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Friday, June 15, 2012
One of the most attractive aspects of the Queen’s jubilee celebrations was the wholesale absence of national politicians from our TV screens. It proved a pleasurable, four-day interlude which complemented the nation’s sense of joy.
Why is it that MPs are so comprehensively despised and distrusted? I suspect it’s because fewer politicians than ever boast even a modicum of real-life experience, yet they prattle on over “issues” and “the community” in typically sanctimonious Westminster tone, briefed only by poll-obsessed underlings who themselves have little experience outside of London’s suffocating political sphere.
The contrast to the heartfelt cheers that recently rang out for the Queen could not be starker to the reception afforded politicians who now rate as low as chastened, but unrepentant bankers in Britain’s social order. Banks have rarely been as unpopular as they presently are, and while many people do change banks (it would be interesting to know what the banking ‘churn rate’ is), such is the frustrating nature of the process that inertia, not loyalty, anchors most folk to their high street bank.
If only the banking equivalent of the Queen could ride heroically onto the scene. Surely the sector is capable of producing a likeable outfit, one who people could trust with their money or who wouldn’t revel in hitting customers with a series of charges. To date, no such bank has emerged. I’m more than a little surprised at this because virtually everyone aged over 18 needs some form of banking facility. Despite this, I’ve yet to see a survey which even hints that the majority of us are delighted with our existing banking provision. Just how fertile does that make the domestic banking market?
The potential is truly enormous. Last week, Marks & Spencer said it planned to launch an in-store banking service this summer and will gradually extend it to 50 branches by the end of next year. M&S began offering financial products 27 years ago. The company’s M&S Money operation has three million customers and deposits of £3.2bn. However, this was bought by HSBC in 2004 and is run as a joint venture with profits being split equally. HSBC will also run M&S’s new banking operation which means that, in effect, M&S banking customers will actually be HSBC customers.
There is a caveat, of course. M&S reels at the thought of bad publicity and will, I suspect, keep a firm grip on the operation bearing its respected name when it starts offering banking facilities. I fancy the new M&S Bank will be a roaring success, even though it’s not a ‘new’ bank at all. Nevertheless, M&S’s arms-length foray into banking is precisely the type of provision the Vickers Commission into banking envisaged.
However, much closer to what Vickers imagined will be the current account banking facilities scheduled to be launched by Tesco next year. Both M&S and Tesco are companies trusted by consumers.
Each business spends enormous sums of money nurturing this warmth, while their respective attitude towards customers is light years away from that of our high street banks. Both have recognised the huge opportunity which exists in UK banking provision.
If they can replicate customer service levels in their burgeoning banking operations similar to that evident in their shops and online, they, like the Queen, will be cheered to the rafters – figuratively speaking, of course.
With a reputation as one of the toughest people in business, many stores would shudder at the thought of getting the Mary Portas treatment.