Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Sovereign: The brand experience

Disclaimer: What follows is not a complaint.
After 20 years as a customer, I am no longer surprised or even aggravated by my bank's stumbles. I view my bank—Sovereign—as an old uncle who drools and is hard of hearing. The guy can't help himself—and neither can my bank.

For years Sovereign had branches in Connecticut and New York—but no electronic link across state lines. My jaw dropped when I first learned this... but I calmed down. Poor Uncle Sovereign. My son made a deposit in New York City... but the money was lost in the interstate transfer. That's my Uncle Sovereign—so absent-minded. But hey, I love the guy.

Then in October 2008, after losing nearly $1 billion the previous quarter and floundering in the worldwide panic, Sovereign escaped disaster via sale. The bank sold out to the Spanish banking giant Santander.

My local Sovereign branch quickly put "Santander" on deposit slips, signs, brochures, websites—and announced that it was now part of "one of the world's strongest and safest banks." Made sense at the time. I thought that now Uncle Sovereign might get the care he needed.

Well not really. Just today—(and again, this is not a complaint. I love my uncle)—I can't find my business account online... because suddenly my business account is not linked to my personal accounts as it was for years.

I call the bank: the recording still welcomes me to "Sovereign, now part of Santander, one of the world's strongest and safest banks."

A long wait on the phone accompanied by bland instrumental music? No. A long wait accompanied by a guy wailing "You---oooo don't know-wo-wo me---eeeee" followed by a woman singer croaking out, "I am weak and star--ar---ar-ving for mercy."

When the customer rep finally comes on, he explains that my business account was de-coupled from my personal account—and he gives me THREE new passwords and IDs for monitoring this entirely separate account.

Since the parent, Santander, is based in Spain, a new concern about bank safety now swirls. This month Santander's bond rating was cut... with "long-term Issuer Default Rating" termed "negative." Looks like Uncle Sovereign's new wife might have a drinking problem.

I am not complaining. I admire the wonderful people at my local branch—all smart, warm people and solid, diligent professionals. It's the institution around them that produces odd brand experiences—whenever possible. Check out the uninspiring prize being offered by the bank (pictured above). "Coffee for a year... You could be one of 50 lucky winners." Gee. How about linking all my accounts for a year.

Once I had a real flesh-and-blood uncle... In college I told him I was majoring in history and he sneered: "In my day history was a crap course." Ooo-kay. But I loved the guy.

brandsinger

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Buena suerte, seƱor.

brandsinger said...

Hola, amigo. Gracias.

Anonymous said...

Claude,

Love your post...and, actually, you are far too gentle with Sovereign. Coincidentally, I'd been a client for longer than I care to admit. Given most retail banking is commodity, I always found something endearing and honest in Sovereign's bumbling uncle ways. So, yes, I put up with the outdated online capabilities (for always sparked warm memories of life during the Clinton administration), as well as the local branch (where I could always walk out strongly reassured that they weren't wasting my money on new carpeting, updated furniture, or the training of their tellers). Of course, the 2008 scare was bad enough, but then our nutty uncle got remarried to a drunken spendthrift in a shotgun wedding. However, you know what truly bothers me? It's the horrifically bad marketing. I'm not kidding. When I stand in line at the branch, I look at the posters thinking "Really? Who thought that was a good idea? How did that conversation go? Were they drunk?" The red is dramatically overbearing. The stock photos are, well, too stock. The offers, to your point, are insulting. And then the attempts at metaphor are so painfully bad, as if English is the author's fourth language. At least the folks in your local branch help you in keeping the faith. For me, finally, I had enough.

It's a shame, for the old uncle did have endearing qualities.

Hope you're keeping well.

Malcolm F.

brandsinger said...

Very funny and insightful, Malcolm.

I'm still laughing at: "I could always walk out strongly reassured that they weren't wasting my money on new carpeting, updated furniture, or the training of their tellers."

I once read an article about banking in Brazil -- and a chic woman was cited as having kept the same bank for years. She put it this way: "Changing banks is harder than changing husbands."

c'est la vie.

brandsinger

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Cert Killer said...

In my point of view You sure did put a new twist on something that Ive heard so much about. And How did you manage to make a blog that as smart as it is sleek?

Sharon Will said...

Well, I liked your post. I too have many sweet, sour and bitter experiences with my back but I am still a loyal customer. I really admire and laugh at your quote in one of your comments: "Changing banks is harder than changing husbands" :)

Sharon @ Seo Diensten Belgie