Category: Banking

WTF is a millennial and why are banks so obsessed with them?

Is a millennial someone who has survived for a thousand years? Is it someone beamed to earth on the 31st of December 1999? A person who was born after the release of the  awful Robbie Williams album Millennium? Or the bogeyman for banking?

The word millennial It is bandied around willy nilly by people who mostly don’t fit into its vague definition. It is used as the threat that faces banks today ‘build services fit for the digital world or the millennials will leave and avoid you‘. It has more definitions than cloud computing and look how well understood and abused that vaporous vernacular is.

The Wikipedia article on Millenials clears it all up

‘Millennials (also known as the Millennial Generation or Generation Y) are the demographic cohort following Generation X. There are no precise dates when the generation starts and ends. Researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s.

I say clears it up, it says that they might be people born 20 years apart. Do you like being put into segmented pots with people two decades older than you? My parents are just over two decades older than me.

Another thing which irks me is that there never seems to be reference to any country of residence or birth. The term (and it’s oft used partner in crime Generation Y) seems to have originated from the US, not a nation renowned for its geographic knowledge or consideration *cough* World Series *cough*.

It seems to me that a millennial is a person of unknown origin, upbringing, sex, religion, race, profession who may have been born between 1980 and 2000 but they know loads about technology and we need to build digital services to meet their unquenchable thirst for realtime, anywhere access and control.

Why are they so important? Is it because they are wealthy? Is it because they are the biggest market segment? Is it because they are young (depending on your application the millenial age range) and cool? I have no idea why they are so desired and so important.

I think my main annoyance is that these mythical and ill defined people (actually have we confirmed they are humans?) are seemingly used to inform strategies and designs for financial services products and services (and so much more). They are the straw men (gender?) used to sell the need for digital services fit for the brave new world populated just by the millennials. I know marketing has worked like this for decades but it does not make it any less annoying to someone who does not understand it’s seemingly mythical ways.

Does this take us down a path where we are designing for these people who don’t exist? Are we distracted by thoughts of ‘Will the millennials like this? Will it make us look attractive to the millennials?’. Is it marketing campaign targeting segmentation applied to far more than it should be?

Should we be so focused on them at all? I mean are they really that important? Great opening paragraph from this Guardian article

Falling birthrates and the lengthening lives of baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964 produce an extraordinary statistic. On current trends, from now until 2037, while the numbers of those aged 15 to 64 in the UK will grow on average by 29,000 a year, the numbers of people aged 65 and over will rise by 278,800 a year, according to the thinktank International Longevity Centre – UK.

Is the iPhone or iPad a device for millennials? Ever seen an 18 month old or an 80 year old use one?  iOS and its partnering touch based hardware interfaces has taken away the computing from computing. It has democratised access and understanding for all ages. Banking should focus on that not such an ill defined subset of people.

I will tell you what I reckon millennials want. They want the same things as all human beings. Really bloody good product, service and interface design. Accessible by and built for all. Yes there are behaviours and features that some generations and personality types and backgrounds might desire or partake in more readily but get the main things right please.  I am not saying all segmentation and research is pointless. I am just saying overusing its divisions and taking it at such a simplistic level and then applying it so widely renders it meaningless.

The bottom line is banking is about spending, lending, saving, investing the easier to perform, understand and build upon those things the more financial services will be suitable for the next millennia for each and every lazy market segment definition.

A simple list of events

Today I used the Events feature in Dropbox for the first time. It is a nice simple feature that simply shows all actions undertaken by you and others on your Dropbox account.

dropbox events

I have wanted something similar like this to exist for banking for years. It could show more than just transactions such as details of calls to and from the bank, progress of applications,  mail sent etc. etc. not only would it be a good record of more of your ‘relationship’ with your bank it would also be a good source of notification / event type material that could power your taptic engine etc.  I have talked about this kind of the stuff in the past.

Fervency as a metric

WOOOOOOOO AAAAPPPPPLLLLLE PAYMENTS ARE NEARLY HERE. Apple seem to have screwed down their partners to get maximum value from all sides of the deal, years of iWallet patents are ready to spew forth into the public conscience and take over the payments world, a beauty parade of top line merchants are ready to show off and launch a set of use cases for rich people and we might even see a payment capable wearable. WOOOO, WOOOO and thrice WOOOO.

My question is this…

Do Apple wait until the moons are fully aligned (moons = every piece of the business model and technology puzzle) or do they actually measure and judge their new launches based on the levels of fervency they expect them to reach? If they don’t score highly on the Fervency Scale their launch is delayed another year? My bored train journey mind likes to think of the latter when obviously it is the former. Here is my even lazier scribble of the Apple Fervency Metric Chart (good luck reading my handwriting)


fervency scale


Last year it was all about the Touch ID, a piece of infrastructure that made payments potentially a possibility perhaps and a cheaper model expanding the Apple ecosystem to even the poorest of folks i.e. rich. The year before that it was all about a bigger form factor (much the same as one of this year’s key themes).  This year is the fervency scale right? Will the launch of payments have free reign and not be dwarfed by other meagre feature adds (or a broken aerials)? Can they tie all those previously launched pieces together? Coupled with the launch of a wearable that might have NFC and enable payments without distracting you from looking at your screen, will it break the fervency scale?

I don’t know but I do know that on September the 9th at 6pm Greenwich Mean, 10am Pacific the fervency metric will be pretty near the top of my silly chart. Also the mythical Apple folk that score their new releases by this mythical measurement will be classed by their new iWatch as hyperactive near death via euphoria. Will the public reaction in usage be the same? Time will tell…or the device that historically told the time will tell.

What if Apple is rotten at payments?

The rumour mill is being spun by a torrent of leaks and is grinding out all sorts of breathless commentary and hyperbole because pretty much everyone connected with mobile payments and NFC has been waiting for Apple to enter the payments and NFC game for several years.



Obviously because most people think Apple will redefine payments and bring about a wave of innovation the like of which the banking world has never seen.


But what happens if they mess it up?


  • They seem to be partnering with the old guard (Visa, MC, Amex). Will there be room for the new (BTC, XRP etc)?
  • Will it be US only? That would be laughable. They surely can’t launch in all iPhone markets though can they? Surely not China? Partnering with the big 3 will help though
  • Will people use it less than Siri? Will it be more Ping than Pingit?
  • Will the lose credit card details as easily as they lose nude celeb photos? Not PCI-DSS but more PUSSI-DSS? (sorry for both the crude pun and the lazy observation, they have never lost any credit card numbers and it is yet to be proved they were hacked…brute force failure on find my iPhone aside)
  • Will it only work with TouchID therefore alienating a large portion of their customers and making old hardware incompatible? Unthinkable, and BLE is in most of the previous generations of hardware
  • Will they have access to payment/transaction data? If not why bother? If so what will they do with it?
  • Will the telcos/carriers be involved? If not will they get annoyed and not sell it (HAHAHA)?


I do not think they will screw it up, the other innovation giants have tried and largely failed outside of single markets *cough* Google Wallet *cough* (maybe HCE and tokenisation will change their fortunes and make things more global), but payments and banking is really hard. I think if they do announce it will be baby steps at first and playing nicely with the big boys (they don’t want to be a bank or a money transmitter).

I am just playing the negative card because if Apple does screw it up then does mobile payments join NFC in the trough of disillusionment? Will it stop mobile payments entering the mainstream for another decade? Will it prove the real doubters’ right when they say mobile payments offers no value over cards? The 9th of September should give us an early indication. I really hope I am wrong…I mean all the rumours could just be nonsense and they announce nothing to do with payments at all.

Screw omnichannel

As wretched buzzwords go omnichannel is right up there with the worst of them. Far too close to omnishambles for my liking. I would much prefer to think only channel (or onlichannel if you want to be a dick about it).  Also why is banking so obsessed with channels?

In banking omnichannel basically means having the capability to do anything from any channel (mobile, branch, telephone) and resume or complete or see notification of that process or event on a different channel whenever and wherever you want. That is of course a good thing but is the focus on providing this type of functionality at the detriment of single channel experience? Are your channels really as good as they can be today without adding yet more complexity?

first direct (disclosure: I work for the company that owns first direct) is currently, and has been for years, 10-15% higher rated from a customer satisfaction point of view than all of its big name competitors. This is mainly down to one channel in my opinion, the telephone. They have pretty much mastered the telephone as a channel for banking. No automated menu, just straight through to a skilled, well trained and friendly person in either Yorkshire or Scotland. That first point of contact have to resolve the issue or at the very least take ownership for its completion. Seems so simple yet evidently the competition thinks it can’t scale or does not stack up financially otherwise they would have copied it years ago.

Do you want all your channels talking to each other before they are fully capable of talking to a customer as well as they could? Can every business model you have complete within a single channel? If not why not? In some countries wet signatures i.e. you have to physically sign a piece of paper with ink, and regulations prevent this but within reason you should be able to complete or get to the point where signing and returning any forms is the very last thing needed to complete the process.

Another thought I had about channels is can you sign up for a single channel? Can I join a bank and say I only want to use tablet or mobile? Or do I need a slew of different identities for telephone, internet banking and for mobile as well? Why?

My parents are in their 60s they have a netbook, and both Android and Apple tablets, yet they are terrified of ‘Internet Banking’. One element being the complexity and fear of someone hacking their PC. I have a feeling that fear would be reduced if they could just use the iPad app. The sign up process however means they have to register for telephone banking and online banking, then setup another password inside that to allow them to use iPad banking. A barrier to entry to high for some.

The other fear is doing something wrong. My colleague Darren had a great idea about providing read only banking. You can see what is going on with your account online or on mobile but you can’t make any changes. You could get family members to authorise access or make the changes for you or use another channel to get a staff member to complete it for you, omnichannel of a different kind.

Can I opt out of specific channels fully? Never send me any post, never, ever call me on the phone. Can your business models function with the loss of one or two channels? Is omnichannel a desire or a functional need that you can’t operate without?

I was reminded of this dusty post stuck in my drafts folder when Phil Gyford published his awful experiences of trying to open a business account in the UK. Go and read it for a funny and frustrating insight into how complex it is to purchase the primary product of banking. What this effectively comes down to is really good service design, customer journey mapping and all that other good UX stuff being of the utmost importance or as Tom Loosemore put it…

The default should be letting the customer complete the process as simply as possible in the channel they started in. While the word omnichannel is a horror the capability it promises is a good thing but please don’t let it be at the expense of making singular channels as good as they could and should be.

#BarclaysGlitch – Branded bank outages?

Yesterday it seems Barclays suffered a serious technical problem resulting in the loss of several critical services inluding ATM’s and Online Banking. What caught my eye about this was that well known Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis tweeted about the outage and used a specific hashtag, #BarclaysGlitch.



Martin has a healthy following of around 260 thousand followers and is very influential in the financial services world in the UK. A lot of people started to use the hashtag to talk about the outage. Barclays themselves then also used the hashtag which is what was really interesting (for me anyway).



I think this was smart work by Barclays. I wonder if we will see journalists/influencers (ugh) looking to brand bank outages in the future? A race to have the hashtag most used in an outage? Will banks themselves try and add unique hashtags to outages? Does anyone normal use the word outage?

Six little fields; Why don’t banks set them free?

I wonder what would happen if every financial service organisation in the world was required to make just six little fields of data available to customers in an automated and open standard automated feed that they could use how and where they see fit. The Six Little Fields, The key day to day transactional data of all the products mentioned above and so many more, are;

  • Time
  • Date
  • Transaction Type (Visa, ATM withdrawal, Direct Debit etc)
  • Transaction Description
  • Transaction Value
  • Balance of the account

There are many more fields underlying this data but these are the key display fields. To allow banking to become a greater part of the web and for this data to become the basis of a thriving ecosystem we need solutions to the following three (at least) problems;

  • An open standard format for transaction data
  • A method of securely linking other financial institutions or 3rd party services to financial institutions so data can be transferred between them automatically
  • A subscribe model for the data that allows new items to be pushed out. Similar to RSS.

I have a handful of ideas and theories on why and how to make this happen and I wanted to share my thinking in the hope that someone out there will agree and have some better ideas along with the will to try to make it happen.


Why do I believe the six little fields are so important?

I assume that most people who own financial services products, be they current accounts, credit cards, loans, savings, insurance etc. do not have them all from the same organisation. Even though I work for a bank, and I should probably whisper this, I do not have all my products with that organisation. This is of course the benefit of a free market, competition and choice, which is a fantastic thing. The big issue from my point of view is what is known in the banking industry as single customer view i.e. the ability to see your full financial picture in one nice shiny interface. This is not a new problem in the industry it is also something I have written about before, but it is one that seems far from being solved or even on any of the banks to do list.

This is one of the ideas I am burdened with and I find myself coming back to it time and again.  I think what I want to see is more web thinking applied to banking. There is a lovely quote from Ben Milne of Dwolla that sums this up nicely.

“Payment networks should have a memory. You absolutely should be able to login to and see every transaction you have ever engaged in with a Visa card. The fact that you can’t do this is ridiculous.”

I love this quote. Those with knowledge of banking will scoff and say this is ridiculous as Visa cards are issued by a multitude of organisations and the identity of the user is not tied back. Fine, but what if…

Not only should you be able to go to financial institutions you have history with but you should also be able to build your own data stores. These six little fields would be the basis of an entire ecosystem featuring so many things that the banks would never build. This tweet from Dave Birch is a great example of those sort of things but if Dave had a feed of his six little fields he could build it himself, solving his own issue, meeting his own need.

Dave wants to follow his bank account

 This data and mechanisms for access could be used just as much, if not more, by the banks themselves. Today most banks have struggled with building on top of or integrating with the digital banking fortresses they have built. It is why the first generation of mobile banking apps plugged into the ATM network rather than Internet Banking because the routes for data out were easier to implement.


How do you get data out of banks today?

The six little fields listed above are the ones shown in your Internet banking interfaces. Underlying those fields there will of course be extra data required such as currency, where money transferred in came from maybe even some location data of an ATM but from a customer’s point of view the six listed above are the ones they most need to see.

Today there are 3 main ways of getting data out of banks.

  1. Manual download of data. This seems to be the prevalent method of getting data out of the banks, certainly in the UK. Download a CSV/OFX/QIF formatted file.
  2. Bespoke feeds. In the US there seems to be a high number of XML feeds in existence to get data out from banks, but they are usually bespoke formats and as such need bespoke decoding. This situation has given rise to 3rd party players such as Yodlee who have put in the hard work to decode all these formats and feeds and then provide a platform to pull them all into. This is laudable but effectively places a commercial company in a very powerful position with regards to data feeds that should be free. Barclays have an automated feed available to their commercial customers in the UK to use with online accountancy service Freeagent.
  3. Scraping the data i.e. giving over your username and password to a 3rd party service and letting their system logon for you and pull the data. Probably against your banks T&Cs and akin to giving your postman your house keys so he can deliver a parcel. Madness. This is known as the password anti-pattern.

The above situation is so fragmented and detrimental to the development of innovative financial services and cannot continue if banking is ever going to get closer to or truly become part of the web.


1.       Open Standards are required

The six little fields must be available in an open standard machine readable format, a format that every financial services organisation, and other interested consumers, could implement.

Open standards would challenge the virtual monopoly Yodlee hold and in my opinion would be better for all. Imagine if shipping containers could only fit onto one organisations fleet of ships, that is effectively the situation we are faced with today.

From an open standard point of view there is actually one in existence today. OFX, Open Financial eXchange. It is a golden oldie, first defined way back in the 90s and was primarily designed for the use of desktop money management packages such as Microsoft Money and Intuit’s Quicken. The standard seems to have gotten a bit stale, I know you should not judge a book by its cover but the OFX website is from a long gone era of web design (and they have not updated their copyright statement since 2007). I emailed the OFX group to see if they were actually still alive and it seems they are;

Yes, OFX is still very much alive.  It dominates the U.S. market; over 5,000 financial institutions in the U.S. use OFX. The last specification was in 2006.  There has not been a need for further revisions although there will probably be revision activity in the future as the need arises.

The problem for me with OFX is that it feels like it is trying to be all things to all men (and women). The scope of the specification covers all manner of banking functions and services, including automated delivery of data but it uses old methods and seems heavily XML based. What I believe is needed is something far simpler and based on more modern data delivery formats and protocols such as OAuth and JSON.


2.       A manual download option is no good

Forcing the user to manually download their data and then upload into another system is a dark ages solution to today’s realtime always on mobile obsessed world. What I would love to see in banking is the introduction of OAuth or one of its variants. This open protocol is designed to allow the sharing of data and identity between web based services. If you have ever connected a 3rd party application to Twitter or Facebook then you have used OAuth. It solves the password anti pattern described above and also removes the need to manually download data.


Twitter OAUTH apps


This is what connected apps look like on Twitter. Imagine if there was a list of banks here instead? Why can’t I connect my data in this exact same way? If I could then Dave Birch could follow his account on Twitter with a few clicks or taps.


3.       Push updates out automatically

Once the connection problem is solved then whenever a new data item i.e. transaction appears that information can be pushed out to wherever the customer has it connected. They are seeing near realtime data in the interfaces of their choosing (obviously how and when the bank posts the transaction data dictates how realtime it is, we know banks love a bit of overnight batch processing).

This source of data becomes a fantastic ingredient for building new things, these events i.e. new transactions, can then have all manner of rules applied to them. It could power IFTTT for banks. Imagine being able to set off other processes automatically as soon as key payments arrive in your account?



If the banking network is truly to become part of the web then the data needs to flow between them as easily and safely as possible. Today that is not really the case in most countries. The digital fortresses banks have built to keep the baddies out are now also keeping their own developers out and are hampering their efforts to build for the brave new digital world. It is in the banks interest to set this data free rather than hoard it for themselves because one day they might understand Big Data. Grasp Open Data first and learn from what people build with that data. I believe Six Little Fields can change the financial services market and how it interacts with and is perceived by the web.

This is part one of my thoughts around six little fields. In the second part I will look at the security concerns of both banks and users, how this might become a reality and whether or not the Germans have actually figured this out already. If you have any questions or comments please do leave them below or pester me on Twitter. I just want to get a conversation started around this topic really, is it a completely ridiculous idea or does it have legs?

FintechBot Roundup Week 28 – 2013

One thing that I would like to see more of in the Fintech world, especially the newer players, is a greater level of integration between companies. I wrote about the lack of it in the PFM space a while back. This week I was very pleased to read about the integration of Braintree acquisition Venmo Touch and its slick one touch payments technology with online neobank favourite of mine, Simple. Simple are also integrating with Dropbox to allow customers to attach documents to purchases. Much more of this kind of thing please all you cool Fintech startups. Simple also published a nice blog post on their security tech, I am a sucker for a look behind the scenes of banking.

Talking of cool Fintech startps, Standard Treasury sounds like a dull US bank but it is actually an interesting startup, backed by the YCombinator folk. It is effectively an API layer for commercial banks. The founder had this to say;

“The existing model for bank-enterprise relationships hasn’t changed since the 1970s,” Kimerling said. “Banking is really painful. We have customers that ask — why can’t banking be like Stripe or Braintree?”

Apple will sell the new Square stand directly from Apple Stores. The photo of the device tells you all you need to know, slick design for markets that have not heard of EMV. 

Just a hat trick of Bitcoin stories this week. German bank Fidor will offer Bitcoin accounts, Those that know Fidor will not be surprised as they already deal with multiple currencies including World of Warcraft gold.

Interesting read on Bitcoin and whether governments and banks could kill it.

Finally, Bitcoin could soon be in the hands of one third of Kenyans as it will become integrated into the wildly successful M-Pesa mobile money platform.

Countries and continents without traditional banking infrastructure continue to be fascinating areas of growth for new forms of ‘banking’. The telcos know this is a great opportunity for them. Orange have announced a new mobile money transfer service aimed at cross border transfers between Mali, Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire.

The front cover of last weeks Bloomberg Business Week is a stonker…

Mastercard published an interesting set of survey results on some of the most niche and valuable user of banking technology, corporate treasurers. They have very complex needs and are becoming more demanding in their technology needs just like every other segment.

The Fintech Innovation Lab held an event in NYC last week. It gave an overview of the progress of the current crop of companies on the program. One company that caught my eye are Narrative Science who aim to turn data in English. The Fintech market in the US is certainly growing, a study published last week showed it is on course for $2.5 billion of investment this year. Momentum.

Third study of the week looks at Australian attitudes to Big Data, with 88% of respondents being comfortable with banks doing transaction analysis for security reasons. This leads me on seamlessly to the scariest security themed banking ‘advert’ of the week. Terrifying and also lacking in key details on how the data actually gets stolen.


Another great behind the scenes of banking tech, this time in the form of an interview with Greg Brockman from Stripe. He gives an insight into how they build and how they have struggled with scaling up to 40 staff…most banks have that many developers building banner adverts 😉

Irrespective of how much I whine about banking events I do enjoy them really. I am certainly intrigued by the fact that Commonwealth Bank in Australia are running on at the end of the month called Wired For Wonder. It features some big names of tech, Jaron Lanier, Aleks Krotoski and Kevin Kelley to name a few. If anyone wants to fly me over to attend I am more than happy to make that effort.

History. An interview with Ron Klein the creator of the magnetic stripe we all know and love, especially in the US where they seem very attached to it. Not only did Ron invent the magstripe he also came up with a ‘nutrition system’ to raise chickens more efficiently.

Crap Infographic of the week. This visual turd floated across my tweetstream last week in the form of a promoted tweet by KPMG. Look at it in wonder and try and derive any meaning other than KPMG have much more money than taste.

crap KPMG inforgraphic


Italian bank ChiantiBank have decided that making their branches look like restaurants is the way to make them more relevant and appealing. This quote from the press release sums it up perfectly;

The first revolutionary bank branch design is coming: a project aimed to upset the relations by blending the local heritage and the strongest customer service innovation of ever.

From restaurants we move on to pubs, How about NFC capable beer barrels that allow you to pay and pour?

And finally this week a detailed look into one of the greatest financial scandals of modern times, When Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd took the Duke Brothers to the cleaners in Trading Places. Just how realistic was that? Planet Money looks at it in detail.

That is all for another week. Follow FintechBot on Twitter for all this news and much more.

My problem with future branches

I only have a mild interest in the future branch type stuff but some sort of tipping point was reached and I felt I had to write about it like a grumpy sod.  From my point of view it seems the prototype future branches fall into two basic categories. The shiny ultra sleek technology stuffed, self-service focused branch and the ‘come in relax, we have free wi-fi, would you like a skinny mocha latte with that financial review’ faux coffee shop full of lovely people not really selling you stuff, honest. There is also actually a third one and that is closing them but that is a whole other thing.

The first type is an obvious example of using technology to streamline processes and make the brand seem shiny and innovative. Some of the technologies are undoubtedly very clever and powerful but they are also a bit soulless and they are seemingly still incapable of escaping paper. This example from Audi Bank just screams don’t touch anything. So clean, so unwelcoming yet they expect people to stand there and browse dream cars such as a Kia. There are many more videos like this I just picked on this one as I saw it recently. Maybe it is future concept videos that actually annoy me.


The roped off branch, making customers feel welcome since 2012


Self service based branches are inevitable but they should cater for those functions that they excel at. Basic transactional banking. Pay in and take out of money, process the antique paper still associated so heavily with banking. If you can make them more developed sales areas with things such as video calling and interactive signatures then go for it…but surely in most places those can also be offered to people at home today? All these advances in technology are needed and the slick future branch does show them off well. The cost of branch banking is getting harder to justify and technology solutions must be investigated but don’t confuse techno utopia with customer happiness.

The second kind, the chillax coffee shop, is the one that irks most. The reason being that it is an admission that banking has gone too far down the self-service, automated robot route and now banks are confused why no one comes to talk to them anymore? Don’t they love us? Just because we built all these automated straight through processing systems that does not mean we don’t want to hear people’s hopes, dreams and desires. The realisation has set in that customers know banks don’t want to talk to them unless they want to sell them something. Banks have gone out of their way to make them less human and accessible by process shaving and penny-pinching. You can’t phone your branch, try booking or amending an appointment online, they are almost off the grid spaces until you walk through the door. Like a much less exciting version of platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross.


Why madam don’t you look fantastically relaxed and not at all awkwardly staged.


But the main reason for my annoyance is the fact that there is a lot of effort and cash put into these jovial chat shops in the real world yet banks digital platforms remain as conversation free as a library in a monastery. The ability to converse in the scary “new” world of the information superhighway seems lost on most financial organisations. Regulations and rules will be blamed but the reality is banks are not the worlds greatest conversationalists. The unkempt wilds of the web and its 2.0 consumer obsessed walled gardens of inanity represent some sort of alien landscape that a process obsessed industry just can’t codify or fill with cheap coffee and comfy seats.

The solution seems obvious to me. Hire or train capable people who can converse in these new places in the strange tongue they have adopted and make your organisation seem infinitesimally human. Think how you could add nice conversation capabilities to your cold hard Internet banking portals or maybe make it possible to actually reply to those marketing emails you are so fond of. The telephone, and video chatbooths in branch cannot be the only place you can talk with your customers. Of course you may not be able to directly sell loads of products in those digital spaces but there is a lot of mileage in at least making them conversant. Asymmetric digital conversations can be much more flexible and achieved in half the time than waiting on the phone or schlepping to a branch.  It is of course important to be innovative in branches and try new things, they are still very important pieces of banking infrastructure and I do not wish to see them closed. For me it is about making it as easy as possible for your customers to talk to you when and where they want irrespective of the medium.

People sharing photos of cards online are not idiots…

…they might just be your increasingly rare fans.

A few weeks back a new service started on twitter. @NeedADebitCard collated all the finest photos from the Internet taken by people keen to share their debit/credit card details and design with the world. The instant reaction to this by most sane individuals is ‘what are you doing you idiots?!’ Banking fraud departments across the globe probably tutted and cursed and then smiled as people proved what they already assume every day, the weakest link in online security is the one between the chair and the screen. Online commentators had a field day spouting off about the obvious dangers of this. My initial reaction was the same for about 5 minutes then I realised that these people are just using social media for its greatest use case, sharing everything. They might not be your most stupid customers but your most loyal, your most proud and in these current times banks need all the fans they can get.

The problems associated with sharing photos of your plastic payment device are actually the making of the financial institutions themselves. The Internet has been with us for 20 years. Social media in its current very easy to use incarnation probably 5-7 years old. Payment cards have been with us since the 60s and in that time they have not really changed a great deal. The bottom line is that they are not really fit for use on the Internet.

Outdated payment methods

These physical tokens of my relationship with a bank contain almost every bit of information a person needs to make card holder not present purchase from the web or via the telephone. The industry has tried to bolt on solutions to alleviate this problem e.g. the 3 digit security number on the signature strip (No one is idiotic enough to take a photo of the front and back of their card are they?) but you enter these details into a site every time you need to pay, effectively giving away the keys to your house every time you buy something via remote channels. Should the sites we buy from do more? Do ecommerce sites have PCI DSS compliance badges that they share with pride? ‘We keep your data safe’. Maybe the site owners should take a smiling photo of themselves holding their PCI DSS compliance certificate and put it on Instagram. Of course there are numerous protection standards in place around ecommerce sites I am being a tad facetious to make a point.

What of other solutions such as the universally loved 3D secure methods like Verified by Visa and Mastercard Secure. Yes they stop a certain kind of fraud but how many purchases are cancelled because of these things? How many swearwords are uttered when asked for an infrequently used password? What we need are payment methods designed for the web, designed to be used for one transaction or that just leave the merchant knowing who I pay via but not needing every single piece of detail to make further purchases.

I mean why do credit/debit cards need my full name printed on them? This is about digital identity and you would do well to watch Dave Birch’s recent talk on that subject. Dave is a man who signs his card transactions Carlos Tevez so he knows when people are trying to make fraudulent purchases. 

Social objects of banking.

(Bank) simple have just started sending out invites to their long time registered straining at the leash future customers. The effort and design they have put into their card will mean you will be seeing a lot of photos of these cards over the coming months. They had the foresight to package the cards with a thick blue rubber band holding the card in place but also to obscure the card details making easy to photograph and share the fact they are now proud (bank) simple customers.

Simple realise that the card is an important social object of their customers relationship with them and they wanted to make sure as many of them as possible would share that fact. They also realize the risk and warn their customers accordingly (while still encouraging unboxing photos) Traditional banks would not want you sharing the fact you bank with them online for fear of things like spear phishing yet one of the most used metrics in bank satisfaction is ‘Would you recommend your bank to your friends?’.

I have written about the social objects of banking in the past and I think they are massively underused in an industry that makes talking about your banking relationship and money in general seem massively taboo. This really should not be the case.


So before you go jumping to conclusions about customers who post pictures of their cards on social networks, think long and hard about why they are doing this and why in 2012 the details needed to make a payment online are printed on a small piece of plastic that everyone can see. Who are the real idiots?

This post origianlly appeared on Finextra