Agency of progress
Agency of progress
Brand Lead, Santander UK
Money is perhaps one of humanity’s most under-rated innovations. The ability to ascribe a mutually trusted and shared value to bits of pressed metal, then pieces of paper, and then ultimately digitally encrypted bytes of code are a true wonder. Without it, our ability to collaborate as social animals, to trade, to exchange and create value would be impossibly complex and inefficient. Our progress would be stunted, and our innate desire for better left to go hungry. Banking at its simplest conception is the industrialisation of this value exchange.
It is this that makes the Arena of Fund so different from the others. The human spirit is driven by a desire for betterment. Our shared story is one of transformation that plays out in each of the other Arenas for their own ends. In thrive we are living longer, in dwell we have long moved out of caves, and taste? Even in England we have managed to shake off the reputation of being home to the bland. But at the heart of the Fund Arena, is the fundamental HOW to we can achieve that transformation in all these other categories. It is an Arena of enablement – and for us our customer’s better. It is one that starts with an ambition, where I need to save, borrow, spend, and invest to get to that end goal.
So whilst it is very easy to think Fund is just a nice way to talk about money, just as thrive is a nice way to talk about health, the reality is hearteningly different. This is because for some people whilst enough is never enough, for most people they recognise money isn’t something they can take with them. Prosperity for over 80% of the population cannot primarily be measured in pounds and pence.
At Santander, we have a clear purpose – to help people and businesses prosper. It is why we have run an intensive study to understand what prosperity actually means to our customers. We have now spoken to over 15,000 people in the UK over a 6 year period. The top 5 prosperity goals have remained consistent through the crises of Brexit, the pandemic and now the cost of living crisis. Only one relates to purely monetary goals, with the others being to have more time for family friends, experience true love, have the home I want, and feel I have a sense of purpose. The biggest barriers they face are economic injustice and social inequality, whilst climate change has become a significantly bigger barrier over each of the three studies. So the question of fund is not about pure shareholder value, but the customer value that we can sustainably create to support that.
However, when you look at Santander’s history, it is steeped in transformation and progress. In Spain, it was a bank founded by businessmen in the 1800’s port of Santander to facilitate trade to the new world in South America and support the need for investment in infrastructure in the region. In the UK it’s origins are as the Abbey Road Building Society (yes the same Abbey Road of Beatles fame) as part of the mutual movement that not only found a way to get ordinary working people a home of their own, but also the vote that came with home ownership at the time.
There are really two visions of banking. On the one hand, there are those like Bear Stearns that proclaimed “they make nothing but money,” and ended up an early casualty of the financial crisis. The other is founded in the words of former co-CEO of Citicorp John Reed on the idea of a consumer company that really helps ordinary people with something. His counterpart sadly was more in the other camp and ousted John.
The challenge with this former vision can perhaps be best seen in Interbrand’s own Best Global Brands. Since the global economic crash financial services brands broadly have fallen out of the top 100, and their values have fluctuated in line with the fortunes of the market. Compare that to the growth seen in the top 10 brands over the same period, we see tech giants coming to the fore, and brand value growth that shadows those of the banks that have survived. We are very proud that Santander remains one of them.
And it is this rapid rise of technology brands and the rapid digitalisation of the industry they represent that have become a real wake up call. When the internet first came to the fore it was predicted it would facilitate easier geographical migration of brands. This has turned out to be untrue, and in banking for no small part because it is a heavily regulated industry.
However, what it has enabled, is new entrants to come into the market. We see the likes of Zopa (now a registered bank in the UK), which is cutting middlemen out of the ecosystem; Revolut, which is helping people move seamlessly across markets; Kickstarter which is connecting people together to create value; and trusts and mutuals are in vogue again, reviving old ideas of community banks (interest based, not just location) for the digital age. Crypto challenges the stability and trust that governments provide to their currencies, and the run on the Silicon Valley Bank shows how dramatically quickly things can escalate if consumers get a fright.
However the bigger challenge is the entrants borne out of need states or arenas moving into ours. The leading tech brands are making more from subscription services alone than JPMorgan and Citicorp, whilst Amazon is already lending directly to its sellers network.
The challenge isn’t just to improve the customer experience and customer journey. It is to really put meaning into the service in the phrase financial services. As one tech’s CEO pointed out as they looked to grow their subscriptions business, the word service is a noun to describe the action of helping or doing work for someone.
This study reinforces how confusing, complex and difficult it can be for people to navigate this arena and be absolutely confident in the way they manage their money, and make decisions to fulfill their aspiration. Regulations designed to protect customers drive a universal culture where “advice” is almost the worst word anyone can use, when its what customers so desperately want. The combination of savings, investments and borrowing products ask the consumer to take on counterintuitively conflicting behaviors, and all without the context of what customers really want to do or fund in the first place. And to cap it all it’s a category where numbers, percentages and probabilities prevail, in an area where many customers are riddled with anxiety and worse.
We know the 2008 economic crisis has had a fundamental impact on what it means to prosper. It is the point in time when the hyper-capitalism of Gordon Gecko came to an end, but it is also the point which has moved the classical symbol of prosperity – a home to call your own – further away for a whole generation. Only government intervention masked this crisis from being as severe as the Great Depression.
Interbrand’s Fund Report points to a plethora of jobs our customers need help with, and technology should help us move from being a passive depository for their cash, to someone who can actively use the customer’s own data to help them build a roadmap to their own self-defined destination. At Santander we believe these sort of experiences will come when we use technology and AI to connect people to tools, insight and people that make their better happen. In turn it will connect us to the categories that make life joyful for them. These sort of experiences will give real grounds for the kind of consumer optimism, that our research suggests is in diminishing supply.
So whilst some chose to denigrate the idea of brand purpose, we see it as a critical way to ensure we serve our customers and focus on truly value generating activities. It is if you like a kitchen table purpose, that translates into a meaningful difference for customers that helps them overcome the bumps in their road, and move forward, and to do it in their own way.
In other arenas we see brand leadership that shapes the future of how brands interact not just with consumers, but the world around them. In the Move arena, Toyota is building Woven City, with the ambition to expand mobility, enhance humanity, and engage society. In the Connect Arena, Siemens is connecting the real and the digital worlds to help meet the greatest challenges of our time. Perhaps the biggest threat to our collective prosperity is the climate crisis. When you think about the challenge of the transition ahead, the move to low growth, the need for innovation in how we live – all that needs funding too, as does the management of changes in the asset values of those who own the coal, oil and gas that we need to ultimately keep in the ground. Creating connections across government, industry and citizens – helping us move to a sustainable model for mutual growth. That feels like that’s the next big opportunity for leadership in this arena and we need to be there to play our part.