Do they mean me? No, seriously, do they?

I found a Lloyds TSB SME business banking ad in The Observer today.  It wasn’t hard to find, being a great big double-page spread.  I perused it for a minute or two:  using a case history of how the bank had helped two women make a success of a fashion retail business, it told us how valuable the bank’s advice can be to any small and success-hungry firm.

I’d come to the conclusion that this was all quite boring and implausible, and was about to move on, when a thought suddenly occurred to me:  I’ve been running SMEs for very nearly 25 years, so presumably I must be in the target market for this advertising.

This thought was interesting to me – a lot more interesting than the ad – for two reasons.  First, I had been within a couple of seconds of turning the page without even realising that the bank was indeed talking to me.  And second, it went on to occur to me that in nearly 25 years, I’ve never heard anything in my business life ever, either from my existing bank offering me advice or anything else, or from any other bank trying to promote its services and win my business.

OK, there are some good reasons for that.  My first agency, DMB&B Financial, was a subsidiary of the large global DMB&B agency, and as I recall we shared their banking arrangements.  And in both DMB&B Financial and my second agency, CCHM, we did quite quickly have our own Finance Director and in due course finance department:  presumably it was them who talked to our bank or indeed any other bank, not me.

But this is at best only a partial explanation.  For well over half that long period, I was chairman of the agencies, and whatever was going on for better or for worse with the FD and his team you’d think that at least one bank would like the idea of opening a second front with other members of the management team.  And anyway, since July 2010 I haven’t been part of an agency:  I have been my one-man consulting firm, Lucian Camp Consulting, and over that time I’ve heard nothing from any bank either.

All of this makes me wonder:  is there something odd about me and my various businesses that makes banks not want to talk to me?  Or, alternatively, is the situation described in the Lloyds TSB ad (and, when I come to think of it, a load of other SME banking service advertising) extremely unusual, and entirely unrepresentative of a world in which the large majority of banks have nothing at all to do with their SME customers?

If the latter, then that great big DPS in The Observer looks like a bit of a waste of money.  But if the former, well, in the unlikely event that anyone from any bank’s SME department is reading this, I’d love to know what’s wrong with me.

Is it always new entrants who transform markets?

Just at the moment, large parts of the financial services industry are struggling to reinvent themselves.  Life and pensions companies are struggling hardest;  next probably come banks and building societies;  next retail fund managers;  next financial advisers.

They’re all struggling as vigorously and enthusiastically as they can.  All realise that in different ways,  they’re all probably doomed if they don’t change.  (Well, I don’t think banks are doomed, but some kind of change is probably still necessary.)

Some large and long-established organisations are making a fairly good job of it, considering the circumstances.  Up there in Scotland, for example, Standard Life – a company that you might think would be pretty much a byword for stuck-in-ruttishness – seems to be making a pretty good job of deciding that it is now something quite different from what it was.  Down south, you could perhaps say the same of Skandia, although its speed of movement has been slower than Standard Life’s so far.

But are any of these established institutions likely to succeed?  Isn’t it in fact always the case that transformation of an industry or market sector requires the arrival of legacy-free, baggage-free new entrants?  Would the European airline industry have changed as it has without the new low-cost carriers, Ryanair and Easyjet?  Would the UK’s fourth-rate fast food industry have changed as it has without McDonald’s and Burger King?  Would what’s happened in telecoms been possible in the days of the BT monopoly?  Would…. well, you see what I mean.

There are actually two questions here:  a) has any market sector ever been totally transformed without the influence of new entrants, and b) are there structural reasons why new entrants are unable to make significant headway in financial services?

My answers are:  a) I can’t think of any, and b) probably only in banking.  Watch out, the rest of you.  Randy Newman sings a song about dinosaur pop stars called “I’m Dead, but I Don’t Know It.”  It’s well worth a listen.


God, it’s been so long, I thought I’d forgotten my password

Fortunately it was lurking in a corner of what’s left of my memory, so here I am.

As I think I might have mentioned, I have spent a lot of the summer down at my place in France.  And if I did mention that, I’ll definitely have mentioned that, honest, I was spending a lot of my time down there working.  It was indeed what we now apparently call a workation.  But not a blogation.  When I finished doing the stuff I had to do, I didn’t think to myself, “That’s great, just time for a blog before lunch.”  I thought, “Just time to head out to the pool for a bit.”

Anyway, you need things to say, and ideally things that readers might find marginally interesting.  And thoughts like “What a gorgeous day” or “I think I’ll have one of those very cold Kronenbourgs now” don’t really qualify.

Now that I’ve been back for nearly a fortnight, my mind is rapidly silting up with stuff about financial services, and branding, and marketing, and sometimes all three together.  That means this blog is back in business.

But I do rather think that as far as my own general wellbeing is concerned, I’m probably doing rather better when it isn’t.