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.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Greece: The power of symbols

It's hard to resist the grim spectacle of Greece. I am fascinated by the symbols. In Athens—the birthplace of democracy, as they say—people express discontent with their democratically elected leaders by hurling gasoline bombs at the police. Okay. Okay, let's say it again. In the land of an ancient democratic heritage, citizens vote "no" with Molotov cocktails.

How is this for attacking a symbol but missing the implications of that attack: Here are Greeks—who presumably seek financial support from Germans—burning a German flag. Think the citizens of Berlin will miss the point? Or how about this one: Greeks—who want the world to lend them money, buy their goods, hire their people, and visit their land as tourists—burn down a Starbucks.

Or how about this: The AP and Reuters label people throwing rocks and firebombs as "protesters" or "demonstrators"—while their adversaries are depicted as—oddly—"riot police." If you thought "riot police" defended civil order against "rioters," you are mistaken—and you do not know the protocols of international journalism.

Here is a member of the "riot police" dodging a rock thrown by a "protester."

Let's conclude the evening's commentary thus: I—a consumer of news—must suppress a riot of laughter whenever I witness members of the international press trying to understand the world they live in.