User experience vs financial institutions

Today we find ourselves in a period of fickle customer attitude towards banking providers. Gone are the days when you had to crawl into the local bank managers office with cap in hand to ask for a loan or mortgage.

Customers (myself included) are expecting everything they interact with online, including their bank, to be as simple and intuitive as a shopping trip to Amazon. I'm a huge Amazon user: it isn't because it's the cheapest and it isn't because it's offering me freebies; it is because the experience of purchasing something from Amazon is a pleasure. It's simple and it's quick – so why is dealing with my bank online so painful?

A few banks are starting to think in terms of: 'What does the customer want?' – and have begun accommodating that into their future plans. Many banks have mobile apps; some have responsive websites, and a couple have even pushed the boundaries a touch and brought new things to the table, such as mobile payments services.

But while this is all good stuff, they are still missing some of the basics. I am still forced to return to the telephone to make minor adjustments to my accounts. I am expected to wade through pages and pages of questions, tick-boxes, and terms and conditions to apply for simple insurance products – even though I already have a product with that bank. If I move house, I am expected to update my address on each product I hold individually. Why can't I tell my online banking that I have changed address in one central account management section, and have it automatically update all my products for me? And, while I'm moaning about online banking, why can't I see all of my products with a single bank in one place using one login?

Security aside, the reason is simply one of culture. Most banks are still stuck in the thinking that they are in control and 'know what customers want', without talking to any of them. My experience in this area is that large organisations such as banks don't really get customer experience; they believe UX professionals are accessibility gurus, graphic designers – or simply a signoff ("Can you user test this? – oh we are not going to action anything, it's just the project plan has UX as a signoff"). Banks need to move to listen to the customers, and shape their products so as to be far more helpful, and designed with the customer at the core.

For example, what if my bank helped me out from time to time with recommendations: 'Other people like you spend £X less on car insurance each month, here are the providers they use...', or: 'If you moved your savings from a standard savings account to our new ISA product, you would make £X more in interest this year'?

What about providing financial planning help? A few years ago banks started introducing pie charts on your home screen that (provided you're willing to spend the time telling their services that transactions from Tesco should be categorised as 'grocery' and 'Vue Cinemas' should be 'entertainment') can be quite helpful. But my problem with these kinds of services is that they can only tell you what you have done; they can't tell you what you are about to do.

What if they could map your average monthly payments over the next few months and overlay some of your social networking data such as upcoming birthdays, event invitations and life events into the projection? That kind of the information could be very beneficial to the customer – and I am sure the banks would appreciate that level of extra data on their customers as well.

Banks are slowly starting to come round to the idea that the customer needs listening to, but they need to do more. I am very keen to find out what the new wave of non-traditional banks can do in this space. The likes of Tesco Bank, Virgin Money and Sainsbury's Bank have retail and customers at their core. They get customer experience and understand customer behaviour at its very basic level. They understand what must be done to get the basics right and create an incredible customer experience, and potentially (hopefully) can change the way customers deal with and think about banks in the future.

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