RBS takes inspiration from Amazon and Uber as it puts focus on customer experience

The last decade has been a turbulent time for Royal Bank of Scotland as it looks to regain and retain customer trust while navigating a new business environment that has seen consumer expectations raised by brands such as Uber and SkyScanner.

The Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and its Irish subsidiary Ulster Bank are taking learnings from the likes of Amazon, Uber and SkyScanner in order to “keep up” with consumer expectations of “one-click” digital experiences.

But according to RBS’s commercial business and private bank marketing director, Maeve McMahon, and Ulster Bank’s head of commercial excellence, analytics and consumer insights, Jim McCormick, in order to do that they’ve first had to foster the “biggest turnaround in corporate history”.

It is a decade since RBS was at the centre of the banking crisis that precipitated the last global recession. In August 2008, the company reported a £691m pre-tax loss for the half-year and had to be bailed out by the UK government to the tune of more than £45bn. It has since reported 10 years of annual losses.

A series of crises followed, including a major technical meltdown that left many customers unable to access their money and a number of fines for, among other things, rigging Libor and foreign exchange markets.

Speaking to Marketing Week at Dreamforce in San Francisco, McMahon admitted the brand was “tarnished” during the crisis. But said the company has worked over the last decade to repair the damage and return to profit.

“There was a big crisis and at a macro-level RBS cost the British economy a lot of money. The last 10 years has been focused on cleaning up the balance sheet, getting through the legacy issues, returning the bank to profit and looking for the go-forward,” she said.

By “go forward”, McMahon, who has been with RBS for three years, is referring to the bank’s renewed focus on its customers.

“[The bank] could only do that once it had gotten through the big legacy issues it faced,” she explained.

“Marketing plays a key role in that because we are the voice of the customer in the room. We are the ones who have that insight on NPS [net promoter scores], we are the ones who can help rebuild trust by putting customers at the centre of what we do.”

Meeting customer expectations

However, having refocused the bank on its customers, McMahon admits it now faces a new challenge as customer expectations are impacted not by what is happening in banking but other industries. That means RBS must work on improving the digital side of the brand if it is to meet these expectations.

“Customers’ expectations are set by Uber and SkyScanner. How people can do things so quickly in other industries plays a role in how we do things in banking,” she said.

“From a banking perspective, our digital channels give us an opportunity to make customer experiences quicker, cleaner and smoother.”

McCormick reiterates those comments, suggesting people want “one-click” experiences and it’s important RBS and Ulster make that happen. That makes simplicity vital when the brands create a digital journey, ensuring there are no stops or blockages.

Customers expectations are set by Uber and SkyScanner. How people can do things so quickly in other industries plays a role in how we do things in banking.

Maeve McMahon, RBS

“People want a one-click experience, so it’s important we make that happen. If a customer visits Amazon, that’s what happens, they click, they get the product,” he added.

Companies that don’t keep up with consumer expectations risk being disrupted, and there are a wealth of fintech startups from Monzo to Revolut moving into the finance space. To keep up with that, RBS is reportedly working on a standalone digital consumer bank called Bó (Danish for ‘to live’).

The pitfalls of digital

While digital opens up opportunities for the bank, there are pitfall such as data privacy to consider, according to McMahon. She notes that customers can often be unsure who is holding or using their data, with that particularly the case among the younger generation.

“Data privacy is something we have to be really careful about with our customers. Their data is critically important to them and us and we must safeguard that,” she said.

Nevertheless analysing data is critical to the bank because it allows them to understand what customers want and need at any specific point in their life, according to McCormick. “Clients have to move with the times and we see technology and data as one of our key enablers to allow them to do that and to serve them better,” he said.

“The key to success for us is to create one single customer view containing all that information because at the end of the day we need to understand the customer, their needs, their wants, their behaviours and all of that is expressed in data.”

Amazon Advertising
RBS says it wants to be able to offer its customers a similar “one-click” experience like Amazon.

Ulster Bank has experienced a significant increase in its net promoter score (NPS), managing to boost the figure by 10 points since it implemented Salesforce’s technology, which McCormick said allowed the brand to access “clean” data and information.

“We wanted to be the best bank for customer service and experience and since then we’ve seen a significant climb in NPS because tech allows our staff to have informed discussions with customers,” he explained.

McMahon added: “Thanks to technology, we were able to improve the relationship manager experience and have informed conversations, which has definitely helped drive NPS improvements. Putting the customer at the heart of the conversation is what it’s about.”

Despite the bank’s difficulties over the past decade, McMahon said people still want to work at the bank and be “part of the transformation story.”

“We’re going to pay a dividend in October and for a company that has gone through the biggest turnaround in corporate history, you think, ‘wow, that’s amazing, I’m part of that’,” she explained.

“There are people working in the bank today that were there 10 years ago and leadership has done a great job in supporting them. It’s been tough but you can see the end is near. You can see that we’re returning a profit, you can see the bank is moving to a much better place.”