Economists would provide a relatively sober response to this question at this point: In their role as intermediaries between those who have money and those who need it, banks make a significant contribution to the functioning of the economic cycle. They perform three functions: they transform amounts, risks and deadlines.¹
For me as a customer, this means that the bank converts cash into “book money” when I find the deposited cash in my account. I can take out loans and use the interest to pay for the bank’s risk management, which cannot be sure the money it lent out will be returned. Basically, every bank does this. The approximately 1,960 different institutes in Germany² also offer a relatively homogeneous product portfolio: checking accounts, savings accounts, building loan contracts, securities accounts and so on. What really remains as differentiating features are the price of the service, the quality of the advice if utilised, and the perceived service experience - the interaction with the bank, intensified on digital channels.
Who then would form eternal bonds should weigh if heart to heart responds! (Friedrich Schiller)
In times of decreasing brand loyalty and an increasing need for individualisation on the part of customers, however, another factor plays an important role in the selection of a bank: Does this bank suit me? Can I identify with this bank? Admittedly, many people find it difficult to identify with a bank since the banking crisis. This is primarily due to the fact that banks have so far failed to define and communicate an brand core that gives them an identity. What do the different “Volks- und Raiffeisenbank”, the “Sparkasse”, a “Deutsche Bank” or a “Commerzbank” stand for? All of them feel they are somehow close to their customers, providing advice and great service. But what is the essence of the bank? Or as Simon Sinek³ would put it: Why does this bank exist and why should I deal with it?
Some banks, such as “Triodos Bank” or “GLS Bank”, stand out from the others more. They stand for sustainability or social-ecological responsibility and express this in their communication and even in their product designs. In doing so, they offer a place for identification, but there are also weak points open to attack. This is usually exactly the reason why “established” banks do not sharpen their brand profile more decisively. They want to reach as many target groups as possible and are therefore afraid of disturbing and losing individual groups. This becomes clear, for example, in social media posts of banks, which form a pabulum of sweepstakes, product advertising and CSR activities. The relevance for the customer falls by the wayside.
Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference. (Winston Churchill)
In our consulting sessions with start-ups, including those from the financial sector, we often receive feedback that the question of “why” and the development of the answer to it represent a very valuable contribution for them. In asking this, we rediscover the core of the brand: Why is the start-up being founded, what do the founders want to change or improve, what drives them, what is their motivation? We work out an attitude together.
And exactly this attitude is what banks should now be developing and honing. Even with, and especially despite, the hectic rush of operations in connection with cost pressure and increasing regulation, they should take the time to honestly define the core of their brand. They should lay the foundation for the frequently postulated “cultural change”. They must accept the risk of consciously differentiating themselves from competitors and standing out from the rest. “Overbanked” Germany will continue to experience a progressive reduction in banking institutions in the near future. In the end, only the financially successful banks will remain. To have financial success, they need customers who are prepared to accept less attractive interest rates or rising costs. Customers will only do this if they can identify with their bank. The key to success lies not in winning over as many target groups as possible, but instead in defining an attitude geared at winning over the right customers.
For example, it is obvious that Volks- und Raiffeisenbank are developing into platform providers for communities. They have the cooperative and with it a special-purpose community, as it were, right there in their DNA. The offer of crowdfunding platforms is a first step in this direction.
The development of an attitude also helps in selecting and motivating employees. If you can agree on a common goal, the intrinsic motivation of employees increases. However, financial success is not an attitude, it is a result.
After four years in my new job and many workshops with companies in a wide variety of industries, I am becoming increasingly aware of how crucial the question of attitude is. This was probably one of the reasons I left the bank back then. And many others followed me, not least because they were looking for meaning in their work.
Albert Einstein once said, “Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character”. Digitalisation in the financial industry today not only offers the opportunity to simplify processes and improve the digital experience of the customer, it is also a great opportunity to reach many people, to tell stories and to turn customers into fans, when it is combined with the right attitude.
If you are interested or have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us: call +49 (0)611 . 238 50 10 or by eMail to kontakt(at)diefirma.de.
- Konrad Adenauer Foundation: Why are banks so important for the economy? (in German) http://www.kas.de/wf/de/71.7113/, retrieved: 01.03.2017
- Deutsche Bundesbank: The Development of Banks in 2015 (in German), https://www.bundesbank.de/Redaktion/DE/Pressemitteilungen/BBK/2016/2016_04_13_bankstellenbericht.html, retrieved: 01.03.2017
- Simon Sinek: Start with why (TED Talk): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sioZd3AxmnE, retrieved: 01.03.2017