Banks! Humbug

Photo: Liz Lauren

Banks and bankers have long had a poor reputation. Dicken’s stand-in for selfishness personified, Ebenezer Scrooge, was himself a money lender. His updated, post-War version, Old Man Potter, was also a banker—and the meanest man in Bedford Falls. In the 70 years since then, we’ve met other fictional banking luminaries like Gordon Gekko and Patrick Bateman.

To put it simply, financial institutions have to fight against nearly two centuries of negative portrayals. Along with that, this young century hasn’t exactly been filled with positive news about banks.

A common impression of banks is that they are only ever out to make more money. A bookseller, for instance, likely has a passion for books; a banker, on the other hand, cares little about providing a financial service (or so the common train of thought goes). It’s time for banks to alter that perception for once and for all.

But how? Where even to begin? Let’s start by taking a look at one of the world’s biggest banks to see how they’re making efforts to help customers on a daily basis.

A helping hand can offer a lot of assistance. It can, quite literally, pull someone out of a ditch; it can be a stabilizing, steadying force; it can even throw us a dollar or two if we need it. Now, Barclays is offering its customers a hand—and doing all three of those things at once. The “switch off” feature on Barclays debit cards allows customers to switch off certain types of spending on their card. This enables customers to shield themselves from any spending that is or could become problematic, such as gambling sites or bars.

Barclays is helping customers out of a ditch (a way to crawl out of debt); becoming a stabilizing influence (regulate spending habits); and throw them a dollar (by saving that money for other, better uses). It’s looking out for the welfare of its customers at the possible expense of its own bottom line.

It’s a big step. Much in the way that REI forgoes in-store profits on the most profit-heavy day of the year, Barclays is angling for something better. Consider it an investment: leave a little on the table now for much more down the line.

Ultimately, it’s a simple path for financial institutions. Do what Barclays is doing and don’t do whatever Mr. Potter would do. Show that you’re putting the customer first, that you really care, and your year is likely to end in good will and bigger bucks. It’s a maxim worth remembering well beyond the holidays: Don’t be a Scrooge.

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