It is admittedly my fault for buying into the FNB Innovation story and wishing that there really was a success story where a large services company, in a traditional sector like banking, could turn on the Innovation Gene and change the way they provide value to customers. We were trying to do exactly the same thing at my company, at the same time, so it was a source of hope. To be fair, I think the Innovation was real and did drive them to produce some real products and services, like the Mobile App and the Paypal integration. Not to forget the eBucks and ability to buy devices and connectivity. In admiration of what they achieved, we studied the ‘FNB Innovation Model’ and broke it into down into 5 key pillars:

  1. Leadership – Simply put, Michael Jordaan, the man at the top, leading the way in terms of culture
  2. Reward and Recognition – Creating the incentive for everyone to pitch in
  3. Communication – Keeping everyone on the same page, distributing the culture and energy
  4. Process – Making sure that it survived outside of normal processes where necessary and integrated where required
  5. Platform – Tying it all together on a portal which facilitated everything above

So, after being a customer of Standard bank for more than 15 years, and after several “promotions” to a different account types, each of which did not deliver on the promised value-adds, I jumped ship. The migration was simple, debit orders included and all was well. For a while.

Personally, I suspect that the most important pillar, pillar number 1, Innovation Leadership collapsed when Michael Left. Shortly thereafter, Paul Steenkamp, head of Innovation packed his suitcase for Standard Bank. I suspect he knew the importance of Customer First focus that drives Innovation. Innovation would not have collapsed immediately, but I think customers like myself that had a pulse on the Innovation coming out of FNB will be feeling the Innovation void in the last year. One would need to be on the inside to comment on the culture, but that would have been the 1st to disappear.

Sadly for me, I’ve got to experience 1st hand how quickly the customer focus can degrade. With my past experience at Standard Bank, I have no faith in the “personalised service” value-adds sold with higher-end packages. This at best translates to a smaller team of call-centre agents that are dedicated to taking your calls. There ability or willingness to solve your problems however is no better than the rest. And that is when you actually get hold of them. So when FNB interrupts my Internet banking login process to inform me that I qualify for an upgrade, I annoyingly click the “No thank you”, every single time. A month ago though, I logged in to increase my credit limit, I was again offered the opportunity to upgrade my account, or my limit or both. I respectively, and consciously clicked on the option to increase the limit only. Many annoying clicks later, and I’m congratulated on an account upgrade!?

One would assume that the upgrade to Private Client status would mean undoing this would be a breeze. A dedicated banker, as advertised, would be on the case and get me back to a common Silver card in no time. Many phone calls later, emails, tweets, threats etc. and I am sad to say that I am sitting with two credit cards, neither of which can be used. Customer centricity has failed. The product is not as advertised, in fact it’s just the opposite. And without customer centricity Innovation will have failed.

Does that mean though that Standard bank will start upping it’s game soon? I have my doubts. Yes, Paul is there, along with many Innovation experts in the field. But what about the CEO? Our theory suggests that pillar 1 is about the CEO, the one person in the organisation that can set and change the culture of the organisation. We’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, I’m placing my bets and wishes on industry disruption. And I hope it comes from a garage somewhere, where some genius with a true Innovation mindset, see’s this frustration in all us customers, and brings a blockchain to the party. (Or maybe it’s time to visit Capitec?)



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