11 Stupidest Things Banks Do

Dhanum Nursigadoo
5min read

Here at 11:FS we talk a lot about how Digital Banking is only 1% Finished, jobs to be done, and many other topics on how big banks get things wrong. But sometimes just hearing the theory isn’t enough. So I spoke to bankers, insiders, fintechers, associates, customers, and researchers – all anonymously – who have given me swathes of real world examples of the stupid shit banks do.

Here’s the 11 best…or worst, depending on how you want to see it. This list took a fair while to compile so if you’ve got something you want to add send me a message and maybe we’ll do a part two.

11) Disturbed Design

A well-worn traveller of the banking system told me about their experience of multiple banks. Our intrepid adventurer was continually being asked to create high-end sophisticated designs that are cutting edge, which isn’t a problem. But then they were handed devices that would be at home in the 1980s. It’s almost impossible to create art from pebbles. Japanese zen rock gardens come to mind here, you can make something that’s relaxing and alluring to the eye. But it’ll fall apart under the slightest pressure and one error while making it can knock the whole thing off balance.

10) Relationships over Efficiency

One astounded insider brought us this incredible story of cronyism in the banking industry. They had been working with a bank for a short while when the bank was given two options from two different companies. One was cheap, effective, sophisticated and hit all their targets. The other was a turd that couldn’t be polished, no matter how many shoeshiners you went to, and cost 3x as much. The bank went for the triple-cost option, purely because the head of the relevant department had a strategic relationship with the over-priced consultancy. In my personal life when I go shopping I tend to go for cheaper items which fit my needs instead of paying over odds for something that doesn’t do what I need. I wouldn’t buy a compass to measure a door for example. But that’s exactly what happened at this bank. And what’s worse is it happened because of personal relationships rather than delivering the best solution for the bank.

9) Consultants over Common Sense

This one is something many bankers are likely familiar with, one friend of 11:FS was told by their senior management that they agreed with everything our common sense crusader was advocating, but to get the board on side they’d have to get a famous consultancy to pitch the idea. When it transpired that senior management weren’t kidding our friend quit and that bank stupidly lost a much needed voice of reason.

8) Jobs Done

Someone reached out to me privately on strict conditions of anonymity, lucky for them this whole post is anonymous. And no, I won’t reveal my sources for anyone. A client bank asked our anonymous banking consultancy associate to roll out their jobs to be done program. Completely missing the point of the jobs to be done philosophy. If you want to know more about the approach then read up on our amazing series on jobs to be done by Ryan Garner. The associate had to tell the client bank that that’s not how jobs to be done works. You can’t roll out a program when it’s about changing your modalities of thought in approaching customer needs. The point is every job is unique. The client then went on to list in great detail the functions they wanted, before having done any research. It’s the exact opposite of a jobs to be done approach.

7) Ridiculous Requirements

One banker has an interesting design story. Their stakeholder bank had requirements for how many characters were required to display an account balance on the account summary module for the current account. The bank wanted current accounts for high street customers to be ten numbers in length plus two decimal points for pence.
A figure equivalent to the GDP of Costa Rica
It was a physical impossibility for the module. Not to mention it was, according to their Business Analyst “a figure equivalent to the GDP of Costa Rica” the stakeholder bank insisted on the inclusion of all twelve characters as it was a potential use case and they didn't want to have to build it twice. The bank was so concerned with possible wildcards they forgot to focus on their target consumer base.

6) Cognitive Data Dissonance

Next up we have the tale of two data protection lawyers...and a banker. Our banker hero spent hours of their life arguing with lawyers that a mobile phone number, an account number, and a sort code was not an excessive use of data. The lawyers were certain it was possible to use just the sort code. Despite the potential stonewalling happening here, it shows that banks are more concerned with appearing to be effective than actually being effective. Banking 101 teaches everyone why account numbers and sort codes are important in sending and receiving payments. But if banks’ lawyers are so uncertain then what does that say about the financial literacy in the industry itself?

5) Accessibility, what for?

In a massive display of empathy, or rather the lack thereof, one designer informed me that a bank they were working for informed them that accessibility was irrelevant as “those people have no money”. Now of course the designer was shocked to the core, their jaw hit the floor, and they fought for the inclusion of accessibility for all customers.
Those people have no money
This sort of backwards thinking shows a callous disregard for the makeup of customer bases outside of their traditional models. It’s worth noting that 20% of all people are those with a disability of some sort, so disregarding a fifth of the world is patently a bad idea.

4) Mine, Mine, Mine!

Almost everyone has moved to paperless bills, some banks even charge a small fee for the right to a paper version of a statement. But one designer met a Head of UX that insisted paperless status was priority 1 for the app and needs to be considered on the same level as account balance. This is the same designer who was told their designs were ‘too clean’ and for customers to ‘have two apps but for them to think there’s only one app.’ There’s so much confusion about where priorities should be in banks that everyone is either uncertain of what matters or thinks that what they do matters most.

3) Not so Risky Business

Banks are naturally risk averse that’s not a bad thing, but sometimes it’s taken to the extreme for no discernable reason. One banker I spoke to let me know that they lost two hours of their life arguing over the potential for data theft that the only 4 people who had access to an internal database represented. It was the infinitesimally small risk that one of the four people with access to an internal database would view customer data and log the files that concerned the banks so greatly. Rather than delivering common sense solutions to issues and providing a better service. Needless to say, the project concerned never rolled out.

2) Social Distractions

Building from the previous ridiculous thing that banks do, another former banker was told that social media access at work was forbidden as it’s a distraction. This is despite living in a connected world where everyone has a mobile phone and internet access. So it’s a ban that makes no sense whatsoever unless phones are confiscated from staff. The same former banker was forced to argue with the banks group security for 7 months just so the digital team could access the internet properly. With such an overly stringent approach to the digital environment is it any wonder that digital banking is only 1% finished?

1) Shambolic Security

Even after all the heavy focus on staying digitally secure from the many threats of the internet, banks can still show remarkably cavalier attitudes towards physical security of customer data. One intrepid informant let us know that a nameless bank had their customer data stored on a USB drive which was shuttled around London. All because the bank in question had no other way of transporting customer banking data after management failed to agree on a secure way of getting it from the bank to a company they were working with. It’s a security failure that beggars belief in the modern age, especially given recent data breaches. Banks are sometimes so concerned with digital security that they fail to see the real liabilities caused by their own processes. The problem is that banks know that they’re doing these stupid things. That’s part of why they hire consultancies to sort out their problems for them. However, without a radical culture change that looks to address the real issues in the banks then there’s no way that they’ll manage to get across the page. After all, if you keep doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result, your processes may not be quite so sane. Here at 11:FS we bring the real jobs to be done mentality to all our projects, stay aware of what customers need by asking them and bring a flexible culture to the table. Get in touch with us at hello@11fs.com