Seems we still can’t stop asking too much of our customers

Back in the day, one of the themes that came up time after time in this blog was about people who are in the industry asking too much of people who aren’t.  We say things that are too difficult for most to understand and come up with products that are too complicated for most to use.

For decades, the result has been that many of the ideas that we’ve intended for ordinary people have been taken up by people who aren’t ordinary at all.  Investment services like Nutrmeg, for example, originally intended fore the inexperienced investor, find to their surprise that their customer base consists largely of exactly the same “hobbyist” customers as existing, mainstream investments.  The supposedly mass market Pension Wise guidance service is mostly used by hobbyist retirees fine-tuning their knowledge and their options.  A few years ago Stakeholder Pensions, intended as the most mass-market of all long-term investments, were principally adopted by affluent hobbyists as a way of boosting their tax-free contributions (they opened plans in the names of their kids, nannies and cleaners).

It’s early days, but I’d say the signs are that it’s happening again, this time around the big and potentially game-changing idea that’s called Open Banking.  So far, I’ve failed to understand more or less all the media coverage that I’ve noticed – but the one message that has come across is that Open Banking makes it easy for me to see the state of all of my finances in one place.

To hobbyists, and crucially within that term I include the very large majority of people working in the industry, that sounds great.  It’s a self-evident good.  Of course I’d like to be able to see all my finances in one place.  It would be really interesting.  And useful.

To most of the rest of us, it’s a proposition that’s of no interest at all.  We’re not that interested in looking at our financial position at all, whether they’re in one place, or a few places, or lots.  It’s about as useful and appealing as being able to look at all our books in one place.  Or all our houseplants.  Or all our carpets.

These are things that we don’t really look at very much at all, and when we do we’re perfectly happy if they’re not in the same place as other similar things.  It’s a bit irritating if we’re looking for a particular book and can’t find it, but it’s not a problem often and we know where to find the ones we refer to frequently.

There are things which it obviously is convenient to keep in one place – clothes, for example, or cutlery, or music (whether physical or virtual).  These tend to be things that we need to choose from frequently, and/or to put together in combinations (whether place settings, outfits or playlists).  Financial services don’t come into this category.

Once you’ve put your financial products together in one place, there is of course the potential for some enormous second-order benefits.  It’s possible to save a great deal of money, to take advantage of propositions that meet your needs much better and do the financial things you need to do a whole lot more easily (I’ve been told a hundred times in the last few months about the imminent arrival of the “one-click mortgage.”

These are all great and exciting things, and could form the basis for simple, understandable propositions that might actually cut through and engage people.  (The role model, as so often in this blog, is of course price comparison sites, which have cut through and engaged through a winning combination of simplicity of proposition and hugeness of ad spend.)

It may well be that eventually Open Banking will reduce down into similarly powerful, simple messages expressed with similarly huge ad budgets.  But for the time being, it’s hobbyist speaking only unto fellow hobbyist.  Most of us absolutely aren’t excited at all.

In the old, pre-sabbatical blog, that would have been the end.  However, in the new born-again.blog it isn’t.  The plan is now to close, pretty much invariably, with a plug for the book.  It includes a lot more on this theme, our habit of asking too much of our customers and over-estimating their level of interest in the financial services world.  You can’t pre-order it on Amazon yet – but when you can, you’ll be the first to know.

 

Still circling over Rickmansworth

Whenever I talk to anyone about the book, the first thing they always want to know is when it’s going to be published.  Embarrassingly, though, even at this late stage, I still don’t really know.  To be fair, while the uncertainty was initially down to our publishers, the tables have now been turned and it’s now pretty much entirely down to my co-author:  the publishers have told us that we’re now clear to make our final approach and touch down in the second half of April, but at that time Anthony is in the middle of an exhausting programme of long-haul travel and will be, consecutively, in Bahrain, the US, Peru, Chile and Australia during the crucial period.

This is obviously unhelpful from a PR point of view because, let’s not kid ourselves, “Europe’s leading challenger banker writes financial marketing book” is the story here.  It’s not particularly helpful from a patience-of-his-co-author point of view either – after all, I basically finished writing the thing last summer, and have been circling over Rickmansworth waiting for clearance to land ever since.

And of course there is a fairly serious danger that in this fast-changing world,  by the time it finally appears it’ll be terribly out of date.  If so, then hopefully judging by previous examples it’ll only be out of date in detail, not in its main themes and conclusions.  While researching the chapter on data-driven marketing, for example, I was amazed by the strategic foresight and prescience of Peppers’ and Rogers’ 1994 masterwork The One-To-One Future – despite their firm conviction that the emerging one-to-one media that were about to transform consumer marketing were the fax machine, something called “interactive radio” and seat-back advertising screens on aircraft.

I shall have to go back over our manuscript and look for signs of similar misjudgments.  I suspect all those prices quoted in groats and guineas are going to have to go.

 

I’m back. And yes, indeed, it was a while

A bit less than two years, but a bit more than eighteen months – long enough to raise a question about whether I’m restarting my old blog, or starting a new one.

Definitely the former, I think.  For one thing, in purely practical terms I don’t know how to start a new blog.  And for another, content-wise, I’m sure I’m going to be picking up exactly where this one left off, repeatedly running through a grab-bag of half-a-dozen riffs more or less beating up financial services marketers for not being nicer to their customers.

There is one difference, though.  As I hope will become increasingly clear, this time around I’m riffing with a purpose – the purpose being to encourage both my readers to trade up, in due course, from free-to-read blog to £29.99-to-buy tome on the same narrow seam of subject matter.  When I put the blog on hold in April 2016 I said my aim was to free up some headspace to write (or rather co-write) a book about financial services marketing.  To my surprise and relief, this has turned out to be true.  The book is written, and at some point in the first half of 2018 it will be published by leading business publishers Wiley.

(I still have to say “at some point” because at the moment we haven’t resolved a bit of a timing nightmare concerning my co-author. leading challenger banker Anthony Thomson.  Being a (or indeed the) leading challenger banker seems to involve a relentless schedule of long-haul travel, interspersed only with the odd day or two every now and then in this country,  We haven’t yet landed (pun intended) on an odd day or two sufficient for the task of squeezing in a book launch, but it looks like some time in May.

Between now and then, my plan is to build up to a crescendo of excitement so that on P-Day both of this blog’s readers are desperate to lay their hands on a copy.  Right now, it’s a low-key start.  I’m not telling you the publication date, or the book’s title or anything about its content, or, perhaps most importantly, providing a link to our Amazon ordering page..  But just you wait.  The momentum will soon start building.