A CROCODILE FOR BILLY?

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In his speech to the Financial Services Forum dinner in December Nigel Gilbert the outgoing Chief Marketing Officer of LloydsTSB talked about the role of marketing and the consumer in banking. He also talked about an initiative that LloydsTSB ran last year called “A Crocodile for Billy”. This is a book / ebook about saving and spending for parents to use with young kids.

His themes about the role of marketing and brands in financial services echo my own thoughts around the rights and responsibilities of marketing departments. I outlined some of these in my Battle of the Big Thinking presentation: Escaping The Matrix. Undoubtedly there is a massive need for more human understanding in business with its overfocus with quantitative analysis and comfort with people who are technically gifted but less comfortable with vision and working in our very human and emotional world.

When operating well marketing should be the “heart of an organisation” – and I mean that not to indicate its position but to capture its unique added value. Businesses and brands, the great ones anyway, are full of heart, vision, ambition and human understanding. They are often driven by a passionate leader who captures the heads and hearts of employees and customers alike. Marketing and the brands they develop have the ability to inspire and energise even when a charismatic founder or CEO isn’t available.

And there is something here that is at the core of why our big banks are not great businesses or brands. They have little heart, vision, ambition or human understanding. They can’t understand why people are appalled at billions sitting in bonus pools after the past two years of bailouts. They don’t have a vision for the role that banks and financial institutions need to play in our society. A senior executive at LloydsTSB recently said to me that their vision was “to become the UKs most recommended bank”. If that is the extent of their collective vision for a business that has been given near monopoly share levels and billions in state money (your money, my money) then my vote would be to break it up – they don’t deserve to exist with that little ambition or understanding of their responsibilities in society.

And Crocodile of Billy is a neat example of the practical impact of this lack of vision and “head beneath the parapet” attitude that most of our banks are operating in currently. Its cute, I like it, I’d like to get a copy (although I can’t see how? You can’t buy it anywhere?), and I’d like to read it to Luca and Daniel. There is no doubt that we need desperately need more financial education in our society. But Crocodile for Billy is a tiny, albeit positive, effort in this regard. Why doesn’t the financial services industry realise that they have a massive responsibility and the resources to fill this gap? They could work together, invest the hundreds of millions needed and ensure that every child gets the information they need to make informed decisions in their financial choices.

That would be a vision. That would be added value. That could be transformative to our view of financial services brands. Until they realise that we demand more as their customers and as members of our society, especially in the light of the last two years, financial brands will remain in the gutter, actively distrusted and disliked.

Get involved in the debate – comment below. Do you work for LloydsTSB or another UK bank – are you brave enough to share your view?

Happy New Year! I hope 2010 brings you all that you need.

Justin

Email me: justin@basini.com
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Justin Basini

Entrepreneur, author of Why Should Anyone Buy From YOU?, blogger (www.basini.com), business, brand and marketing thinker and do-er, husband and dad

9 thoughts on “A CROCODILE FOR BILLY?”

  1. A good blog Justin. I have just been through the process of opening bank accounts for three of the children and I am sorry to say it was not without pain. Passport photocopy, terms and conditions, credit checking (yes 11 years of age and getting a credit check) passwords (six numeric only)but not one mention or handout on good financial management skills.

  2. I have recently set up a bank account for a new business. I found this similarly frustrating. Excuse the plug, but I blog about it here. http://badgersview.blogspot.com/2010/01/business-banking.html

    It's ridiculous. On the face of it setting up an accound and financial management should be as easy as the 3 R's – somebody lost the plot somewhere and nobody has reined them in. Justin, perhaps you could lead the charge for reining everyone in?

  3. Thanks Iain and Dan for your comments. I am constantly amazed at how the triumvirate of the lack of customer focus, regulation and the excuse of outdated or integration of computer systems (perennial in banking) conspire together to ensure that simple service and effectiveness is never the norm. Your blog Dan put it very elegantly – thanks for sharing.

  4. Couldn't agree more at both macro and micro levels. Big picture, I'm continually astonished by big financial institutions' reluctance to engage with their customers, on their customers' terms and at their customers' level, on financial matters of all shapes and sizes.

    And thinking specifically about A Crocodile For Billy, I'm equally amazed by the same institutions' lack of interest in starting to build some kind of brand relationships with children, even long before they're likely to become customers in their own right. I've often made the point that my teenage children know exactly what brands they aspire to in virtually every branded market sector – but they don't have any sense at all of who they wants to bank with, save with or buy insurance from. Even from a perspective of pure self-interest, institutions' complete failure to find any significant way of engaging with kids is hugely counter-productive: I'm afraid that Billy and his crocodile represent a very, very small step in the right direction.

  5. Lucian, thanks for your thoughtful comments as always. I agree Crocodile for Billy is a positive step – its just so small in the context of the industry and LloydsTSB itself.

    More and more I wonder whether the way that most banks are now run, by models, by computers, by obsession with cost at the expense of customer experience, by risk and regulation, by white men who understand numbers more than people, that creating customer focused organisations and brands that can actually engage with people, is structurally and culturally impossible.

    Which is why a different model of perhaps smaller, maybe less profitable, but more socially aware financial services organisations should be a model that we explore.

    Thanks

    Justin

  6. What a great debate!

    I think banks in general need to present a more socially responsible and humane picture. Educating children from an early age is the way forward and I think a greater personal, family focus is important and could really improve how we as ordinary people perceive these financial giants.

    Now more so than ever, the banks are viewed very coldly: bonuses and profit are what counts, and that's the bottom line. While that's their business and there's nothing ultimately wrong with that (we all need to make money, after all), the way they have acted arounded the bonus scandals has appalled us as a nation: it's not growing consumer confidence and it's certainly not going to stimulate the economy, or their own growth, if they don't make a conscious effort to grow their own personal brand and make an effort to inspire people.

    People like something personal, and banking is (arguably) the least personal thing right now. I think First Direct have tried to be a bit more honest with their "Live" campaign (taking live comments from Twitter, Blogspot and elsewhere and showing them, good or bad, on the website) but it's still rather ambiguous and doesn't really inspire or educate. Where's the strategy? What do these comments mean for the future? Where do you go from here?

    I really like "A Crocodile For Billy" and it would be great to see more unique and inspiring stuff like that out there in the future from more of the banks. While the current climate has made it necessary to cut marketing budgets, now is the time when a good marketing team is most needed to get these big names back on track and grow consumer confidence. Hopefully one of these executives will read your entry and take consideration!

  7. Lily – thanks for sharing your thoughts. I couldn't agree more especially about banks being "humane". Your attitude is I think very common which is that we all understand banks need to make money and we are fine with that. They should trust us more to understand that.

    What we don't like is when they make super-normal profits (as they do in many of their businesses), treat us unfairly, don't follow through on their promises and when things go disastrously wrong (as they have in the past two years) they don't seem to get that the world has changed.

    My major fear is that the opportunity to change the banking landscape for the better has not been taken and that we are now seeing a return to the status quo.

    Thanks again.

  8. I object to big businesses (or small ones for that matter) advertising in schools. Just because it is done through the medium of a book doesn’t make it any better, just easier to get away with. It is a cynical attempt to target impressionable minds, receive the invaluable endorsement of schools and promote the message that money makes you happy (oh and only do chores in the house if you get paid for it).

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