Champagne all round: the bank bashers have downed brickbats for a moment to punch the air instead. Even George Osborne was allowed to smile when he announced the sale of more than 600 Lloyds branches to the Co-Op yesterday. Never mind the murmurs that it was really EU rules that pushed the deal through.
Of course no one’s more excited than The Co-Operative Bank’s chief exec Peter Marks. “We have been catapulted into the premier league”, he gushed on BBC 5Live. Are we talking footballers or banks here? Either way the public sees both sectors as populated by overpaid, unethical, arrogant players. And right now, that is not how they see the Co-Op or its mutual friends.
The public doesn’t want a premier league bank anymore. People want a local, responsible, ethical bank – and they’ve all finally figured out how to find one using price comparison websites. As a result the number of UK accounts that opened on the first day of this month tripled, according to Moneyfacts. Nationwide reported a 40 per cent surge in current account applications in a single week and Charity Bank has seen its website traffic jump by 500 per cent in the last two weeks.
No, I’ve never heard of Charity Bank either – but clearly value is trumping brand loyalty right now. Twitter was awash with the news yesterday, #coop actually trended at one point. “Who’s up for moving to Co-Op? I’m game if you are”, tweeted HSBC customer Howard Bryant.
Now, had any HSBC bods been on twitter they might have chanced the personal touch to bring him back into the fold. But that’s where the premier league banks are going wrong. None of them are in touch with their customers in the real world (and by real I mean real-time).
The Co-Op’s Twitter timeline meanwhile was filled with replies to people: “thank you!”, “glad you like it”, “thank you for the kind words”.
Then they went and tweeted a smiley face. What could be more friendly, more personal, more in touch with people?
HSBC, Lloyds, RBS, Barclays, Standard Chartered; the big beasts are it getting all wrong. Their twitter feeds read like a series of press releases pinged out automatically by a computer every couple of days.
What these banks don’t seem to realise is that Twitter is not just one big conversation, it’s one big conversation that the world’s press is eavesdropping on. Their customers tell the Twittersphere exactly what they think, and the press gleefully uses it as a giant crowd-sourcing tool.
Earlier this week a friend from the banking sector asked me: “How can we stop it?”.
What he should have asked me is: “How can we start it?”