Respect the crowd – don't shut them out

Well, I see the Facebook/Twitter hysteria is at fever pitch again. There’s the concern around market events like the fake Sina Weibo post stating that Kim Jong Un had been assasinated, apparently corroborated by the evidence of a cavalcade of black limosuines arriving at the North Korean embassy in Beijing around the same time. This started in China on Weibo, and within minutes had been translated into a fast trending topic on Twitter.

To be fair, while everyone is crying foul of Twitter and social networks for the potential chaos they could cause with false reports, the reality is Twitter and microblogging sites like Weibo get it right far more often than they get it wrong. This same week Twitter broke the news of Whittney Houston’s death a full 45 minutes before the press picked it up, just as it had with the death of Michael Jackson and Osama Bin Laden. The fact is, Twitter is more likely to break major news first, than any TV network these days. The unique aspect of Twitter is not only that it breaks the news first, but it allows a dialog around that news – so people feel not like they’re are just watching the news, but that they are a part of it – living it, participating.

Twitter doesn’t get it wrong all that often. Keep in mind Twitter users now send 1 Billion Tweets every 4 days. The instances of Twitter getting news like Kim Jong Un wrong, is miniscule in that stream.

If you are arguing caution on Twitter, it is like suggesting you don’t watch TV or read Newspapers because 1 in 10,000 stories could need a fact check.

Respect the medium’s power – the flow will continue with or without you. Fearmongering over minor hiccups will only distance you from those you must seek to engage.

Westpac’s miscalculation

Then we have Westpac’s attempt to filter or censor the crowd’s backlash at their mortgage rate hike. The primary criticism came as a result of the fact that Westpac raised mortgage rates ahead of any move by the Reserve Bank, ANZ quickly followed, as did Comm Bank and NAB later in the week. The issue is not the rate hike per se, but Westpac’s response to criticism by customers.

If you haven’t yet figured out how social media works, it’s about time that someone clears the air. Social Media platforms like Facebook, are not about spin, control or nuancing an audience. Despite what you might think, Westpac’s Facebook page is not owned by Westpac. It is a community forum to discuss the brand, on a platform hosted by a neutral third-party – Facebook.

While Westpac thought that this might have been a safe option (getting rid of the negative comments from irate customers) the fact is they just made the situation worse.

It was as if customers were ringing the call centre or walking into a branch and voicing their disatsifaction with the rate hike decision, and Westpac was hanging up on them mid-sentance, or worse, ejecting them from the branch forceably for not being nice to Westpac in their hour of greed. That’s how customers see it.

The dialog is an opportunity – take it

If you are going to be a brand living in the world of hyperconnectivity today, you can’t think like you used to think 10 years ago in respect to communications strategy.

Westpac had an opportunity to discuss their rationale on the rate hike in an open forum and accept that customers were not happy with the increase. Half the time when you get irate responses, people are simply looking for validation, for their complaint to be heard, to be recognized. If you can address their problem, then they’re generally delighted. That’s how you earn the trust of digital natives – you engage them and you validate their voice. What you don’t do, is cut them off at the knees if they don’t agree with your spin or brand positioning.

Citibank took an entirely different approach to the dialog opportunity. They were the first global financial institution to get Twitter accounts and start actively seeking support and dialog opportunities. When they launched their iPad App back in August, they even integrated Twitter into the App for customer support.

Right now we’re seeing a shift in customer sentiment and the way Y-Gen consumers select financial institutions, this is bleeding over into other segments as well. Brand’s need strong advocacy to remain relevant in this new dialog space, but you won’t get that advocacy if you don’t provide the respect to your customers that they expect and deserve in the transparent, social space.

That’s what Westpac got wrong. By trying to filter or censor the Facebook stream, they thought they were conducting damage control in the old marketing/communications sense of the word. Instead, they increased their risk of brand pushback and negative sentiment exponentially. A much tougher and longer term issue to deal with.

Respect the crowd – they have enormous power and will be the future of your brand. Understand that the crowd can advocate your brand, that they can be a massive resource. Push them away, and you may never again get their trust.

Talk to them, even when you screw up, and they’ll respect your openness and willingness to improve, adapt and engage.


Would SOPA/PIPA kill Internet Banking?


The PROTECT IP Act (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011), is a proposed law with the stated goal of giving the US government and copyright holders additional tools to curb access to “rogue websites dedicated to infringing or counterfeit goods”, especially those registered outside the U.S. Both of these “Acts” would have massive impact globally, and could create absolute chaos. The PROTECT IP Act is a re-write of the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act which failed to pass in 2010.

SOPA builds on PIPA. Known as the Stop Online Piracy Act or SOPA, is a bill that was introduced in the United States House of Representatives on October 26, 2011, by House Judiciary Committee Chair Representative Lamar S. Smith and a bipartisan group of 12 co-sponsors. The bill, if made law, would expand the ability of U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and counterfeit goods.

As proposed, SOPA would allow the U.S. Government the power to block any website from both a DNS Lookup, and eliminate it from search engine results – without needing any court order. Due to the vague nature of the bill being passed through, this could create significant chaos. So what about for banks? Would SOPA/PIPA impact banks at all? Is it in the interest of banks to support or push back against these bills?

Enforcement process

The key problem with SOPA is around enforcement actions available to copyright holders and the US Department of Justice (DoJ). The enforcement actions are unilateral, brutal and extreme. Violators face immediate action against their site and/or business, and up to 5 years in jail for infringement. The fact that you might be in another country and not subject to US law, doesn’t really factor in this process.

If a violation is lodged by a copyright holder, or as SOPA defines it “the owner or operator of such Internet site is facilitating the commission of [copyright infringement]”, the site in question can be blocked at the DNS (Domain Name Server) level and removed from all websites. Payment providers (section (b)(1)) and ad networks ((b)(2)) are required, upon receiving a claim against a site by a copyright holder (section (4)(A)(i)), to cut off all services to the accused site within five days, unless they receive a counter-notification from the operator of the accused site. Note that there is no requirement that the accused be actually notified of the accusation, and thus, they would have no opportunity to provide a counter-notice. Probably the first you’d know about it is when your email stops working, or customers start calling letting you know your site is down.

The only way to provide a counter-notice to a claim or breach is to agree to submit to U.S. jurisdiction (section (5)(A)(ii)) if you are a foreigner, and to state under penalty of perjury that your product does not fit the definition of an “Internet site…dedicated to theft of U.S. property.”

The definition of SOPA around offensive ‘copyright violation’ behavior is as follows:

An `Internet site is dedicated to theft of U.S. property’ if [a portion of the site is US-directed] and is used by users within the United States and is primarily designed or operated for the purpose of offering services in a manner that enables or facilitates [copyright violation or circumvention of copyright protection measures].

This means that YouTube, Facebook, Wikipedia, Gmail, Dropbox and millions of other sites would be “Internet sites…dedicated to theft of U.S. property,” under SOPA’s definition. As far as being ‘US-directed’, any contact form that enables a US consumer to enter their details, would be in violation from this perspective.

There’s an excellent review of much of these specifics around the law and how it ties in with enforcement action on Mashable.

Scenarios to think about?

So what does this mean? To illustrate simply, lets say you post a video of your baby dancing to Beyonce’s new song, filming your kids song and dance routine of their favorite bands song, you post a review of a restaurant or show a photo of a new gadget you’ve purchased. The site you hosted it on would be banned from search engines, advertising companies would not be able to do business with that company and internet providers will be forced to block their customers from accessing those sites and you the uploader would be fined and sentenced to jail for 5 years on a 1st offense.

What about in respect to banks, banking content and possible SOPA violations?

Here’s a few banking specific scenarios that I identified from SOPA that could be problematic for banks:

  • A bank promotes an iPad or iPhone giveaway as part of an offer – unless you had Apple’s permission, you’d be in violation
  • The use of an image of a car or car brand in a motor vehicle insurance advertisement
  • Credit Card Loyalty programs that promote rewards using products would be in direct violation of SOPA
  • A contact form that allows a US citizen to apply for a pre-paid Visa Debit Card on a foreign website before they travel overseas on a trip.

Let me illustrate how ridiculous this is.

HSBC in Hong Kong offers a program of rewards for cardholders they call “RewardCash“. Their RewardCash e-Shop shows products like a Mophie Juice Pack, a Panasonic Rechargeable Shaver, Targus USB powered Travel Speakers, Victorinox 22″ Carry-on luggage, etc. Let’s say that one of those companies was trawling the web and found ‘image’ violations of their product, it could be interpreted that HSBC was using credit card ‘rewards’, miles or points as an alternative currency to sell those products and circumvent US distribution chains, and a complaint could be lodged with the Department of Justice. A similar complaint could be lodged if a brand owner feared fake products were being given away from this site. They wouldn’t need proof, just the ‘threat’ of potential impact to a US IP owner.

5 days later, HSBC.com (and other domains) would be removed from the DNS databases in the US and around the world, becoming totally inaccesible. While HSBC would have the right of recourse, the damage would be massive and very, very expensive. Internet banking would be down. The main website would be down. Staff email would be down.

Now, could this scenario really happen? It’s unlikely, but the point is that SOPA would allow such an action to be taken.

Imagine how much fun legal and compliance would have with this legislation?

A disaster

All in all, SOPA simply is a disaster for the future of business, free commerce and innovation. The Whitehouse Administration cautioned in a blog post last week that it would not support any bill that did not “guard against the risk of online censorship of lawful activity and must not inhibit innovation by our dynamic businesses large and small.” While this is not a direct condemnation of the proposed act, it seems probably that President Obama would veto this bill if it was passed into law – and he’d be right to do so.

The MPAA and RIAA lobby groups that have driven this law to Capitol Hill, should not be in a position where foreign banks could be brought to their knees by nonsensical legislation. This is very one-sided legislation.


Your online marketing and website don't work…

There’s generally a very poor understanding of the dynamics of the role of the website in retail financial services interactions today. There is an acceptance that ‘some’ customers use the web, when deciding on a new financial services relationship, but not of the critical nature of the web in that choice. Let me explain how things are different from a behavioral perspective.

The inertia assumptions

Historically the majority of acquisition in the financial services space was either from brand marketing and/or campaign activity that drove a potential customer to purchase or apply for a Retail FS product/service.  There is an assumption that the web, social media, mobile and other e-channels support that goal as marketing channels where we can extend the brand and campaign paradigm. That is, we can broadcast more messages, perhaps with a tighter demographic or psychographic focus, to an audience that is more diverse in their message consumption.

The problem is that the Internet has been responsible for a significant process shift in buying behavior, namely that the dynamics of buyer response has significantly flattened. In the past marketing stimuli was used to create first awareness, then interest that led to the buyer mentally listing your ‘brand’ on a sort of short-list of providers, and then finally based on further marketing stimuli (promotion, pricing, location, features) the consumer engages with your brand for your product or service. This approach to marketing is all based on the premise that consumer behavior is latent or responds to a marketing message over a defined period of time.

Now with digital interactions being what they are, a consumer can go straight from research to purchase or need to application instantly. So the ‘stimuli’ works differently today, it needs to be a ‘live’ interaction strategy, not a message strategy that waits for a latent response. The loser in this context is the traditional marketing campaign mechanism, because a campaign is a latent stimuli tool, not an interaction tool.

The new engagement model

So in this new world, buying behavior is very different. Assume a customer needs a retail financial services product like a mortgage, a new bank account, a credit card or a personal loan – what does he or she do?

The overwhelming behavior today is to think about how they will apply for that product or service, with the least fuss. They will probably be largely ambivalent to their choice of financial services provider, in that, the fact that they have a bank account with you does not automatically mean they’ll come to you for another product necessarily. What the majority of customers will do is start by looking at their options – and for that they use Google (or perhaps YouTube) as their starting point.

This research phase is critical, because it is the empowerment of the customer. Them matching your product to their needs set. What’s critical in this stage is not the features of the product generally, but the utility of the product. Take a mortgage – how quickly can they buy their house, how much do they need to pay each month and how quickly will they own their  home? They don’t start by asking what are the early pay out fees, what’s the rate, and can they change their payment terms or habits midstream.

The concept that this research needs to happen at ‘your bank’ is a holdover from our traditional branch approach to FI product sales. In fact, we build our Internet banking sites just like a branch – assuming that you’ll come, ask some questions and then apply for a product. Most of the time, we won’t let you apply for a product seamlessly through our Internet branch, and we’re aiming to push you to a ‘real’ branch. This is inertia talking and it is counter-intuitive based on behavior today.

The easiest thing to do is simply shift me straight from research to a buying action once I have you online, but the more complex that is, the more chance that I’ll simply leave your Internet branch and go looking online for a faster path to the solution. What won’t happen is that I’ll suddenly be inspired to walk into your branch and start talking to a person after reading your website.

What the new web looks like

The new web we need to build right now is a set of tools to empower customers and help them complete the buying task they are looking for as seamlessly and as frictionlessly as possible. In that environment, the rolling promotions and offers we see dominating many retail FI websites today will be largely gone, relegated to simple landing pages connected to those dying campaigns.

The new website will be rich in imagery and process workflow for the engagement process, heavily personalized around what I already know about you, either through cookies, login or something like your facebook connected profile.

Additionally, the new website will be built from the ground up to be browser agnostic. It will work on a tablet, on a mobile phone, on a laptop with a whole range of resolutions and screen sizes – seamlessly. You won’t build buttons that require a mouse click, you can use your finger. You won’t populate with lots of text or links, when big images or stories will accomplish the same stimuli to an engagement.

Apple’s website works as well on Tablet and Mobile, as it does online

Coming out of all of this will be a fundamental shift in marketing budgets and team structures. In just 3 years, 30% of your website visitors will be using a non-PC screen. Social media will represent 25% of your marketing budget driving brand advocacy and participation, and 50% will be on engagement and journeys, and the rest on a supporting framework of traditional media to build broader brand awareness.


Google Wallet is not about Payments

Last week Google announced their long awaited NFC-trial for mobile payments. On the face of it, many perceive that Google’s play is an attempt to cannibalize the lucrative payments market, but if that was the case, why has Google not taken a share of interchange fees from Citi and Mastercard? In addition, Google is supplying contactless point-of-sale units to merchants participating in the upcoming NFC trial free of charge. Why on earth would they do that?

It doesn’t make sense

In early May the Smart Card Alliance conference held in Chicago, Wal-Mart’s Jamie Henry was asked directly about the retailers plan in respect to point-of-sale. His reply was telling:

“We’re interested in helping to migrate EMV to the U.S. market. We view it as a much more secure transaction, and we want to provide our customers with the most secure transactions in the market place,” Jamie Henry, director of payment services with Walmart treasury organizations (source: NFC News)

Henry has said that 100 percent of Wal-Mart’s terminals already support EMV cards. However, when asked recently at the Smart Card Alliance Annual Conference about the role of NFC or contactless technology in the greater POS environment in the US, Henry was reported as saying

“There’s no business case for NFC yet”

Many bankers take a similar stance in respect to mobile payments support for NFC phones, stating that until contactless point-of-sale terminals have broad enough distribution, customers won’t be able to make use of their NFC phones and thus the expense of rolling-out a trial and investing in the supporting technology would be premature.

So why would Google, who admittedly have some pretty smart people in their team, not only invest in an NFC-trial, but also give away NFC point-of-sale terminals free of charge to partner merchants?

Maybe it does make sense

The thing is, Google sees the big picture.

NFC is not about payments modality alone. It’s not simply the shift from chip and PIN or contactless plastic to contactless mobile payments. It’s about what the mobile phone can do as a payment device that a plastic card can’t – it can give you context.

For example. The number one enquiry to retail banking call centers today is still “What’s my account balance?” Combining that piece of information with a payment device gives you a very powerful context for your everyday personal financial management.

If you are focused on a savings goal, I can show you the potential negative effect of making a big ticket purchase.

If you are at a retailer about to use a competitor bank’s credit card, I can offer you a no-interest payment plan through my bank.

I can tell you if you purchase that big flat screen TV that you won’t be able to make your mortgage payment due in the next 3 days.

I can offer you a really great deal at a retail outlet that you just walked into or you are walking past.

Google Wallet is simply a platform for Payment-based marketing

Google has worked out that the context of payments is perhaps the biggest advertising market ever to emerge, far more impactful and lucrative than search-based advertising. This is about offering you compelling, relevant and timely messages that improves your service experience in-store. This is about positive behavior on the part of your service providers that produces extraordinary loyalty through relevancy and responding to your behavior in a way that benefits you day-to-day, not just when you go to the bank to ask for something.

The future won’t be written by banks and marketing organizations that are passive. It won’t be written by marketers who broadcast message after message hoping you remember a brand when you want to make a purchase.

The future will be written by organizations who know you so well that they anticipate your needs, make it very simple for you to capitalize on the relationship, that saves you money and respects your time and privacy. Trust can be earned back, but it is about me trusting you enough to receive your offers and you not burning that trust with irrelevant direct mail, newspaper ads and TV commercials.

The future is messages wrapped around the context of a payment, and Google wants to own that space. It doesn’t look as if there’s really anyone ready to challenge them on that front.

Whatever you think of Google Wallet, it’s clear they have probably the most compelling business case of all for pursuing NFC payments, and it has nothing to do with competing with banks, but everything about owning the customer.


The path to social media success

Ok, so the feedback from Finextra’s #finxsm event this week is that we’re finally coming to grips with the fact that Social Media isn’t going to disappear into the night like some passing fad. Good news!

It’s interesting though, whenever a major disruptor like social media, the internet, etc has come along, inevitably there are many traditional managers and practitioners who don’t understand it and label it as a ‘fad’. Just because you don’t understand something personally, doesn’t mean it is a fad. That’s the realization that the industry is going through right now, that is – social media isn’t a fad, it isn’t going away, we need to deal with it. Just because we don’t understand what the fuss is about doesn’t mean our customers won’t use it, and if they’re talking about us we better be listening.

No Facebook allowed here, unless you’re a marketer

So the first trick with social media and how it’s going to effect the business is learning about how it works. The knee jerk reaction for most banks when social media came along was two fold; The first was to try to figure out how to dump traditional advertising and PR campaigns down the pipe. The second was to shut down any access internally within the organization because it was risky for employees to talk directly to the public, and also because it was feared there would be wholesale time wastage from staff playing farmville and other sorts of unproductive, non-work related tasks.

The problem with this mind-set is that is was fundamentally wrong. Primarily, the organization was prevented from learning about the real capability of social media, and this hampered the brand from creating advocacy and engaging customers. Additionally, the reality was that employees were simply pushed away from the desktop internally to their mobile device and the risks that employers were hoping to prevent by shutting off access weren’t prevented they were simply pushed outside of a controlled environment.

Social Media ROI is not a marketing metric

The marketing-led thinking about attempts to control or spin the brand message out through social media characterized as just another broadcast channel, are also fundamentally flawed. Social media is more akin to a dialog with your broader customer audience, not a channel for slamming more corporate comms or campaigns down customer’s throats. Thus, the traditional marketing metrics don’t apply either.

“The ROI of Social Media is that your business will still exist in 5 years”
Erik Qualman, Socialnomics

I was pleased to see the response of Hakan Aldrin, MD of the Benche at SEB when asked if he has numbers to prove the value of his social media community platform he replied, “No. That’s not what it’s for.”

Having said that, while not being a broadcast channel, it is a channel for targeting key influencers to get your message out. Key influencers are those with a sizeable following (1,000 followers or more) who influence their follows – i.e. get lots of retweets, reposts, etc. Recently when Charlie Sheen burst on to the Twitter scene garnering 3.5m followers in just weeks, what did it mean for key influencer opportunities? Ad.ly worked with Sheen to promote internships.com, a new jobs board – one tweet from Sheen got more than 100,00 applications from 181 countries for the #Tigerblood intern spot. No classifieds ad in any newspaper has EVER been able to get that sort of response. Lesson: Engage key influencers!

You too can be #Winning on Social Media

What is Social Media for?

It’s a dramatic opportunity to listen to what your customers are saying and form useful strategies for advocacy, to inform product and marketing strategies based on real-time feedback from customers and it is increasingly a very powerful servicing tool. While there has been some viral marketing success on social media, if it social media is classified as a marketing tool or channel within your organization it means two things:

1. You don’t understand the two-way dialog nature of social media, and
2. You have too many traditional marketing people in your marketing team today

So now that we know social media isn’t a fad – what happens next?

Who’s responsible?

One of the biggest challenges is figuring out who is going to manage social media internally in the business today. Often this falls to some junior marketing staffer, maybe someone in the online team or perhaps a corporate communications or PR team member. All of these decisions would be wrong.

Social media can be used to build brand and advocacy, support and service customers, research new strategies, design new products, create new markets, and to educate and inform. This is going to require a whole kaleidoscope of supporting skills sets and capabilities underneath to do this properly. So if you limit it to being pigeonholed into the current organization structure, somewhere along the line your social media strategy is going to be deficient.

Do you have a head of call centre? Where does he sit in the organization chart? Well the head of social media should be at least equivalent in the organization chart to this resource. Why? If a customer like Ann Minch, David Carroll decides to target your brand because of poor service, bad policy or just plain ignorance, your share price is going to start to take a hit.

The strategy shouldn’t be to try to shut it down or attempting to force employees to refrain from social media activity. When Commonwealth Bank attempted this it backfired badly. The strategy needs to be one of informed engagement and encouraging positive use.

The biggest risk FIs face today is reputational risk associated with a social media blowout. You need someone in charge with common sense, but also with the organizational wherewithal to actually get something done. This is not a junior role. You need a policy that encourages participation across the organization, but that provides strong guidelines, supported by training, on how to engage customers and how to support the brand through social media. But most of all you need a mechanism to take what you hear from your social media listening post and inform strategy, change policy and improve customer experience. That is the potential of social media that is so underutilized today.


The digital relationship revolution

Everyday we’re making choices in the digital and physical worlds between one brand and another. Sometimes we choose a brand because they provide us with great service, but sometimes it’s simply because they provide adequate service and there isn’t really a better option. Mostly the choice of the interaction isn’t about great service at all; it’s about convenience. Generally speaking it’s not because of their products or their so-called services. It might be the way in which they connect me to certain products or services, but it isn’t generally what they produce.

Some days I’m incredulous at how some organizations manage to survive based on their apparent single-minded dedication to frustrating an efficient and productive service relationship. Other days, I’m amazed at myself for the ease with which I accept such maltreatment and why I don’t have the energy to turn around and leave. Often, it is because I don’t have a choice, there simply isn’t a better alternative. Sometimes it is because, defeated, I accept that my exiting investment in the relationship is sufficient a reason for why I should stay, knowing that I’m not going to generally fair much better elsewhere or I would need to incur costs to make a change.

Why most service businesses suck

Most service organizations might start off with good intentions, but over time they build processes that are designed to standardize or make the delivery of their services more efficient and cost effective. Somewhere in the process of defining the most efficient instance of a process, many organizations appear to forget why it is that they have a business in the first place, namely – the customers they serve.

The act of simply documenting a business process, scripting a flowchart or coding business objects, could in itself, be the very thing that destroys an organization’s ability to react to the needs of its customers. Granted, there must be order… but when the creation of order dehumanizes the participants, or kills off the ability to offer exceptional service, then in the end, the process itself is simply killing the opportunity. Over time, that process is burdened by more ‘rules’ or policies that not only disrupt service capability, but also reduce the cost effectiveness of the process too.

Sounds dramatic? Maybe I’ve been watching too many chick flicks lately. Maybe my inner self is crying out for something better. So here’s the thing…

Doesn’t the digital space itself do the very thing that I’m suggesting? Doesn’t an electronic interaction break the service opportunity into components of a database, an expert system, a user interface, a channel deployment, or a touch-point? So how is it that I, a glorious technophile and champion of all things digital, is suggesting that service requires humanization, heart and flexibility?

The digital connection

Well…it might just be feasible that what social media is really doing today is more than socializing the web. It might be possible that this drive towards great usability, human interaction design, multi-touch, augmented reality, geo-location and connectedness is actually creating a digital service platform that could revolutionize the ability of an organization to look after me as a customer.

Social media is about connections. I’m connected with my friends, my family, my business associates, my old school buddies, but I’m also potentially connected with those organizations I interact with day to day.

I’m using my “App” phone and my tablet to do my banking, check in on my flights, send messages to friends, play games (I call this downtime), watch a movie or read a book. My relationships in this space can be deep, emotional and powerful, such as when I see a picture of my kids on Facebook while I’m far away on a business trip. They can elicit a smile, such as when I see a funny status update, or even when I have a great, and really simple engagement with a service provider; like downloading a book on Kindle, starting to read it on my iPhone and the finding my place again later when I turn on my Galaxy Tab or iPad.

Building better relationships

The concept that you can’t build relationships in the digital space, that face-to-face or human interactions can consistently provide better service experiences, is simply an excuse not to expand your view of connections.

The digital landscape doesn’t destroy relationships, it doesn’t always replace physical either, but the multi-channel space can definitely enhance relationships between a brand and a customer.

Computers don't destroy relationships...people do

When I anticipate your needs before you do and I present you with a simple, targeted and compelling journey – that is great service. When I show you can trust me because I don’t inundate you with irrelevant marketing campaign messages to your phone or inbox, but when I have something to tell you it really hits the mark – that is building a relationship. When I don’t treat you like an idiot by trying to convince you will have a smile from ear to ear if you simply change banks, airlines, brand of shampoo or which mobile carrier you are using – I’m showing you I can be honest, rather than believing you are naïve.

The art of interactive relationships is about building great journeys in a world of transparency, a world of increasing demand for service and simplicity, and where you don’t get points for branding, you get points for the ability to connect and deliver.

We can talk about PFM, personalization, direct marketing, behavioral economics, usability, interaction design, and other such buzz words incessantly, but ask yourself this…

Are your customer facing processes defining your organization’s ability to have a relationship with the customer, or are your thinking of new ways to enable relationships with customers every day?

Don’t tell me I have to do it your way because that is your process. Don’t tell me you haven’t deployed an iPhone App or you aren’t on Social Media yet because you don’t know where the ROI is.

Meet me in the middle. Try to understand me, and try to deliver what I need, when and how I need it. If you do that honestly and transparently, I will trust you with my commerce.

If you don’t – your just another brand using just another channel to try to get my spend. That’s not a great start to a relationship.

Finally, I’d like to thank my sponsors for this blog – the US Bureau of Citizen and Immigration (sic) “Services”, TSA, HSBC, Qantas, American, British Airways and United Airlines, countless hotel chains, and customs officials of many countries for their inspiration…


The new customer interface: Visualization and Digital Relationship

At Finovate Europe last week we saw a lot of what I would generally classify as “me too” PFM efforts. While there were a few stand out examples, such as Meniga and Linxo, I don’t think these platforms are robust enough for where we are going. This says a lot I know, because most banks are still not at this basic stage of having PFM deployed and I’m already talking about what comes next, but if you’re a bank about to invest in PFM – then think about whether it goes far enough.

The fact that there is a lot of activity in the PFM space shows that the time is very quickly coming for some sort of customer relationship footprint aggregation/mobilization.  But, it’s going to take more than a few fancy pie charts, a drag and drop goal function, and seeing your account usage on a timeline to pimp out my Internet banking.

The information deluge and filtering

One of the challenges I see moving forward is that a pie chart of your portfolio, or a pie chart of spend patterns, or a fancy presentation of your account statement is only going part of the way. Increasingly I need to be able to filter information quickly and understand the context and relevance of that information to me at a glance. While a pie chart is potentially an effective tool to show me some of that, and might even be central in some scenarios, there is a lot of other relevant information that might be prioritized.

Mint Screenshot

There's always a pie chart in there somewhere...

The following information, for example, is not going to be important everyday, but at certain times, it could be quite useful:

  1. You just got paid your salary
  2. Your mortgage account doesn’t have enough money in it for the next payment
  3. Your phone bill is due tomorrow but you haven’t set up a payment
  4. The $25k you have deposited in a savings account should be deployed in a CD or other instrument to be getting better interest
  5. Your wife just maxed out her credit card (ok, I’m told that she’s allowed to do that…)
  6. A retailer you visited 3 times in the last 3 weeks will give you a 15% discount if you use your bank visa card this month
  7. Houses in your neighborhood have just been revalued upwards
  8. Your anniversary is a week away, and here is a special offer for a romantic night away

Then there is statistical information that is useful:

  1. Spending habits that are good/bad
  2. Progress towards a goal
  3. More efficient use of your money
  4. Spending mix
  5. Portfolio rebalancing based on Risk Profile
  6. Available balance on your credit card
  7. Loan refinancing options

This is a lot of information to show on a pie chart or a single screen, so either the bank will cram this information into a ‘dashboard’, or just not show it at all. The capability to filter this information and give direct, relevant feedback to the customer is essentially missing in most banks today.

Seriously, the key to transforming the relationship of the client of today is firstly to demonstrate your value as a bank in the relationship, and second, to anticipate the client’s needs. At the moment, Internet Banking as a platform probably does neither of those well. PFM is a step in the right direction, but it has a way to go, purely because of the volume of information we’ll need processed and the need for relevance.

Digital Relationship as the new metric

Today I received an email from my relationship manager asking me if I would be happy to recommend her. It went something like this (sanitized to protect the bank):

You may have recently received a letter inviting you to ‘Share your Experience’, and I want to take this opportunity to further highlight the features and benefits of this programme. If you know someone, a friend, family member or colleague who would benefit from having a <bank> relationship, I would really appreciate your referral. By introducing someone to <bank>, you open the door for them to the same high level of attention, international services and financial opportunities that you currently enjoy as a <bank> client.
Email Note from my Relationship Manager

I actually have no problem recommending my RM (Relationship Manager) because she has done an excellent job. But there are a few issues I take with the above communication.

Firstly they sent me a letter…seriously?

Secondly, the assumption is that I perceive their service as they do, i.e. “the same high level of attention”, especially given the fact that their digital presence is significantly sub-par.

I’m logging in to Internet banking, and would be logging into mobile banking (if they had it), something like 5-10 times a week. The average customer is doing something similar each month. I visit their ATMs 2-3 times a week, and I visit their branch about twice a year, if I have no other choice.

So their best place to build a relationship with me is online, but they honestly don’t understand that based on their current platform. That relationship will be built through connecting with me through understanding me, and personalizing the dashboard that interfaces me to the bank.

Data visualization is a great start

Infographics are a great benchmark for customer data visualization

Unless you’ve been living under a digital rock these last couple of years, you may have noticed the very interesting trend to represent data and statistical information in a form called Infographics. These graphical representation of data are an excellent method of taking complex graphs, statistics, and information and filtering it for general consumption. Banks, and others, can learn a thing or two about filtering and data visualization from this trend.

Another great approach is that of the iPad app flipboard which aggregates streams of information in an easy to consume format. Could you provide a more interesting way to display account and credit card usage information, perhaps linked back to offers from specific retailers too?

The last step will be all about management. This is the ability to respond to a trigger, an event or a critical piece of information and proactively suggest a response to the customer that builds trust and the service relationship.

Get these right and you’ll have a relationship dashboard that connects you to the customer in a way that no bank does today…


I'm not "lucky to be your customer"… lessons from Metro

I met yesterday with the inimitable Vernon Hill, founder of Metro Bank, and with Metro’s Chairman, Anthony Thomson. It is interesting to hear Hill’s view of why Metro is able to dominate in respect to the ‘customer service’ space in the UK branch market.

Hill postulates that despite many banks rhetoric around being customer centered and improving customer service in the branch, the reality is that there is serious organizational, infrastructural and philosophical barriers to really producing better customer service. Until these issues are resolved, real improvements in customer experience through pretty much any channel is just wishful thinking.

Ready to serve! Metro’s stated goal is great service

The Barriers

The key barriers to real improvement in customer service are as follows:

1. Poor metrics
Most channels are measured solely on financial performance these days, so no one in the branch is actually paid or incentivized to work on great ‘moments of truth’ in the branch. Thus, it gets relegated to a nice to have, but not significant to my personal performance.

2. Data and system silos
Legacy IT systems internally within the bank create data silos where it is very difficult, if not impossible, to get a consolidated view of the customer that leads to strong recommendations on products. Essentially, there are no tools available within the branch to actually generate improvements in the overall product portfolio – cross-sell and up-sell opportunities are hit and miss and there is no channel cross-over. For example, if a customer has a problem with his credit card and walks into a branch, does the bank officer serving him know that there is a pre-existing issue and does he have a bunch of possible solutions to the customer’s problem presented on his screen? Very unlikely… Metro started from scratch with no legacy IT infrastructure so has solved this issue simply up front with great infrastructure. They’ve in fact, plugged into a Temenos solution with a pay as you go scalability option here, which is very smart operationally.

3. Poor Training
Staff in-branch these days have to be all things to all people, but mostly they are trained to handle transactional activity. There are specialists in the branch who are ‘financial planners’ or relationship managers, but the focus mostly is on efficiency as a cost driver because of factor 1 – metrics. Metro tackles this by a different hiring culture and through ‘Metrocizing’ every staff member. I went through the account opening process at Metro and there is an upside culturally here – that is there is a concerted effort at each step of the process to ensure you are happy. From the moment you walk in, to the moment you leave with your debit card in hand. While other banks might aspire to this sort of process, the problem is that they approach it from a ‘process’ perspective and not generally a culture. The problem with process is that it doesn’t create moments of brilliance because the priority is box ticking, not thinking out of the box.

4. You’re lucky to be our customer
The long-held culture within the larger banks, even today is – come to the bank, jump through our hoops and “if you’re lucky, we’ll make you our customer”. How many times have you received a dear John letter from the bank when you’ve tried to apply for a personal loan, credit card, or similar lending facility. I remember the ridiculous situation of entering Emirates Bank in the UAE where I held a small business account which was doing around US$200-300k a month in business, and asking for an overdraft facility for US$30k, only to be told that I need to provide security. Ok, I said, what do you need…

“You need to provide $30,000 cash as security for the overdraft facility…”, the Emirates bank officer told me.

Yeah, right…We have to start with an understanding that today the bank is getting luckier and luckier if we are happy to be their customer. In the UK, one of the favorite quotes of bankers is that the average consumer is “more likely to get a divorce than move banks”. This produces horrendous complacency. The reality is, customers don’t close down accounts. They just open a new account at Metro and use their old account less and less. This is not a great strategy for customer retention. The fact that banks see ‘credit’ and lending products, combined with low cost operations as the core profitability of a customer relationship doesn’t help with this either.

5. Tell us how we’re doing
The key to rebuilding trust in the banking sector is showing customers you are willing to listen to their feedback and incorporate this into improvements in the way the bank works. The problem is that most banks aren’t even listening to customers, let alone encouraging feedback, let alone working on mechanisms to crowdsource real improvements in the way they work. To illustrate, most banks today don’t even bother to respond to customers who voice their dissatisfaction on a medium like Twitter or Facebook. They rarely ask you after a visit to a branch how they did and what they could do better. It is as if they don’t want to know because of the risk that it might require action.

Walk the talk

To illustrate this, I want to share a story from my father visiting a branch yesterday for ANZ bank in Melbourne Australia. If you’ve been watching this space you’ve probably seen the Ad featuring “Barbara” the typical branch manager and ANZ’s branding around providing better service for customers. If you haven’t here’s one of the recent Ads.

So this brings me to my father’s story. Here it is in his own words…

I was in ANZ Collins Street this morning 10 minutes wait with 10 in line and 50 bank staff in sight but only one serving. I ran out of patience and called out loudly – is Barbara here and if so can she help?
Not a word from the staff but 20 seconds later three more tellers were at their stations, there was no clapping but great thank you’s from the 9 others in line – Dad 2.0

If you are going to put the service stake in the ground as ANZ has, then like Metro you better be prepared to actually change the way you are organized to make sure you can deliver. Otherwise, you’ll be lucky to have me as your customer!


What Wikileaks means for the finance sector…

The major news feeds of the world are buzzing with the arrest of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in London today. Assange was arrested based on an extradition request from the Swedish government, issued last week. Swedish authorities had issued the warrant for Assange so they can talk to him about sex-crime allegations supposedly unrelated to WikiLeaks’ recent disclosure of secret U.S. documents. From blog commentary doing the rounds online, however, it appears that nobody is really buying the ‘unrelated’ nature of the dogged pursuit of Assange. Can you recall the last time you heard of an extradition request issued in this manner by the Swedish government?

Clearly Wikileaks appears to be a significant threat to governments, large institutions, and generally to the so-called industrial-military complex as far as their ability to contain or curtail information about their ‘secret’ activities. Tom Flanagan, an advisor to the Canadian PM, even went so far as to suggest Assange should be assassinated, sparking rapid retractions from the UK and Canadian governments.

Digital and organizational attacks against Wikileaks

Wikileaks has been the subject of concerted digital attacks in the last couple of weeks. These attacks, originating primarily in the United States and other friendly nations are strongly suspected of being, at least passively, supported by the US Government. Originally Wikileaks moved their servers to Amazon’s cloud platform in the US to be able to cope with the DDoS attacks coming their way. However, in a move many suspect of being due to pressure from the US government Amazon removed Wikileaks from their platform last week citing breaches of their Service Level Agreement.

Just a few hours after Amazon’s announcement the company who registered the Wikileaks.org domain Everydns announced the removal of Wikileaks.org from the DNS (Domain Name Server) database. The DNS database interprets the URL you type into a browser to find the specific computer hosting the website you are looking for, so by removing the domain from the DNS database, it meant people typing in wikileaks.org would no longer find the site.

While this was all happening, Julian Assange, the enigmatic founder of Wikileaks was doggedly being pursued. His own personal bank account hosted by Post Finance in Switzerland, a notoriously difficult country to have their feathers ruffled over such international issues, was frozen. In response, hackers supporting the Wikileaks organization launched a DDoS attack of their own against Post Finance, taking their site down (as of 11:30 GMT Tuesday it remains offline).

To combat the large scale attacks against their domain and site, Wikileaks then appealed to the web community at large to assist by mirroring or hosting a copy of the site on their own DNS platforms. To date more than 500 separate servers have responded positively to this request, making the takedown of Wikileaks in totality impossible.

Historical Parallels

During the Middle-Ages the possession of the old and new testament was banned by the Church. This information was considered sacred and only to be handled by the intellectual elite, namely the clergy class. Those who went against this were persecuted, or even burned at the stake for heresy, such as the Lollards, Sir John Oldcastle, Thomas Harding and many others.

The thing that broke the back of the stranglehold the church held on scripture was technology, specifically the invention of the printing press, which allowed rapid production and distribution of scripture in printed form. Johannes Gutenberg, who invented the printing press and moveable type, is largely credited with this revolution, which eventually lead to the start of the reformation in Europe. Prior to Gutenberg’s press, copies of the bible had to be copied out by hand, dramatically reducing the ability to distribute the text, thus the church was largely able to limit access during this period of history.

Breaking distribution strongholds and information scarcity

Wikileaks and the internet in general, has produced the same profound effect on the distribution of information. The music industry, publishers, media and the finance sector are finding that they can’t protect their businesses from rapid innovation, disintermediation and the destruction of long-held traditional business models because of this change in modality.  Governments, and large corporations (like Enron for example) are now finding they can’t limit ‘damage’ by restricting the availability of information or data in respect to their internal operations, especially when such activities are illegal, unethical or morally bankrupt.

Julian Assange, and Bradley Manning (who allegedly provided Wikileaks with much of the information about the US government), will probably be looked back on in the future much in the way Gutenberg was, as groundbreaking revolutionaries who pushed the ‘system’ to evolve for the betterment of all. Right now, it doesn’t look like that, but with the momentum, transparency and global nature of the web as a medium, to think that this cat can be put back in the box is simply irrational or wishful thinking.

The finance sector, governments and large corporations have to get used to a permanent shift in transparency and expectation of customers and constituents in respect to information flow and availability. To think you can spin, lie or manage the public with false information is to invite the sort of disaster in respect to reputation that the US government faces today.


What The Beatles' success on iTunes means for Banking…

The Beatles are arguably one of the most successful bands of all time, but their foray into the digital music space has long been frustrated. In their first week on the iTunes store, however, the Beatles amassed a staggering 2 million individual song downloads and over 450,000 in albums sales. Not bad for a band who stopped recording music 30 years before the iPod was even invented. Their success is evidence of something else entirely, and it should terrify banks mired in physical methods of banking.

Apple versus The Beatles (also Apple)

The fact that The Beatles held out on launching their ‘content’ into the digital space for so long is sadly typical of many very traditional businesses confronted with changing modality and business models. The Beatles conflict intellectually with the digital space actually commenced as a legal battle between Apple Computers and Apple Corps (The Beatles Holding Company) that started more than 30 years ago in 1978. At that time The Beatles filed a lawsuit against Apple Computers for trademark infringement. In 1981 the initial case was settled for just $80,000. Conditions of the settlement were that the two “Apples” would not infringe on each other’s businesses, i.e. Apple Computers would not enter the music business, and Apple Corps would refrain from selling computers. Thus, in 1986 when Apple allowed users to record songs to their computers, it was perceived they were in breach of that agreement. The legal jostling continued until February 2007, when a reported settlement of some $500 million was reached over the trademark dispute in favor of Apple Corps.

Modality shift kills physical music distribution

Confronted with the digital age most of the recording industry bristled. They saw changing modality, a shift to digital music as a threat to their entrenched distribution channels. Rather than embrace digital distribution the likes of the RIAA, when confronted with innovation in their sector, lashed out with lawsuit after lawsuit, starting with the famous case against Napster. The RIAA’s strategy was built on the sole premise of trying to prevent people from using file sharing networks so their existing distribution networks could be propped up indefinitely, and they celebrated Napster’s decline into bankruptcy as a sign of success for this strategy.

Clearly most saw the writing on the wall, but rather than change, the RIAA and the industry as a whole buried their head in the sand, hoping to limp along till change was absolutely inevitable, or worse thinking that they were immune to change. By all accounts, the RIAA was woefully unsuccessful in this strategy. Today, new artists live or die based on their ability to move product in the digital space, and The Beatles move at long last into the digital space singles that the last bastions of support for traditional, physical music distribution is crumbling. In fact, physical “record” sales peaked in 1999 at $14.65 Bn. By 2007 Physical sales of music content were already less than in 1993 having reduced to around $10 Bn, and by then end of 2010 it is expected digital music sales will finally overtake physical sales all together. Clearly the sector was in massive trouble with its decision to resist digital sales and the hundreds of millions spent by the RIAA on legal bills were largely a complete and utter waste of money. Those precious funds should have instead been put into revitalizing the industry digitally. The RIAAs actions in this light were reprehensible.

The RIAAs attempt to kill off digital distribution failed dismally

It’s not just ‘physical’ music that’s at threat

Others have faced similar battles in recent times, including Blockbuster who filled for Chapter 11 in September of this year, clearly signaling the near death of physical distribution of DVDs. Encyclopedia Britannica faced the same type of troubles when Microsoft introduced Encarta to show Windows’ multimedia capability in the mid-90s. This almost spelled the end of Britannica’s 300 year old business overnight.

What is under attack here is not DVDs, it’s not The Beatles, RIAA, Books or CDs and vinyl – what is under attack is Physical Distribution of goods that can easily be digitized. In that sense, the bank sector is in massive trouble because almost everything a bank does can be digitized.

Much of what our banking experience today means is wrapped up in the banking sector’s love of physical distribution. The centre of retail banking from an organization structure perspective in most cases remains the branch, which started life arguably as a physical distribution point for cash. Branch P&Ls exceed ‘digital’ by a factor of 50-100 times in most retail banks of today – an inequity that speaks volumes to ghastly outmoded thinking in bank boardrooms. Cash, Cheques, Plastic Cards, Branches themselves are all inevitable victims of this modality shift.

The Financial Times reported last week the following sentiment in the banking sector:

Banks across the UK, Europe and the US are now bringing service centres back into their local markets and investing heavily in their branch networks. More significantly, many are attempting to restore their battered reputations by putting customer satisfaction at the heart of their business
Financial Times, November 17, 2010

Physical banking is dead (at best dying)

This strategy is massively flawed. While improvements in customer service should be applauded, the fact is, based on distribution metrics, take up of mobile banking, internet banking, mobile payments, and other such indicators, the investment should be going into improving customer journeys, experience and service in the digital space. Most banks need to increase their investment in the digital space ten fold in the next 3 years at a minimum.

Like The Beatles, most banks when threatened with this modality shift, will find it extremely uncomfortable. The reality is, though, if they embrace the change revenues will follow. To give you some indication of the vast gap between shifting modality and the reality of bank distribution strategy, most banks still classify Internet Banking as a ‘transactional platform’ for saving distribution costs. For most customers today, though, they are 30-50 times more likely to visit your bank by logging in to Internet or Mobile Banking than visiting a physical branch. The problem with bank strategy in this respect is, if you come to a branch a core strategy is to try to sell you a new product. Today, most banks don’t sell anything through Internet Banking. If they did, most banks would be shocked to find out that they’d be actually selling more product online than through their entire branch network today.

It’s not branches that is under threat today – it is physical distribution. Banks can take the music industry approach and stick their head in the sand until things are absolutely inevitable, or they can adapt.


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