As I said, the conference was mainly targeted at banking and the IT developments that could improve efficiency and consumer outcomes. Indeed the emphasis was on better consumer outcomes as happy customers mean more sales and more profit. When looking back on this conference and these noble intentions, I also reflected on my own recent poor experience of dealing with my bank when I tried to extend a mortgage offer.
While the majority of Santander staff I spoke to were friendly and tried to help, they were let down by a system that was inflexible. While I am sure the new mortgage process was built with good intent (and with a desire to eliminate risk to the bank), in my case it merely added frustration and costs – to both Santander and me. Where is the old Captain Mainwaring of banking – the old bank managers who were allowed to make pragmatic decisions?
This really worries me. As I said last month, banks should really be core to the delivery of financial products to consumers in the UK. They are ideally placed to help their customers, but the recent announcement by Yorkshire and Clydesdale Banks (both part of the National Australia Bank Group) that they wereclosing their financial advisory businesses, added to Santander’s decision to suspend its financial advisers for retraining, and really kicks this position into the long grass. But why? Banks should be able to build profitable businesses that deliver good outcomes – including financial planning and advice – to their customers.
Anyway, enough of my rant. Let us be positive and look at all of the good ideas that came out of the conference. While not all of the presentations were relevant, some sessions were very interesting and worth sharing.
Three different presentations focused on delivering low-cost overseas money transfers. For those with relatives living abroad, the cost of sending money is disproportionately high. The entire money exchange system clearly needs a complete overhaul, but as both currency exchange and money transfers are (no doubt) profitable for the banks, any solution is likely to reduce their margins and create a need to build profits elsewhere. Let us hope this can be achieved without any more of the get-rich-quick solutions (such as payment protection insurance) that have recently caused such mayhem.
All three of the money transfer solutions would significantly reduce costs to a fraction of the current charges.
Another presentation that impressed me was from Voice Trust. This was a voice recognition security system that used voice patterns to identify clients. If adopted, this could do away with passwords and complex security processes.
There were also lots of presentations on phone payment and smart credit cards but for me the key interests of the conference were the sessions that supported financial advice. This is because I remain keen to find a mass-market solution to the “advice gap” and I believe that IT will play a significant part.
To be honest, the conference produced a mixed bag of solutions. For example I liked a French development from Yseop and had high hopes for its use in the UK. Yseop demonstrated an automated system of financial plan writing that increased French bank advice sales by 20 per cent. However, when I followed this up after the conference, I found the system to be too product-orientated for my tastes.