Going Dutch for branding

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The Indian financial services sector could take a few lessons of branding and design from Europe



Going Dutch need not be about splitting the bill in a club or a restaurant. At least, in the BFSI (banking, financial services and insurance) sector, the customer usually pays, both for his fault and that of his service provider.

But a group of Dutch designers and branding consultants aim to change that. On a busy weekday evening, a few mid-level Indian finance professionals took off to the Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC) in Mumbai. Their agenda was to pick up branding and design lessons for the BFSI sector. Imparting these lessons were a team of three from an assortment of Dutch agencies such as Fabrique, a multi-disciplinary agency with an online focus, Globrands, a naming and strategy agency and Yellow Dress Retail, a retail design specialist. Their combined experience in the banking arena was from working with European clients on the lines of ABN-Amro, ING, Rabobank, AEGON and SNS REAAL.

Beyond the pause button

The location for such an event could not have been better. The BKC houses the headquarters of large private banks such as ICICI Bank and the Indian head offices for global financial giants like Citibank and Standard Chartered Bank. “Branding and design for the BFSI sector in India has always been business-centric. Whether it is the layout of a bank branch or a website, you cannot communicate your core values if you can’t make your customers feel relaxed and comfortable. Good branding and design can address these fear and trust issues and help build your brand,” says Willem Woudenberg, CEO, Brand Dialogue, the umbrella organisation for the branding and design agencies.

For starters, the BFSI sector, in India and abroad, has its own share of key challenges. Fewer customers are walking into the brick-and-mortar branches. However, they expect personal service even while they transact online. The other part is, most services offered by all players are replicated in no time, leaving little scope for differentiation. Pause.

The online experience

That’s where the men from The Netherlands claim they can make a difference. Matthijs Klinkert, strategist and partner, Fabrique, explains that in the past people looked at “safety of money” and the “rate of interest” offered as the big reasons while choosing a bank. Now, the online banking experience is among the top three reasons for customers to choose a bank, he says. In 2005, Europeans checked their bank balance once a month through the paper slips. Now, they check their balance every day on their smart-phones. “Many people in urban India have graduated to conducting their financial activities online. Just like in Europe, we will see more and more people banking online or on their mobile phones. Which is why it is important that we un-clutter and simplify the online platforms,” explains Klinkert.

He adds that across the world, customers prefer clean interfaces on the home-page of the bank’s website, whereas in India the prevalent practice is to push in as much information as possible. Before it re-launched its online platform, ING in Europe tested different web-interfaces with several sets of customers. Obviously, the most popular one was rolled out.

Click-and-brick

But many people in India still prefer the personal touch of face-to-face branch banking. Hence it’s necessary for the online banking site to complement the physical outlets. Sometimes, small innovations make a difference. One financial services provider, for instance, lets its customer choose their own personal banker. The profiles of all its personal bankers are shown on its website.

Jack van Dijk, layout and design expert from Yellow Dress Retail, explains that in one case, the agency created a branch for a financial services client with three zones for fast, medium and slow service.

“The human touch is what brings customers to a branch. Therefore, the layout, the communication and signage, the furniture, the counters and the behaviour of the employees should come together to make the in-branch experience friendly, simple and smooth. Correct design can not only help retain existing customers, it can even attract the attention of someone casually passing by.”

If the mention of a bank conjured up images of a dull, drab, claustrophobic room where one is engaged in complicated, tedious and confusing activities, there are many who are brightening up the space.

But one tip that came out bright and clear from an evening in Mumbai — a clean online interface works the best across the world. Perhaps it’s time for the BFSI sector to clean up its act. In more ways than one.

Published on November 27, 2014

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