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Saturday, 5 January 2008

Time is Right to Innovate in Retail Financial Services

Two reports this week confirm it for me.

The first was from MoneyExpert.com, as reported in the FT:

"Since the revised banking code made it easier for customers to change their current account provider in 2005, more customers have taken advantage of the option. Over a six-month period to the end of October 2007, the number of clients changing provider rose from 1.8m to 2.3m. “The switching index shows that around 300,000 people a month are choosing to change their current account provider, and overdraft facilities are an important component for choosing an account,” said Sean Gardner, chief executive of MoneyExpert.com."

... Customer dissatisfaction over bank overdraft fees, as well as concerns over financial security prompted by the problems of Northern Rock, have accelerated the number of switches made recently, according to Mike Naylor at personal finance website uSwitch.com."

The second was from the Bank of England, to the effect that unsecured lending to households and small businesses is suffering a large reduction, and spreads between savings and unsecured lending have widened and are likely to widen further during Q1 2008. In other words, banks are helping themselves to more of consumers' cash as a result of their exposure to the credit crunch.

So, customers are adjusting to recent banking shocks and making alternative arrangements. And, while the banks need to offer incentives to retain or attract those customers, their hands are tied when it comes to anything really substantial.

The timing is great for innovation and new entrants to the retail financial services marketplace.

Yet the key to how retail financial services should develop is how consumers actually view and use money. Today's products and infrastructure are generally designed to suit the banks and other product providers, and they are ill-equipped to innovate from the consumer's standpoint. I reiterate my November prediction for 2008. And for my money, the essential characteristics of Financial Services 2.0 will mean that banks retreat from "owning" customer relationships to back-office service provision.

PS 7 Jan '08: First Direct's recent offer of simply paying people £100 to switch current accounts and receive the same old products, underlines the lack of real innovation amongst retail banks. Note the requirement to take an extra product or maintain a balance of £1500 in a nil interest account in order to avoid a £10 a month fee. The only real competition amongst retail banks is in the size of their marketing budgets.

PPS 21 Jan '08: The proportion of Britons still getting their financial advice from high street banks has declined from 28% in 2003 to just 4%.
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