HSBC should rebrand if it commits to a new, innovative approach
HSBC should rebrand if it commits to a new, innovative approach
A view from Jim Prior

High street banking is un-everything: HSBC rebrand is an opportunity to lead change

With banking being one of the most uninspiring experiences on the high street, Jim Prior, CEO of The Partners and Lambie-Nairn, says a potential HSBC...

This was the epitome of High Street banking: unhelpful, uninspiring, un-everything a contemporary customer service experience ought to be

Last week in the Barclays bank branch opposite my office I stood in a drab environment in a slow-moving queue to ask for a twenty-pound note to be changed into coins (the purpose of my request being irrelevant here). The cashier asked if I was a customer of the bank. I am not, so I was informed that the exchange could not be made. If Barclays is keen to attract new customers this kind of policy is peculiar but, more than that, it struck me that this was the epitome of High Street banking: unhelpful, uninspiring, un-everything a contemporary customer service experience ought to be.

High street banking stood still

While the rest of retail has advanced, most banks – despite obvious pressure, post-financial-crisis – have stood still.

HSBC’s anticipated rebrand of its branch network, possibly back to Midland, therefore raises the enticing prospect of change. But in a sector that has largely failed to deliver on its promises in this respect in recent years, it comes with many questions too. The first of which is, why rebrand?

The problem HSBC has is the same generic problem that all High Street banks have, which is that the customer experience they provide is increasingly unsatisfactory and irrelevant

As far as I can see there’s nothing wrong with the HSBC name or branding. Neither is there anything blatantly wrong with the proposition that sits behind it. The problem HSBC has is the same generic problem that all High Street banks have, which is that the customer experience they provide is increasingly unsatisfactory and irrelevant. That is what needs to be fixed. Any rebrand that takes place without this is doomed to fail. However, if the bank is conducting a comprehensive review of the experience it provides then a rebrand may well be valuable. If HSBC succeeds in creating a customer-centric retail bank that catapults them into the twenty-first century, then they need to make sure that everyone is aware of that.

Go full steam and rebrand

Although I stated earlier that there’s nothing wrong with the current name, branding or proposition, it’s also true to say that there is not a whole lot right with them either. They are largely empty vessels that convey little in the way of a broader brand story. A new name, brand identity, underlying rational and emotional proposition, and creative platform would be the perfect way to encapsulate a new brand story, signal positive change, and get the message across with impact. To transform your business and transform your branding is to transform the relationship you have with your market. If this is what HSBC are planning, then they should go full steam ahead and rebrand.

Here lies a tired and lazy thought process, no doubt rooted in a generic desire to go back to the days when customers trusted banks, by resurrecting a name in the hope that the public are foolish enough to believe that old names and old values inevitably go hand in hand

But, the second question we must ask is would Midland Bank be the best solution? I am certain it would not. Here lies a tired and lazy thought process, no doubt rooted in a generic desire to go back to the days when customers trusted banks, by resurrecting a name in the hope that the public are foolish enough to believe that old names and old values inevitably go hand in hand. This approach fails on multiple levels. Firstly, rebuilding public trust in banks can never be driven by the name and identity. It needs a wide range of reforms of which a transformed customer experience is but one part.

Innovative embrace

Secondly, the reforms that are required are not a return to old ways but an innovative embrace of a new kind of banking. The old values of banking that might seem fleetingly desirable are in fact even more terrible than the current reality: hostile, condescending, inefficient and stuffy (although my memory is that they would willingly have exchanged my twenty quid). Yet I can’t see any argument for reintroducing the Midland brand unless it is some attempt to echo the past. For me, the idea that nostalgia is the untapped need-state in the marketplace is seriously wide of the mark.

If a comprehensive review of the banking experience is the plan at HSBC then a radical rebrand will assist that process. But it must be a forward-focused solution that reflects the forward-focused customer-centric experience that is required. Be brave, HSBC. Take on the challenge of bringing banking into the twenty-first century not by harking back to misremembered history but by setting new standards of excellence across the entire brand landscape. Let the name and identity of the bank be reflective of that, not some old-world relic as the original Midland Bank griffon symbol ever was.