The NatWest Bank has often sought to distance itself from the other mainstream High Street networks in the UK; not ‘Big’ or smug like Barclays, not, er, um, Black Horsey like Lloyds. It used to be ‘Another Way’, but after that ‘other way’ became a taxpayer-funded bailout for its parent RBS, it appears this has morphed into ‘Helpful Banking’.
Where to start on this…?!
(a) Is that it? NatWest will be ‘helpful’ and that’s why we should choose them?! A previous boss once defined a ‘hygiene factor’ as an airline trying to market itself as ‘having fully-trained pilots’. If ‘helpful’ is as good as you’ve got, what does that say…?
(b) The campaign shows lots of smiley-happy customers enjoying their time with shiney-happy NatWest staff. Since when did we want our bank to be a friend? Last time I looked, barely anyone was a fan of any of the main banks on Facebook. For all its appalling timing, Barclays’ infamous ‘Big’ campaign from 10 years ago was at least rooted in an interesting consumer insight; that many people don’t want their bank to be their friend. They want it to take care of their money, their mortgage, their business. HSBC has more recently taken this on with ‘The World’s Local Bank’, trying to reconcile Global scale with local understanding.
(c) Even if we do want Helpful Banking, are NatWest really the ones to deliver? They’ve been banging on about this for years, and the very existence of this ad slogan suggests they’ve not succeeded yet…
(d) It’s at least something that the new campaigns show NatWest staff pledging to make a difference and give us all Helpful Banking. But scratch the surface, and the promises are massively underwhelming…
We will extend our opening hours in our busiest branches … They’re pledging to open fewer than 40% of their branches on Saturdays. Try getting away with that if you’re any other High Street Retail operation. Welcome to the 1990s…
We aim to serve the majority of our customers within 5 minutes … are they serious? “We aim” but we might not actually achieve… “the majority of our customers within 5 minutes”; so 49% waiting more than 5 minutes is technically a success?! Has banking service really fallen so far that Helpful Banking means only having to wait more than 5 minutes to pay in a cheque every other time I visit the bank?!
We pledge to stay open for business if we are the last bank in town … so in over 100 locations NatWest are committed to keeping a monopoly business going. That’s reassuring to know (!), very decent of them. Those 100 branches represent barely 6% of their overall network.
We will resolve customer complaints fairly, consistently and promptly…Twice a year we will publish the most common of complaints … OK, now I’m really sold. This is groundbreaking. NatWest will bother to tell me what everyone else is complaining about. No more feelings of isolation and loneliness… that truly is Helpful Banking.
I recently wrote about BHAGs. NatWest has tried to create a campaign and positioning for itself responding to customer demands, to show that it has little in common with those other banks. I’m sure it believes it is being audacious in its openness and explicit customer focus, but the paucity of its imagination simply illustrates it clearly has everything in common with other banks. It puts together a glossy campaign that is paper-thin, whose promises are not Big, definitely not Hairy and certainly not Audacious. Does it not trust its staff to deliver? Are its systems so feeble?
Well, if I believe Justin Basini’s coruscating blog, they might well be right to be so depressingly cautious. All this might seem like a bit of easy target for ridicule, but I take little pleasure in it. I’d love to be able to praise the boldness of their vision and the bravery of their promises. I’m not holding my breath.