In the first part of this series, exploring the key findings of our mid-to-large corporate customer research, we shared how customers’ needs are rapidly changing and a shift which has been accelerated by Covid-19. In this post, we will further unpack why some UK Corporate Banks are not meeting their corporate customers’ evolving expectations and needs.

To understand the complexities of these expectations, we conducted deep qualitative interviews with around 40 employees spanning retail, technology, manufacturing and hospitality industries in the UK, across distinct roles such as, Finance Directors, Heads of Treasury and Heads of Procurement, split between mid- (between £25 – 500M turnover) and large sized (over £500M turnover) corporates.

The research confirmed our original hypotheses that client expectations of their banking provider are highly influenced by the structure of the clients’ organisation, the complexity of that business, and the key roles played by individuals that interact with the bank:

  • How companies are structured has a significant impact on operations and banking needs: A clients’ business ownership structure, such as their international nature or approach to growth, can impact decision making processes and the banking relationship. For example, in international businesses, strategic decisions tend to come from the ‘parent’ country, but the level of centralisation will determine the room for a banking relationship elsewhere. Other considerations like M&A strategy can also impact client’s needs as corporates that have expanded through acquisition frequently have disjointed banking arrangements with varying drives to consolidate.

  • The complexity and size of the organisation impacted their banking expectations: Processes in large businesses tend to be point-to-point with specialised departments which provide one area in a solution which can reduce speed / agility and there can be a tendency for ‘turf mentality,’ protectionism and the negotiation of hurdles / politics. This is often translated into fragmented, siloed relationships between the bank and different areas of the businesses which in turn, make it difficult for the bank to grasp the client’s complexity and their full breath of needs. For example, Financial Directors (FDs) of larger businesses were more detached and less involved with managing their bank relationship as this responsibility was typically delegated to one of their numerous teams. On the other hand, FDs of mid-sized companies had broader responsibilities across, for example, finance, procurement, and IT, which meant they relied more heavily on experts and advice to supplement their financial expertise.

  • Client needs differed by their role: depending on their role within the company, each customer’s needs differed, for example, as Treasurers deal with strategic cash management, they need banking financial experts who are experienced with derivatives and hedging strategies. In contrast, Procurement Managers are more focused on managing value through their supply chain and heavily rely on their bank to provide the right trade finance solutions to reduce risk and optimise value from their suppliers.

Recognising that these are a few of many key factors that influence customer needs and their banking expectations, we identified that across the mid-to-large corporate customer space, there were still a number of key pain-points that clients highlighted with their banking providers:

  • My relationship with the bank doesn’t seem to change although my business has grown: a common theme that appeared across our interviews was that Banks see corporates as all the same rather than unique. Similarly, a lot of FDs see all the big named banks as ‘much of a muchness’ where there is little to distinguish between them. They have likened the banks as offering a very ‘civil service’ type approach, providing what is only necessary. Businesses often don’t feel understood, and this is exacerbated by the banks inflexibility in problem solving. There appeared to be a broad generalisation of banking products and services, and a perceived limited appetite from the banks to develop more tailored solutions. This experience in banking is starkly contrasted by the hyper-personalisation experienced by corporates in other industries, such as within the supply chain.

For example, in 2018, Maersk Line, the world’s largest shipping lines in the world, announced their strategy to evolve into a customer-centric organisation. To deliver this vision, Maersk recently undertook a review of their global coverage model, creating a series of client archetypes shifting their coverage model from a focus on client segments (Automotive, Pharmaceutical, Electronics etc.) to client archetypes (Accuracy Champions, Efficiency Maximisers and Supply Chain Outsourcers) allowing them to organise resources and service models to meeting client challenges. Through this new model, Maersk was able to differentiate the needs of BMW, who had advanced supply chain operations but really needed Maersk's shipping capabilities, from Fiat Chrysler, who had limited supply chain capabilities and needed Maersk to provide tailored advice on outsourcing. This shift from segmenting customers by industry to a more personalised, tailored experience has enabled Maersk to rapidly respond to each client’s unique needs. 

In contrast, corporate customers felt that the banking industry provided a very generalised approach regardless of the clients’ strategy and growth aspirations.

  • Bank Relationship Managers (RMs) seem less interested in setting the foundations for our relationship: While we initially found trust, familiarity, and empathy to be critical components to corporate customer satisfaction, corporate customers currently felt that their banks were very reactive – they only seemed to engage customers when there was a problem. Businesses feel like they have to do a lot of the legwork to push the banks in the direction they want. There is a lack of communication around strategic discussions with businesses. It would serve both the banks and businesses if they understood the nuances within specific industries to provide more contextual information to businesses. In addition, there was a sense that the bank had no time for them – especially in the mid-market space – where banks didn’t seem to appreciate the complexity of their businesses and wouldn’t offer a more tailored approach. Customers felt RMs, as an extension of the bank, were not as invested in their relationships as they expected which contributes to a fragmented, primarily transactional interactions.

  • Because of this lack of trust, corporate customers consequently chased the bank to resolve their needs and remained primarily dependent on their RM to complete tasks regardless of their value. Consequently, in a moment of crisis such as Covid-19, RMs were inundated with communications and requests as customers contacted their RMs for reassurance and confirmations regardless of the value of the transaction. In contrast, corporate customers with strong RM relationships felt support was available and ready to help on complicated matters and as such, were more comfortable self-serving where possible and were more empathetic towards their banking partner.

  • And finally, there was a feeling that customers were being offered the bare bones and poor value. Businesses expect that the frequency of usage for specific products/services should correlate to the fees that have to be paid to obtain true value. They expect tailored solutions and fees based on the Bank’s deep understanding of their industry and business, such as providing solutions in line with their digital maturity.

To address these pain-points, mid-to-large corporate banks need to reconsider their approach and offering to their clients. 

In our third and final instalment of this series, we will look to unpack a number of opportunities Corporate Banks must address the concerns raised from mid-large corporates, including some of the key topics for consideration when enhancing their offering in this space.