Bank to the Future

Malcolm Oliver

The Financial Services Forum

The high street banks have alienated many of their customers in their search for efficiency, depersonalising the whole experience with offshore call centres and centralised lending decisions. Malcolm Oliver looks at how two relative newcomers to the UK retail banking scene are reviving the old concept of real bank managers and personal service.
The future of retail banking is a self-evidently important theme, and indeed one that The Financial Services Forum addresses each year in the slightly broader context of its Future of Retail Financial Services conferences. But between the positive idea and the delivered reality can fall a huge shadow. If speakers really have cracked the problem in a way that will deliver lasting customer satisfaction and regulatory approval and sustainable profitability, why on earth would they want to give their secrets away to commercial rivals? The Forum largely avoids this problem by its membership formula, which means that most presenters will already have built informal relationships with most of the audience, and will therefore feel that they are talking amongst friends rather than competitors. Yet the more open-market approach taken by the Institute of Economic Affairs at its own retail banking conference last month clearly worked as well, as the presentations were in the main challenging and insightful. One reason for the openness is that some of the successful strategies and tactics described are almost as old as banking itself – certainly the sort of things that Captain Mainwaring, or even young Pike when he rose to management status himself in his late fifties, would have taken for granted.
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