Customer service and the ‘little pockets of data’

A few years ago Don Callahan, Head of Operations & Technology at Citi gave a talk at the bank’s annual Digital Money Symposium in London. He decided to conduct an experiment. He sat down with his family to try and construct a central view of all of their household finances, both incoming and outgoing. All the paycheques, credit cards, pension plans, investments, mortgages, loans etc…for everyone. And he couldn’t do it. The struggles his own household were having was reflected in most banks inability to produce a comprehensive, centralised view of their customers.

I have spent the past few years writing about the challenges banks face when looking to connect better with their customers. I have hammered home the idea that there is only one channel — the customer channel. But I have never looked at myself, to illustrate this, with a personal story.

My family is a strange beast. Our relationship with providers of financial services is almost, exclusively centred on one bank. We have our joint account, our mortgage, our credit cards, ISAs, pensions, savings accounts — all with the same institution. That should mean if any bank has a clear, helicopter view of my family’s financial situation — or even recognize who I am — it should be my bank.

You’d think.

Recently, we decided to redo our mortgage to get a better rate — on the advice of our relationship manager. (We’ll call him ‘Alan’ for the sake of this story). When we sent in the forms, the bank came back to my husband to say ‘Wait, your wife (who is named on your joint account) doesn’t live at the address where we were doing the remortgage.’

What, wait, what?

Let’s back up a bit.

My family — which is myself, my husband and our son (and at the time a hamster — RIP ‘Kevin’) –moved to a new house in 2013. It’s a lovely house, with a double layer garden, big kitchen, on a dead end street, detached — but those aren’t the details you, the reader, should be concerned with now.

Anyone who has moved house knows the joys of ‘changing your addresses at every credit card, loyalty points scheme, electoral register etc…One of the first addresses we changed was on our joint account. Actually, the first address we changed, was on our mortgage papers, which has both my husband’s and my name on it. Then we changed our joint account. Which is where our standing order for our mortgage is paid out from.

We had two blissful years of living in our lovely, London suburbs house, paying our mortgage out of our joint account. Paper documents, listing these accounts, were posted to our domestic idyll.

Then we tried to remortgage. We found out, that according to our bank — I still lived at the little Victoria terraced house, on a street in southeast London — where we have lived two years prior.

Mind you — my credit card travelled to the new house (it has five bedrooms and a grannie flat — you really must drop by when you are in town) My savings account, travelled to the new house. My Sainsbury’s Nectar points card — switched address. But only my husband’s side of the *joint-account* travelled a few miles, to the outskirts of London, to the Kent borders.

Why? Because it was only my husband, who changed the address.

To quote our relationship manager — “We do not *assume* that that both names on a joint account live at the same address.”


Please do not argue with me about bank procedure and KYC and regulations — like you work at a bank. Think, for a second, like a customer.

Two years after moving. Two years after dealing with my bank from the same address. Two years’ worth of ‘customer transaction data’ (yes, I know banks can’t really use that!) Two years after *signing* the mortgage papers in a branch of the bank! 18 years of being a customer of this bank. I had to travel to a branch to produce documentation to prove who I was and where I lived.

*That* is stupid.

That is why banks are losing the customer experience battle. Right there. Ground zero. The Lumley Household. Kent, UK.

The problem lies not in banks refusing to fix the customer experience problem. It lies in the current structure of regulations, legacy infrastructure and culture at banks that make it almost impossible to change the desire to be ‘customer-centric’ into an actual working practice.

All of the products that my family holds with our bank — from the current accounts, credit cards, mortgage etc.. — all of those products are held in separate, distinct databases. Universal banks do not emerge fully formed from the head of the banking gods. They are constructed over time, through waves of acquisitions, and infrastructure products focused on product segments. These projects are built by IT teams that are often seconded in from outside firms (like IBM or Accenture) to work for 18 to 24 months at a time (depending on the project) and, more often than not, have very little direct knowledge of the business.

The customer story inside a bank is not held in a book or a central database. It is held in ‘little pockets of data’ spread all around the bank, in various locations, in an assortment of programming languages and platforms and architecture. These ‘little pockets of data’ never interact, are never reconciled, redundancies are never discovered — and most importantly — opportunities are never explored.