High street banking still wins over on-line offers

Designers who create ‘trendy’ identities for on-line banks may be misreading how consumers relate to the financial services industry, a leading brand consultancy says this week.

The claim comes after the publication of research, commissioned by Henrion Ludlow Schmidt from pollster ICM, that reveals four out of five consumers have greater trust in high street ‘bricks and mortar’ brands like Lloyds TSB and HSBC than on-line operators.

‘People tend to be more conservative in judgement when they look for a bank, even if they are younger. They don’t want high fashion and trendy style in a bank. They go for someone who looks after their money,’ according to HLS co-founder Chris Ludlow.

Trust in established high street names has risen from 73 per cent to 82 per cent since 2000, the research maintains. But consumers’ faith in more recently branded on-line financial services has remained static, at a lowly 7 per cent.

Among the 18-24 age group, where a new brand might expect a higher level of endorsement, trust in on-line banks has actually dropped from 15 per cent to 6 per cent.

Ludlow believes this is due partly to consumers not taking the design and branding of on-line banks seriously. A ‘fresh and funky’ approach may jar with existing attitudes toward financial services, he suggests.

‘If you take “smile” as a name, you must have an appropriate logotype, graphics and design. At the end, the whole feel may be more insubstantial than, say, Lloyds TSB,’ he adds.

Ludlow suggests that designers’ fondness for novelty may be counter-productive in addressing the ‘negative connotations’ that banks have for some consumers.

Wolff Olins senior consultant Nikki Jones agrees that on-line brands need to ‘mature’ their anti-establishment stance. ‘One of the reasons that Egg came to us was because it felt it was too quirky and that this was a limited positioning,’ she explains.

But Underground the Brand Laundry creative director Neville Portelli, who works with Cahoot (DW 4 April), questions the ICM research.

‘You have to look at on-line banks’ customer acquisitions, which are going through the roof. People interviewed by Cahoot were very pro the design. They don’t like form-filling, but love the convenience, the control and the fact they can manage an on-line account themselves,’ he says.

‘It’s an obvious statement to make that there’s a lack of trust,’ he adds. ‘All Internet banks are doing their best to get rid of this odd view, and it is diminishing.’

Portelli claims on-line security rather than design effectiveness is the bigger issue.

Figures from analyst Datamonitor show take-up of on-line banking is growing rapidly (up to 3.9m this year from 2m two years ago), albeit from a very low base. However, this debate implies designers must be on their mettle when helping on-line brands gain greater market penetration.

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