the emotions about real change, struggle, insight and innovation, we all want to know if the banks will win back their customers’ fickle hearts.

But all we’ve got is senior executives reading from the script. The real worry is that when the banks have a chance to be honest they even know themselves know they’re not on track.

Phil Chronican, ANZ Australia’s former CEO, had a few choice words when he got up on the stage at the same FST event.

“Most of finance is now contestable. The only thing that remains is the brand, and the trust that inspires.” Then came this cracker: “people believe the [financial services] industry exists to serve itself.”

Of course, being a former CEO makes it a bit easier to tell it like it is, but you get my point.

The business storytelling challenge is that you need to do more than just go through the motions, you need to understand the problems your customers are facing and believe you are making positive change for the right reasons.

Coldplay connects with an audience because its songs tell real stories, stories that the band believes to be true. The same goes for the giggling child in the 6-second Vine, or the enthusiastic amateur in the YouTube clip, or meme that catches you off guard with well-timed honesty.

If the banks are going to create the cut through they need to make the changes, drop the script and talk to us like they really do want us to stay.

Here’s what Steve Jobs said on the subject, as reported in a Quora post:

“The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller… the storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation that is to come and Disney has a monopoly on the storyteller business. You know what? I am tired of that bullshit, I am going to be the next storyteller.”


Share your opinion with us. What do you think the future of banking will look like?

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