Banks are doomed

Many people in Africa are still ‘unbanked’. Lucky them. As the global banking industry enters its final phase, ‘the unbanked’ are spared exposure to the largest failure of organistional culture on the planet.

Marketers know banks have the worst brand diferentiation. That’s been true for decades: you simply can’t tell one bank from another except by the colours of its  logo.

Banks have never had very positive cultures. Historically pompous and bureaucratic, their hold on the hard-earned cash gave them authority they didn’t merit. To their customers, their communication was inept and impersonal. To their staff, they communicated by the infamous bank circular – the corporate equivalent of junk mail.

Now their complicity in global, regional and local fraud (witness the latest National Youth Service scandal in Kenya) has turned their dysfuctional cultures to face the customer with-wild eyed paranoia. Now, as far as banks are concerned, the customer is not just a nuisance, he is a liability who could land Bank Directors in court (faster than they might overwise get there.)I have accounts with two local and one international bank (the one that lost all its customers’ money and had to be bailed out by the UK taxpayer). I would describe all three organisations as Functionally Incompetent, in much the same way that a Functioning Alcholic lurches from one day to the next but … still keeps going.

Their ludicrous KYC (Know Your Customer) procedures actually confirm that they don’t know theirs. I recently launched another business with two partners. Between us, we had banked with our chosen bank in both personal and business capacities for a collective 38 years. But we were asked to arrange for another bank account holder to introduce us, and generally made less welcome than Bin Laden turing up with a sandbag stuffed with Saudi Riyals. Setting up online banking required more than a doxen increasingly irate phone calls with a junior bank officer, and eventually a face-to-face meeting to explain the unexplainable.

A friend, who supplies many banks in the region, has the worst luck. Each one  insists he opens an account with them so that they can pay him. He has more than a dozen assorted tokens, passwords and security questions and is daily driven mad by online user experiences designed by bankers for bankers.

The truth is that if we didn’t have to use banks, none of us would. Such is the enormous customer antipathy they generate. Fortunately the Fintech sector already has workable alternatives that are rapidly reaching scale in Africa. When they do, it will be ‘Goodnight Vienna’ for banks.


Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside in Africa

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