This is a white paper that I wrote while working as a Principal Consultant at Infosys. The client was a multinational Financial institution who were looking for help with how they engaged with the general public and how to evolve high-street consumers into online advocates. 

Personalising the Banking Experience

“A bank is a place where they lend you an umbrella in fair weather and ask for it back when it begins to rain.”

Where are we today? The Faceless Financial Sector

The Financial industry is a sector where the customer often has a degree of loyalty to the banking or insurance company that they are with, but often with an underlying feeling of mistrust or outright dislike if that customer encounters any negative interactions.

A positive relationship is achievable as long as there is no perceived harshness or overbearing on the part of the corporation towards its customers, but this must be mitigated through smart marketing communications and customer engagement. The recent financial crisis has done no good to the wider public perception of the Financial industry, yet the continuing uptake of mobile and online banking shows that customers are willingly adopting new technologies proffered for their benefit.

The issue of public perception with the Finance industry, one where banks and insurance companies are seen to be taking from the poor to feed the rich, is often created by a lack of communication between company and customer, where overdraft charges, or rate increases are handled in the dark and after the event with little to no notification.

There are countless examples though that demonstrate the way to build a relationship with a customer and the way to develop long-term trust and loyalty is to treat customers well – be mindful of their emotions when dealing with the banking industry – and be proactive rather than reactive to their needs (i.e. the management of their finances).

To this end there is the need for Financial institutions to begin personalising the experience by implementing a Culture of Interaction with their customers, both new and old, and this is most efficiently and most effectively achieved via the use of a proactive, multi-channel, personalised communications strategy.

There is a functional element that people just want things to work. They want to ‘set-and-forget’ their household administration and by developing proactive communications that utilise multiple mediums, personalised data and operate not only how the company wants but also how it fits with the customer expectations, Financial companies can achieve an ideal holistic relationship.

This plays well into the increasingly visible and defined area of Reputation Management which companies must address. By proactively confronting problems, by taking such action as benevolently communicating notifications, solutions, updates, promotions & sales etc a corporation can be seen to already have the architecture in place to allow their own Sales and Marketing teams the flexibility to manage reputation.


Purpose of Personalisation

It does not take much to realise quickly that within banking as an industry there is a lack of consideration for the strategic development and coordinated tactical output of personalised marketing. Type the phrase “Personalised Banking” into Google returns an obvious list highlighting where the industry has spent it’s time and effort – individual High Net Earner interaction.

The crème de crème of personal banking and the greatest source of income for the industry in that sector, the personalised banking experience is presently reserved for those who can afford it and those who wish to pay for the privilege while Joe Public has to put up with a minimum effort of one-on-one engagement: Personalised fields in letters and emails (“Dear Phil”), some cursory information folded into the bulk of the communications (you have been with us for 8 years now), a call centre who asks if they can call you by your first name, attempts at cross-selling products based on services you are presently signed up to… and not much else.

Recognition and reward for loyalty is a recurrence that customers often state is a cherished part of the personalised engagement they have with any organisation, financial or not, and while banks are well aware of this (all companies are to some degree), the attempt to shoe-horn a one-size-fits-all approach to customers loyalty is a common failing of the banking sector. Loyalty comes from value and this includes being valued.

These points highlights one of the dangers of personalisation – the bubble effect of trying to contain customers within a shell of personalised interaction but forgetting that this comes at the expense of these same customers experiencing the wider communications and offering of the financial institution. A growing number of companies are starting to adjust how they do 1-2-1 personalisation as a result of customers simply asking “why didn’t I know about that offer or product?”

Companies that attempt personalisation but forget about the original, natural way that customers engaged with them at the start of the relationship risk losing the opportunity to grow the relationship, increase the customer lifetime value and in worse cases actually alienate a perfectly happy customer.

By walling off what they view – especially about other products available – as part of a cross-sell/up-sell CRM model companies achieve only a part solution to the personalisation/relationship issue. Organisations should be tweaking their profiling models and CRM algorithms to account for smarter cross-pollination and an expectation that customers are likely to hear about what a company is doing or offering from other sources than just directly. Being the first to communicate is part of a rock solid personalisation strategy.


Relevancy of Personalisation

It is worth considering if the banking industry needs to be overly worried or needlessly excited about creating a culture of interaction with customers. It is an industry that does not naturally lend itself anymore to the days of bank tellers knowing customers by their first names and asking how the kids are. People rely on banking services and while competition is a constant threat the overall use of banking services is not something that customers are going to suddenly decide they no longer need.

The recent recession has proven that even as the perceived cause of global meltdown effecting individuals at a highly personal level, these same people are still turning to financial institutions for their banking needs.

Yet it would be naive of the financial industry to believe that a captive audience is a powerless or apathetic one. As mentioned competition is rife and the perennial question of how to stand as first amongst equals within the industry often comes around to a conversation about how the bank engage with their customers. Engagement equates to personalisation by default.

The ideal of a thoroughly encompassing culture of engagement is tricky to develop but is where the relevancy lies, especially in the 21st century where mass-media no longer equates to TV advertising. The role of the internet and more recently social networking as a means to ultra-rapid (by previous standards) dissemination of information is where the industry will start to realise that it cannot be a competitive player in the market without engagement via the prevalent digital mediums.

Mobile technology is also disruptive to the banking industry, especially as a medium to which they need to appreciate and apply customer experience planning and customer satisfaction tracking. As a younger generation of banking customers evolve their banking habits across smartphones, tablets and on-the-go mechanisms it becomes part of the personalisation best practice for the industry. Customers want the same (expected) level of personalisation they can and should receive via online to be transposed to the mobile medium. The time for future-proofing is now for the Banking industry, across not just the technology and back-end infrastructure but also the customer-facing, CRM-driven experience.


Transparency & Advocacy in Personalisation

As discussed personalisation is about so much more than simply mail-merging a customers’ name and balance onto a monthly statements and it is with digital marketing and social media that this becomes much more obvious.

The conversation moves to one where companies and individuals have a genuine relationship based on a broader understanding of each others’ needs (‘we want you to like us, we want you to recommend us, we want you to use more services’… and vice versa), a keen awareness of boundaries (the company will not call you after 8pm, you will not ask for an overdraft beyond what is agreed) and an expectation of quid pro quo in the exchange of information (e.g. Refer-a-Friend for a discount coupon; detailed financial history for access to a Share Trading account). This is where the relevancy of personalisation is in context – financial institutions have to fulfil their side of the relationship promise.

Creating a ‘comfortable’, 1-2-1 experience for existing customers, especially those being driven to new or upsold products, stems from the transparency of that interaction. Explanations need to be crystal clear, charges made obvious and requirements stated upfront. Customers can and most certainly will check the specifics of such information but also cross-compare with competition and the wider market to see if they can get a better deal – where ‘better’ is not always price or service but can be simple transparency equating to confidence.

Personalising the experience to ensure transparency will mitigate many concerns immediately, for example sites that present their customers with a Rating & Review system demonstrate that banking organisations are serious about showing their customers opinions ‘warts and all’. Time and again this type of 360° customisation of communication to customers has shown benefits to organisation, even when some reviews may be negative – people see that companies are keen to be up-front honest.


Segmentation of Personalisation

Yet one size does not fit all and segmentation is the bedrock of any smart engagement strategy. There needs to be allowance for the variances of customer types and the communication mediums available to the banking industry.

Banks are used to doing business with the older generation of customers, but are coming to terms slowly with the increasing wealth, engagement and opportunity presented by the new wave of customers across all aspects of the Financial industry. Generation Y – also known as Millennials – are ambitious, in control, online and they know that they have a choice. They are familiar with the tools of the information age and are not afraid to voice their opinion – good or bad – to trusted friends through to anonymous strangers.

These customers are pushing the industry away from established norms, such as now expecting customisable information and communications (Preferences, Security) and the choice of interaction mediums – fewer younger people are going to branches and more prefer to use mobile banking. This is not to say that in-branch banking is dead – far from it – but it is evolving and the customisation of the personal banking experience needs to take this into account with such technical capabilities as in-branch web access, teller confirmations via email and smartphone apps that help locate branches.

The increasing market share of new, high-tech banking sector entrants, such as Tesco and Virgin in the UK and the enormous CRM machines that they have working for them, puts the ‘established’ financial institutions at a natural disadvantage as they have to play catch-up with both technological and strategic planning of how to engage customers – both new and loyal – with a truly personalised message, in the customised manner to which they expect to be engaged.


Summary Considerations

By utilising personalised, value-add services the Banking industry is able to achieve specific quick-win results:

– Engage with their customers personally, directly and about specifics to the benefit of both parties

– Be proactive rather than reactive to events affecting customers financial lives (overdraft fees, insurance renewal dates, payday notification etc)

– Leverage know-how to the benefit of customers with smarter targeted cross/up-sell of products rather than lazy, ‘one-size-fits-all’ push sales

– Demonstrate financial prudence by utilising cost-effective, hosted cloud architecture with rapid go-live and campaign execution

– Develop a long-term understanding of what works when engaging with customers, inc rapid research, customer support issues, profiling information and database development (both acquisition and loyalty)

By advocating customer personalisation the individual banks (and the industry at large) can begin to be seen as considerate, interested in listening to customers and working with them, as well as being 21st century technocrats that offer the latest value-add services for customer who wish to feel they are with the best banking service-provider available.

Someone with whom they value their relationship.



This below is NOT personalised banking.

But it’s a nice start!