The (distinctly lacking) joy of banking

For an activity that relates to the thing we spend most of our waking lives accruing, banking delivers precious few moments of joy. Maybe the slick resolution of a problem when you expected a battle? Or the paying off of a 25 year mortgage? But what about those daily moments of joy that offer up a little smile.  I saw Ben Huh, he of smile inducing website, speak at FOWA a few years back.  Ben said their whole business model was built around 5 second moments of joy. Of course pictures of cats with humourous captions are not quite an apples to apples comparison with banking but how many banking propositions and services factor in any kind of joy let alone a whole 5 seconds worth?

Rory Sutherland of Ogilvy gave an exceptional talk at TED Global last year entitled sweating the small stuff. As well as having some useful suggestions for cash machines, Rory also gave examples of small details that brought momentary delight.  My favourite being the lift at a hotel in Sweden which featured the usually designed buttons that at first glance you would think are for the individual floors but they are actually for your choice of lift music. Other examples included the cute little airplane shaped salt and pepper sellers in Virgin First Class that bear the stamp ‘Stolen from Virgin’ underneath, reflecting the fact that people so often liberate them. A knowing smile and a fuzzy warm glow must beset a person upon the first notice of these things? And while the line between joy and novelty may be a fine one, the organisations that never get near to this line maybe lacking the culture of little moments of joy internally let alone externally.

Another recent example is Little Big Details which showcases little pieces of online design that you can see a person has put real care and love into.  From the small download progress indicators in Google Chrome to the delightful credit card input forms on GitHub.

These little signature pieces by individual designers or smart thinking groups show the love they have for their product. Would these wondrous little things make it past the early design stages of large corporate processes? Would the developer/designer be brave enough to even try? Or should Internet Banking be a functional utility rather than a thing of beauty? I think I share the opinion of Brendan Dawes on the latter…

The food industry increasingly features such moments of joy. Innocent drinks with their hidden bottle messages and I recently saw a great example from Sheffield’s very own makers of sugar loaded cupcakes of wonder, Fancie. The ‘eat by date’ on their boxes is very nice (as are their sugar loaded cupcakes of wonder).

And it is not just food companies. How about email newsletter publisher MailChimp giving a bit of motivational encouragement after delivering a campaign?

But can a heavily regulated industry get away with such frivolity? Is it ‘on brand’ for a bank? How about some humour on your mortgage statement? ‘Your Mortgage will be paid off sometime around 2035…If I were you I would overpay as much as possible so you can sod off round the world sooner rather than later’.

Maybe I am completely wrong (almost certainly if past indications are anything to go by) and all people actually want from banks are ultra slick almost invisible interfaces that just get out of their way (which would actually bring joy) and let them get on with doing something more joyous elsewhere. Or maybe I am right and people would like a bit of humanity, a flair for design or just 5 seconds of joy in their banking lives. If anyone has any great examples of little moments of joy from a bank I would love to see them.


Darren G says:

Joy to me would be a way to find how much money i dont have quicker than it takes me to spend it on Amazon/Ebay. Something not right that REMOVING money from a bank is easier than VIEWING how much (or not) i have.

Aden Davies says:

A very good point…conversely putting money back in should also be just as easy.

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Guest says:

Having worked a *lot* of customer experience innovation programmes for global banks, I have some insight here. Most of the organisations I’ve worked with are savvy enough to understand that enhancing customer experience is intrinsically a good thing, but there are issues to navigate on both the bank’s part as well as the customer:

a. The banking business model is ruthlessly effective and generates significant profit. Minimise your cost of distribution (channels) and maximise the flow of cash from your customers into the bank.

Investing in experience can bring more customers to the bank, but they may not necessarily be the high net worth profitable customers the bank wants.

Every customer experience innovation has to fight the “do nothing” scenario in terms of its ROI – outside financial services, it’s an easier battle. In banking, it can be tough unless the organisation is truly focused on delighting the customer. And many, most even, really aren’t.

2. Speak to banking customers (and I’ve done this a *lot*) about customer experience, and they agree it sucks. Everyone hates banks as customers know its an unequal relationship. Put 10 *amazing* customer experience concepts in front of them, large or small, and they’ll say they love them, but don’t want the bank to invest in that stuff vs raising savings interest rates, reducing loan/overdraft rates i.e. more “value” based incentives.

So, it’s a tough one to crack. But that said, I’m just about to join a bank in a full-time role as their Customer Experience manager, so I’m either just a crazy optimist, or truly believe there’s scope for an FS company to form a more fundamentally positive relationship with their customers than “just a place to store money”.

Fingers crossed.

Aden Davies says:

Your reply is worthy of its own post! Thanks very much. Yes the do nothing battle is a hard one but I think that companies are realising this is no longer an option the Red Queen’s Hypothesis is more applicable today than ever before ( Yes customers will always say they want better rates but I think once they see their friends can do more interesting stuff with their money they will think about making a change. Hopefully the more forward thinking individuals banks employ the more we will see things change. Fingers crossed.

From a customer perspective, I think “little moments of joy” do matter. In the physical world, a non smiling grumpy face behind the glass in the bank branch is off putting and can make you think negatively about what would otherwise be a neutral experience. A smile does make a difference to human beings. I think the challenge for organisations on line or not face to face, is how to translate that smile and “hello how are you” and make it work in other channels. The examples you site do that. I don’t think it’s only banks that don’t do it well tho. Mobile operators are pretty poor too. It seems that it’s the older organisations that are poor at it -maybe because they have corporate language that was established before the massive rise in user generated content – which made the web then business as a whole a more relaxed sounding, friendlier place. Mailchimp and the like are babies run by younger and more modern people. I’d expect Bank Simple and Metro Bank to use a differnet language because they’re starting today and are adopting a more modern approach and style. Their language and the way they engage must be part of that.

Aden Davies says:

Age of the organisation certainly seems to be a factor. Those mature procedures, processes and rules could do with a healthy dose of immaturity applied 😉

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