The history of Coutts and Co. reads like a romantic novel and is worthy of the silver screen - if you have never read up on it before do so now - it has all the ingredients of a success - drama, betrayals, scandal, forbidden romance and changing fortunes all set against the backdrop of holding and growing money for others.
As I passed its headquarters on the Strand this week and marvelled at what their building looks like in preparation for London Pride this weekend I wondered: will history think of this time and see it to be the period when Coutts reinvented itself and became a bigger and stronger player ready to shed its exclusivity mantle and open up to a wider audience?
Sadly, that's unlikely. The million pounds in investable assets excluding property will remain the minimum requirement to join them and they probably have little ambition to reach the more modest segments (although one would claim they are the profitable, ever growing ones). So why they big display then? Was it simply to delight the LGBT community as a whole, as a positioning exercise for their clients (and if so one has to wonder why they felt it was needed) or as a box ticking formality in some social responsibility policy?
Coutts is the 7th oldest bank in the world dating from the 17th century. They have had plenty of time to have worked brand out - and, as is the case for every private bank, their exercise of doing so is certainly less complicated than that of retail banks that have to appeal to a much wider audience. So why does their reduced audience need a hashtag and to have a whole building painted in rainbow colours?
Answers on a postcard but likely the reasoning behind the campaign is appropriately mysterious and based on Bank Internal Logic - a special breed of collective thought and resulting action that often veers from strategic and intentional into random and bizarre due to the inner workings of the organisational machine-.
"Cui prodest" aside, let's consider the hashtag " #BankWithPride ". Now that's juicy and we should sink our teeth into it.
Anyone who read me before knows my Emotional Banking™ method is largely based on my obsession with the fact that banks are not brands . I'm not going to rehash the long dismantling of counter-arguments around marketing, nor dwell into the arrogant and/or ignorant reasons behind why this is the status quo here as much of it is on this blog and in my book but the reality stands. No bank is a beloved brand that is firmly part of their client's identity and as I said many a times before, that is both a deplorable state of affairs and an immense opportunity for those ready to see it.
The further we move from retail banking into private banking on the spectrum of Money Moments™, the more important this intense association and its basis of trust and hope becomes, so, in the land of high net-worth, there has been somewhat more effort put into creating true brands but even there, the effort is unjustifiably insufficient and shy of making an intense impact and so much more can be done with leveraging data but that's another story for another time.
Now back to the hero of our story. The hashtag. "Pride" in itself is a very powerful term. It evokes achievement, strength, hard work, positive reinforcement and communication all in one. To be proud of something you must own it and, depending on your moral compass and cultural sensitivities - have earned it. This is straight forward when it comes to physical possessions but when it comes to identity and ownership of what makes us who we are, things are a bit more intricate. The LGBT community have done extremely well to have claimed the term with gusto and courage but other areas of the social dialogue seem shy to use it at times.
At a more superficial level there's clearly a hefty dose of pride in anything we do electively that we think represents us well - we drive a certain make of car with pride, we wear a certain brand of clothes with pride, we proudly support a sports team or other, the list goes on. There's much to be said about loud pride versus its covert counterpart and how the degree of manifestation doesn't necessarily correlate with the intensity of brand loyalty but before we get to that level we must ask ourselves - do we ever bank with pride? Does anyone? And if not, and let's face it, the answer is a resounding "no" - why not?
A few years ago in one of my many articles on the topic I was exploring the lack of connected identity to our banks:
We’ll hear what people drive, what they wear and what they drink every day, but never who they bank with.
‘I bank with Lloyds’ should say so much about someone. It should say ‘I’m conservative in nature and careful with my money (yet, not as far backwards as to be with the biggest bank in the world) and I like my bank to give me some digital convenience (yet, I don’t appreciate the sci-fi pie charts or the all-black browser experiences, and don’t mind the maddeningly tedious password entry experience). I like how they occasionally try and keep up with the times (yet, don’t want them to be trying too hard and give me doggy treats or video banking for mortgages). I like that I can send money to my spouse (but don’t care how much it costs or how painless it is to do so), and hey, I even like green.’
If Lloyds were a true brand, customers would say it, be proud of it and expect it to mean something.
I don't see that much has changed, in fact we seem to have collectively regressed with indicators and measurements that were going to help bankers see the effects of their hard work in constructing new, bold and addictive digital and physical experiences that would have resulted in better connected emotional relationships with their users such as NPS, Brand scoring and others having slowly faded from the discourse.
More worryingly, branding has been thrown back over the fence as an afterthought for the Marketing and Communications teams while bigger bigger themes such as "Human Led Design", "Customer Obsession", "Identity Fabric-Making", etc have fallen out of favour in the boardrooms of many banks in our fickle industry obsessed with looking for answers in technology, which ultimately means consumers are further than ever being proud about their affiliation to a bank.
Pride - used in the context of the LGBT movement's annual parades, almost every self respecting brand jumps on the waggon with Campaign magazine quipping last week that "There are a lot of rainbows out there so like any good drag queen will tell you, you have to either go big or go home " so that fits with what Coutts have done when they went big but the question is - why didn't they go home instead as they always do?
As ever, to me, the burning question remains: can banks turn the ship around, elevate their people and their understanding of their customers' feelings to build addictive experiences and become powerful brands we can be proud of, or will the already existent powerful brands such as the likes of Facebook and Amazon take the cake when they enter the financial services arena?
If we're lucky and enough banks get their a-ha moments, be it caused by more luminous orange cards etching themselves in the consumer mind or Alexa learning to read our mind and take the pain out of our MoneyMoments, just maybe one day we will get follow-up hashtags to the #BankWithPride such as #iHSBC or #ProudlyNationwide or #IHeartSantander and a proud, emotionally connected dialogue of fans and advocates around them.