So just how customer centric is your bank?

Customer-centricity: just about any bank you speak to nowadays claims to be customer-centric.

Customer-centricity: just about any bank you speak to nowadays claims to be customer-centric, writes Douglas Blakey.

In fact, thinking back over the 10 years I have been on this desk, I have been hearing that claim for the majority of my time here.

There is an element of kidding and conning at play of course.

Those of us of a certain age can recall the days when it was as easy as pie to telephone the local branch as opposed to a call centre goodness knows where: the branch direct dial was printed on monthly statements and on the cheques of some banks.

For the record, unless my memory is playing tricks, the first bank to make the claim to me that customer centricity was at the heart of its retail banking business model was Siam Commercial Bank in Thailand, about 10 years ago.

I digress.

Examples given by banks these days usually include the claim – with some justification – that the bank in question is making it easy for consumers to engage with them, wherever and whenever they want to.

And provided you do not want to pop into a branch on a bank holiday, when the bank outlet will be the only store in the High Street that is closed, it is a valid claim.

To be fair, bank opening hours are in a different league to the days of 09.30-15.30 I recall in the days of my youth.

Then banks will claim that the customer-centric business makes it easy for customers to receive a response from the bank via social media and again, in many cases the banks’ claims are reasonable.

Danske Bank has taken this to a new level with its commitment to be more transparent and engaging by optimising social media to become ‘a better bank’. Its Ideasbank initiative has been used to optimise its m-banking app and to improve its loan application process.

The next bank claim to promote their new-found customer centricity usually relates to some form of empathy; they will say they really do want to understand their customers’ problems and try to find a solution.

Again to be fair, this is an area where banks in general deserve credit for upping their game.

But just how many stellar examples stick in the mind of a leading retail bank truly giving the customer pride of place in its business?

Off the top of my head, examples would have to include the UK’s Metro Bank. It could be no other way – remember his track record with Commerce Bank in the US – with Vernon Hill as founder.

The there is RBC in Canada. It deserves a mention in terms of customer centricity and has reaped the rewards with record result after record result.

The design of the bank branch and the branch customer experience is another area where banks have valid claims to have become more customer-centric.

SNS in the Netherlands is a typical example given; then there is OCBC with its FRANK concept, targeting Generation Y with the tagline ‘The Brand New Way to Bank’.

Just how many banks can however claim to put their customers at the centre of their product universe?

One simple example will suffice for reasons of space.

The simple act of obtaining a new or replacement debit or credit card.

Personalising, mailing, and activating cards associated with centralised issuance can typically take a week or more.

A member of the editorial team on this desk, not the writer, recently waited over a week for his bank (NatWest as it happens) to get around to issuing a replacement debit card.

It is not rocket science. Metro Bank in the UK manage instant issuance every day, usually within about 20 minutes. Still in the UK, Barclays accomplish instant card issuance at 267 of its UK branches.

Elsewhere, Sacombank in Vietnam and China Everbright Bank have made a success of instant issuance as has Chase in the US.

There is no shortage of vendors who can offer banks an instant card issuing solution, Datacard and Fiserv and Giesecke & Devrient being just three well known examples.

So hats off today to Germany’s Commerzbank.  It is the latest bank and the first in Germany to roll out instant (it is claiming 20 minutes) issuance of debit and credit cards in-branch.

The benefits are numerous but high on the list include an improved customer experience; avoiding the danger of cards becoming lost in the post not to mention, the advantage to the issuer of the card being available to use immediately.

One might say that instant card issuance is what a truly customer centric bank would offer: begging the question why quite so many banks claiming to be customer-centric remain resolutely opposed to instant card issuance?