Rarely a week goes by without the claim being made by emails, conference presentations, telephone or face-to-face interviews that whichever bank you happen to be speaking to, is now focussed on ‘customer centricity’.

Banks’ claims to have embraced customer centricity tend to follow a familiar pattern. One can now just about write the script. We are, parrot the banks, looking for new ways to engage our customers. We are passionate about optimising the customer experience.

This kicks off with getting inside the mindset of the customer and understanding their financial needs and aspirations; this is followed by jargon such as defining the customer experience vision.

Data generally and data analytics are regular buzzwords: that enables the banks to redefine and fine-tune their segmentation strategies. The structure of the bank and its culture, processes and technology needs will all be referenced as key parts of the bank in question’s drive to be genuinely customer-centric.

Goals will be set and KPIs identified as the bank drills down on processes that have been causing customers inconvenience, costing time and money. With a degree of depressing predictability, there will then follow a lengthy dissertation on just how the bank is differentiating itself; there may well be mention of the bank setting out ‘on a journey’.

Regular buzzwords will include: ‘culture’, ‘levers’, ‘process mapping’, endless ‘KPIs’, ‘accountability’ and ‘evaluation’. ‘Core values’ is also a safe bet to get a mention.

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Along the bank’s ‘journey’ towards customer centricity, the chances are that they will have chucked a few million in the direction of the consultancy community; expect to be given a brief lecture on projects involving ‘change management’.

And if one was a shareholder in whichever bank happens to be the latest to flag up its customer centricity, you might be encouraged to believe that the bank is indeed on a journey that might result in awards for attaining customer service excellence.

Until that is, the latest report hits the inbox from the banking ombudsman.

The UK Financial Ombudsman Service issued its latest six-monthly report on 22 February as RBI went to press. The report relates to complaints data from UK banks, insurers and other financial businesses, some 220 businesses in total.

Complaints are mercifully down but not by much – for the six months in question the number of complaints fell by only 6% to 164,000.
One set of stats stands out: the average uphold rate, where the ombudsman found in the customer’s favour: a less than impressive 53%.

If one is to take the banking sector claims seriously to be on the journey towards customer centricity, the very least the banks can do is get their act together when it comes to determining customer complaints.

There are some notable exceptions: Only 15% of complaints by customers of Yorkshire Building Society were upheld by the ombudsman; Leeds Building Society at 22% and the Skipton at 27% also scored well while Metro Bank performed credibly at 35%.

At the opposite end of the scale: Lloyds Bank scores an incredibly dismal 78%, not far off double the rate at sister brand Bank of Scotland (47%).

Within RBS Group brands: some notable contrasts: Ulster Bank scores relatively well with only 37%; ditto NatWest at 41% but the RBS main brand is a less than impressive 54%.

It is to be hoped that the ‘journey’ towards customer centricity might be reflected in an improvement in future ombudsman stats. If the smaller mutuals can get their complaints act together, there is no excuse for Lloyds, in particular, to be scoring so poorly.