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The bank that likes to say “Alright, mate?”

So Barclays has decided to go all vernacular on us. As the BBC reports, its ATMs are to be renamed “holes in the wall” and a sign in the window is to welcome customers with the message “Through this door walk the nicest people in the world”. Give me strength.

Perhaps I’m just a miserable curmudgeon, but I’m afraid there’s something about this faux-chumminess that makes me want to heave. It’s all far too redolent of the gushing drivel found on the side of Innocent smoothie bottles. By all means talk to me in plain English – ditching the jargon that often surrounds financial products can only be a good thing. But don’t pretend to be my friend – it simply isn’t credible. They’ll be getting “down with the kids” next.

The danger is that gimmicks such as these – the bank is also ditching pens on chains to show it trusts its customers – overshadow real work on improving the experience of customers. If Barclays can deliver genuine improvements in service, that will be something worth shouting about. As someone who’s fed up of negotiating labyrinthine bank call centres, a renewed focus on a more branch-based service would certainly be welcome.

An age-old problem

Talk of the customer of the future brings another key question to the fore: when are businesses going to get serious about marketing to older consumers? It can’t be soon enough, according to Dick Stroud, author of The 50-Plus Market. In an interview for the forthcoming issue of MBA Business magazine, Stroud told me that many companies focus their marketing strategies and advertising efforts on 15-34 year olds without really considering why.

Perhaps seduced by the glamour of youth, this often means they pay little heed to the needs of the over 50s. But it could be a dangerous game to play. For the moment, at least, older people tend to enjoy a higher disposable income than the young, while changing demographics mean that there will be 3m more 50-70 year-olds by 2020. Companies need to analyse how this could affect them, even if their products are predominantly aimed at a youth market. As Stroud says: “It’s a strategic question that isn’t getting asked”.

And, of course, it’s not just marketing that needs to be assessed. A combination of the ageing population, skills shortages and next year’s introduction of age discrimination legislation means that companies also need to evaluate how best they can harness the skills and experience of the over 50s in their workforce. Challenging times are ahead.


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