Taking control

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If transparency is one of the core values driving new directions in financial services, there is more than one way of expressing it. Transparency is literally a window, an opening, that in this instance reveals a practical value, that of control.

Barclays bank in the UK is a sector leader in exploiting the possibilities of new technology. Last year the credit card section, Barclaycard, launched a free iPhone application that had 3 million downloads in 13 days and became the most popular free branded advertising game in the iTunes store. They are a sector leader in mobile banking with the Barclays.mobi, which is a browser-based service accessible across all mobile platforms.

“It's true of social media in general that the premise is that the consumer is in control.” Phil Sowter, Barclays

The TV advertising for the service has a voiceover by Stephen Merchant (co-creator of The Office) and is a humorous exercise in exposing advertising and image conventions, as the narrator discusses being able to keep control of money even when “you are in some rather unconvincing park”, as the customers spins large coins/plates in front of a painted backdrop.

 

Phil Sowter, Head of Mobile & Self Service at Barclays Bank explains how this spot plays out on an app they have developed, “we have done a little iPhone application which supports the television campaign. The television campaign imagery is very much about taking control, featuring a lady in a number of different scenarios spinning coins on poles.

The iPhone application is called Spinning Streak and is a fun game, not a literal interpretation of the advert, but some of the imagery within it is complementary.”

The game involves keeping three coins spinning on three poles and like all narratives involving overcoming a challenge it’s a journey. “You can decide,” says Sowter, “to become the most famous spinning streak superstar on the planet, busking in the park, through to performing in a nightclub, to performing on television and making your way to Las Vegas, becoming the most famous spinning streak superstar on the planet. It’s a bit of fun with a bit of brand recall attached to it.”

It’s not about pushing the brand, but as Sowter says, if there is some sort of brand recall, that’s great. “It’s true of social media in general that the premise is that the consumer is in control,” says Sowter, “so ultimately you don’t want to try and force it on the consumer because it’s counterintuitive to the whole reason why social networks are growing up, and the intimate nature perhaps of somebody’s relationship with their mobile phone.” Sowter cites the Head of NTT Docomo who calls the mobile phone ‘the remote control for your life’.

Mobile banking and imagery is about control and relevance, the services offered by Barclays are the result of intensive research. And for the moment, the kind of imagery needs to reflect an audience roughly aged 18-34, it’s a much younger customer than traditional, or even internet banking.

“Mobile browsing is better suited to the smartphone,” explains Sowter, “a highend product which may discount the very young users who would like the service. But smartphones are becoming more ubiquitous, like flatscreen televisions. At one point it was aspiration but in a very short period has become expectation.”

The Summary

There is a generational shift in what consumers expect from their banking services, and Barclays.mobi is taking care in developing this space. This mobile experience of banking, where the consumer feels in control, engaged, personally well-served, cuts through the more generalised distrust about the financial services industry and banking.

The simplicity of the metaphor of ‘spinning plates’ (‘too many balls in the air’, ‘juggling too many things’) connects at a deep emotional level with busy and stressed consumers. Barclays take the edge off this by inspiring a little fun. It gives people back a sense of control which is as valuable as a decent interest rate. The mobile banking sector is one area of the financial services sector where different rules of communication apply.

The Takeout

If transparency is one of the core values driving new directions in Financial Services, there is more than one way of expressing it.

Mobile banking and imagery is about control and relevance... the kind of imagery needs to reflect an audience roughly aged 18-34, it’s a much younger customer than traditional, or even internet banking. The Head of NTT Docomo calls the mobile phone ‘the remote control for your life’.

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