CHALLENGER BANKS THROW DOWN GAUNTLET TO BIG FOUR

Kieran Arigho, Industry Consultant – UK Financial Services, Lexmark UK & Ireland

The emergence of a host of new players in the UK retail banking market is giving the traditional powerhouses food for thought. According to the Office of Fair Trading, the big four banks – HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays and Lloyds – hold about three quarters of the UK’s 50m current accounts. But the landscape is shifting, and challenger banks are forcing the high-street giants to reassess their approach to customer service.

Since the UK Payments Council introduced its current account switching service in September 2013, moving banks has never been easier. Add to this an array of incentives and innovative financial products on offer, and challenger banks begin to look more and more like viable alternatives.

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Kieran Arigho
Kieran Arigho

Big retail brands such as Tesco and M&S have already started to make inroads into this space. Both now offer credit cards, insurance and personal loans, with Tesco also an active player in the mortgage market. Neither brand is short on marketing prowess, and customer service is central to what they have always been about.

While Tesco and M&S do offer face to face banking via some of their outlets, they are primarily online entities. The same cannot be said of Metro Bank, the brainchild of American businessman Vernon Hill, which launched in 2010. Bucking the trend of migration to ‘online only’, Metro already has 26 stores (it doesn’t use the word ‘branch’) and plans to have up to 200 by the year 2020. It’s also open 362 days a year, placing huge emphasis on the in-store experience, with baby-changing facilities and dog-friendly policies.

Billing itself as ‘the first new bank on Britain’s high street in 100 years’, Metro is clearly shaping up to take on the big four in their own backyard. For financial advice and marquee events such as mortgages or business loans, most of us still rely on face-to-face interaction, and this is the battleground that Metro is contesting.

The big four need to respond by making the in-bank experience as fluid and seamless as possible, the offline equivalent of an Amazon purchase or Facebook interaction. When ID is handed over to open an account, or apply for a loan, the information should be scanned and automatically slotted into any paperwork the transaction requires. Not only does this remove labour intensive and time consuming processes, it massively enhances the customer experience. Bank officials can focus on interacting with their customers rather than manually entering swathes of information. Customers feel like they’re with a bank that knows how to take the pain out of these processes.

With more choice than ever on the high street, the retail banking sector needs to do everything it can to make sure the customer experience is a premium one. Taking the heavy lifting out of these important financial moments is a critical first step.

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