Trendy banks don't do it for me

15 February 2008
Having just spent most of my lunch break queuing in my local branch of Barclays, I noticed something that my peers probably realised a long time ago. Barclays got hip. Well, as hip as a bank can be which isn’t very. What I mean is that its marketing material seems to be more akin to that of a sixth-form college than a bank’s.

Shame on me for not noticing this change sooner. In fact, it was around two years ago that Barclays first decided to ‘funk-up’ its branches in an attempt to make them more appealing to customers. It did two things - firstly, it replaced the traditional pens-on-chain with blue biros that implore writers to not only use them but take them home.

Secondly, it changed the language in its marketing material. As the press release explained at the time, Barclays aimed to ditch the “arcane language that has be-devilled bank customers for generations” and use language that is in “common usage”.

Cool stuff. But I’m not convinced.

For starters, some of the slogans Barclays has opted for are dubious. Take, for example, its helpdesks that are now branded “I want to help”.

When I read this I couldn’t help but mentally finish the sentence “…. but I’m not going to.”

And don’t get me started on attempts to personify electrical equipment with little touches like “I’m more than just a cash point…” Just as long as it hasn’t been tampered with by fraudsters or run out of money, I’m happy to be honst.

While making banks more accessible has got to be a good thing, there is a right and a wrong way to do this. Pretending to have your finger on the pulse by offering free pens and casual language doesn’t really do it for me.

Barclays isn’t the only financial services firm trying to shake off its ‘stuffy' image. I was recently shown an advertising brief from a well-known credit card provider by a friend who works in an advertising agency. In the brief, the credit card provider complained that young customers are less receptive to marketing blurb than they used to be as they become increasingly savvy about shopping around for the best deal.

To redress the balance, the company wanted to make its advertising “trendier” by using street-slang. I shudder to think how that ad is going to turn out.

Apart from the fact that young people being savvier about personal finance has got to be a good thing, I think these firms are missing the point. I don’t want a funky bank. I want one that offers competitive rates, excellent customer service and good levels of security.

And when I go into a branch to pay in a cheque I don’t want a free pen - I want a short queue so I don’t miss most of my lunch break analysing marketing slogans.