She’d warned me again and again about my extreme reliance on cashless banking. Did I listen? No. Then one day, we went to the cinema to see John Wick 3.
I got to the till. whipped out my Zenith Bank card, gave it to the box office lady. She shook her head. “Cash only. Sorry, POS not working.”
No problem, I said, I’ll just use the ATM downstairs. I turned to my sweetheart: Wait for me here, Love.
I dashed downstairs. ATM 1: no cash. ATM 2: offline. ATM 3: no cash. What the heck? Paced back and forth. Went back to the cinema.
Let me transfer the cash to you, I said to the box office madam.
“Oh no,” the lady replied. “We don’t accept transfers. Next?!”
My babe and I stepped aside. My lady wasn’t carrying cash either. This was supposed to be my treat. I bit my lip. We watched as one, two, twelve people bought tickets and strolled into the theatre. Can you try my card, please just in case? The box office tried my card. Transaction declined.
But there’s cash in the account!
The lady shrugged. Must be a network problem.
I’m so sorry, Love.
She laughed. Don’t I always tell you to not rely on this your cashless?
Sometimes, and these could be the most crucial moments in your romantic life, digital banking would jilt you. But does that mean it’s not a great idea? No. What’s happening right now is merely teething problems. Banking is growing up and it will take a number of false steps before it finds its footing.
When it steadies, though, it will, expectedly, have its fingers all over our life. Your bank in your pocket. Fuel… check. Power… check. Groceries… check. School fees… check. Business… check. Investing… check. Travel and leisure… check, check. From one simple app, you will manage your total existence. This is the meaning of lifestyle banking and the concept itself is revolutionary.
Until recently, your bank simply cashed your cheques, did your transfers, gave you loans (if you’re lucky), and kept your money for you. Then, we started to pay utility bills and all of a sudden you could open a new account on your phone. Thank you, technology; now, nothing is impossible.
Which is why these days, banks are all about Lifestyle Banking. We want to be a lifestyle bank, they chant. Give us an idea to promote our lifestyle vision, they order their consultants and agencies. What they’re looking for isn’t another tab on the website for customers to pay another bill or buy tickets to another comedy concert. What they want is something big to differentiate themselves from the next bank with access to white label technology.
But GTBank seems to have some wizards working for them. Since they launched Ndani several years ago, they’ve not stopped building new ways to bring people to their website or app or doorstep. There’s the GTBank Hub, which is a marketplace for account holders to do business– UBA recently launched its own version, by the way, and it has signed star boy Wizkid as spokesman (or should I say spokesboy?).
Maybe you’ve also noticed that Zenith Bank has chosen to dig deeper into retail banking (and I must say their new mobile banking app is now sexier than GTBank’s) but ultimately, what they’re all gunning for is the control of your life.
However, what they might not have noticed is that the models for what they’re trying to build already exist. Look at Apple and Amazon. Both monumental tech companies. Both definitely not banks. But both lifestyle companies.
Apple now has its own credit card which on paper looks like the best of its kind in the world. Apps and phones are the big moneymakers of yesterday; your lifestyle is Cupertino’s hope for tomorrow.
As for Amazon, it’s already the everything store. What can’t you buy on that site? Food? Books? Movies? Clothes and shoes? Guns? What? Naturally, Amazon will only need to add hotel and airline booking and real estate, plus a credit card and it’s all done.
This is what the banks hope to become. In future, banks will likely name themselves to exclude ghe word ‘Bank’ so they dont pigeonhole themselves. That way they can offer full lifestyle services, powered by your deposits and loans.
Back to GTBank. They also have the Food and Drink Festival for which GTBank goes all out. They build a whole town for it in Lagos. When you get there, you think you’re on some main street in a high-functioning city. And then there’s Habari by GTBank. This one, opened to the public in November 2018, brings all of shopping, music, ebooks, newspapers and magazines, and videos together in one place. But you can also connect to banking services from there. Of course.
Everyone is only trying to catch up to GTBank but before these competitors can even catch their breath, GTBank has gone on to change lanes and add more hurdles to the course. In hear GTBank has elected to describe itself nowadays not as a bank but as a tech company that offers financial services.
Whoever wants to effectively challenge GTBank, therefore, will have to not think incrementally. They must visualise a way to grab GTBank’s playbook, borrow a few leaves, shred the rest, and replace the entire thing with a new one. It won’t be easy. Definitely.
But this is how creative disruption works. It’s also how the most imaginative businesses challenge entrenched leaders. It doesn’t mean GTBank will drop dead or Habari will just up and disappear but changing the game is how the challenger will earn a fighting chance while standing out with its own clear identity, not as a copycat but as a genuine disruptor. Think Kulula vs South African Airlines. Think Virgin vs everyone else.
For instance, the way banks currently work is to create a product and then look for a high number of customers to adopt that product. But, what if banking becomes bespoke for each customer? Yes, I know, you’re thinking of Sterling Bank’s One Customer Bank slogan right now, but what I’m talking about will be more than an ad campaign.
Driven by extreme personalisation of options, similar to how social media operates, your bank will absolutely become YOUR BANK. The loans you’re offered, the travel choices, the movies, the books, the clothes, the groceries, the medicines will depend on the boxes you tick as you install the bank app as well as your historical behaviour.
I’m under no illusions that GTBank will become FDH… Fat, Dumb, and Happy as Ira Kalb describes successful organisations which rest on old glory rather than push forward. Neither will it be as myopic as Kodak, which, after inventing the digital camera, chose to hide it to protect its ageing film business.
Eventually, though, even if nothing substantial happens to dislodge GTBank and everyone just continues to run behind it, the time will come when no bank will be different from the other. Technology and marketing will make this possible. And this is when, again, consumers will demand more.
For instance, can I just have everything I need in one place? I don’t know what you want to call it. E-Corp? Cool, whatever you call it, all I want for it is to do everything.
Banking… check. Food and leisure and travel… check, check, check. Utility bills… check again. Fashion… check. Matchmaking… check. And this new thing cannot… must never… fail. Failure will be fatal because, at that level, the system powers my entire life.
That day will come and then I won’t have to fear if my card will disappoint me. Heck, I may not even need a card at all.
Okay, for those outside the cult, the cover of this post features Uzo Aduba as Suzanne ‘Crazy Eyes’ Warren in the hit Netflix series Orange Is the New Black. Get it?