A few of weeks ago I came across an article quoting António Horta-Osório, the chief executive of Lloyds Banking Group, as saying that the concept of portable bank accounts would not increase the number of customers who choose to switch their banking to another provider.

The concept of portable bank accounts (where you take your account number with you when you change banks – much like when you take your mobile/cell phone number with you when you change telecom provider) has been discussed by the regulator in the UK for some time – years in fact. The logic being that they want to make it easier for customers to switch their banking from one financial institution to another, and a perceived barrier is that the customer would have to change their bank details if they did so. Having a portable account means you don’t have to tell anyone about the change eg your employer, utility companies etc.

“Nothing wrong with that” I hear you cry.

You might even say “sounds like a good idea”.

Well, for me at least, I’m not convinced this is such a great innovation. Don’t get me wrong I’m all for things that make life easier for customers,  but there’s a fundamental issue at the centre of this.

The thing about being a customer is that I want to be known as a customer, as a person, as me – not a number.

Having a ‘permanent’ bank account number does nothing but reinforce what Patrick McGoohan’s character, Number 6, in the TV series The Prisoner put so eloquently:

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And that’s just it.

Customers are not a number in a database or income on a balance sheet, and should not be treated that way. To quote from Doug Smith “if you respect the customer as a human being and truly honour their right to be treated fairly and honestly everything else is much easier“.

You have to show them that right now, in the here and now, they are the single most important person to you. It is you who revolve around the customer’s world, not them revolving around yours.

Let’s not kid ourselves either, this is not limited to banking. Treating customers as ‘income’ not as individuals is prevalent across all industries – how you overcome this is the challenge.