The royal flush— how I started my banking card collection in London
A rough start
When I arrived in London, two months ago, I had many expectations…for trying out new things, going to new places, meeting new people. I must confess that having the experience of opening a bank account was not on the top list of exciting things I was looking forward to do.
Quite the contrary, it was classified as what I call a “bureaucracy”, something that fits into the basket of necessary but uninspiring errands such as doing the laundry, cleaning or — stressing on the uninspiring end — going to the local post office to collect mail.
In fact I postponed it as much as I could, bearing the extra charge on every transaction for using my foreign card. Until one day I had to do it. I remembered a dormant account I had in London, opened a couple of years before, when I stayed a bit longer in the city, and with a grin, thought that reactivating an account would not make this errand less inspiring but should at least make it faster.
I remembered that when I opened the account I had to provide several documents, and thought that for a mere reopening the documents would be much less.
It didn’t take much longer to be proven wrongly. In fact, as soon as I entered the bank’s agency, I was targeted by an assistant that enquired why I was there. When I told her that it was to reactivate my account, she promptly listed all the documents that I needed to have at that moment with me — that turned out to be not different from if I was opening a new account.
Needless to say, I turned around and walked away. The entire experience resembling more the treatment a suspecting criminal must get from a border officer than a returning client — that you, as branch manager not as border officer — should welcome and cherish.
One of the documents was a letter from my employer, that should be printed! yes, printed on paper. (and if you didn’t have a printer you could go to a print shop — err…where…do such places still exist?), and should conform to a specific template.
Around that time I must have decided that I was no longer going to reactivate / open my account in the previous bank. If it was like opening a new account then I was going to do it at a new bank, even if the process turned out to be similarly onerous. I felt like I hadn’t been treated like a client, and so…well… I wouldn’t indeed be one.
Some days have passed…in the meantime, I went to do some of the exciting things that a city like London offers…you know live a bit :)
…and by now the HR from my company had printed a letter (that conformed to the template required) that I had to take to the bank to open a new account.
I arrived to the agency, rushed for that being my lunch hour in one of the days of the onboarding week, and with passport in one hand and letter in the other triumphantly said that I wanted to open an account.
The in-branch experience
The lady smiled and went to ask a colleague, that promptly asked me again If I was there to open a new account. I said “Yes!”. He looked at the letter and said..there is something missing…I said what…he said the email and telephone number under the signature of the HR employee that had signed the letter. I must have felt a drop of cold sweat going down my spine.
Please, I pleaded, as I saw my lunch hour elapsing, “can we just start the process and then I find a way to ask HR to print a letter with the email and telephone number and sign it again?” phew (I must have said this just like it is written without any pause)
He said, “why don’t you come again tomorrow, we open at 8am, with the letter corrected and we start the process then?”
I take around half an hour of commuting time, that would mean leaving home latest by 7h30…and waking up at 6h30…just because a letter didn’t have an email and contact number. No. Besides and above all, tomorrow would be my birthday. No way, Jose.
He then conceded and called the branch manager…we went upstairs to her desk and the first thing I was asked to do was to fill up a form online on the website…just as I could have done from home. After filling that… as I was preparing to rescue 10 minutes from my lunch hour…the branch manager said, now there are some things you must sign…
I am not sure how it happened, but the printer started churning out paper, and the moment I noticed it, there was a stack of paper in front of me. That I needed to sign..asap…as my lunch hour was ending for good.
The pages flapped by as I signed each and every one of them with diligence, trusting the tiny letters to not say nothing particularly different than they did to the dozens of people that had been in the branch that morning. If these tiny letters were ok for them, they would be ok for me too. I had finally arrived at the end of the stack and of my lunch hour. As for the card, I would have to wait 5–7 working days, and for the pin the same amount of time. I left and ran to the first session in the afternoon…
The royal flush
By that time I had already started flirting with a fully digital experience. Some of my friends hearing about the cold sweat experience promptly recommended that I would open an account on Revolut — they had used in the past for extended trips and according to them worked just fine.
Although I paid the 20 pound fee for the card to arrive sooner…and it had a delay, of one day more then expected If I recall well — and making me able only to collect it in the next working day…bummer…so much for expedited delivery — it was a beginning.
I also shared my experiences with my colleagues…wanted to hear from them if they had felt the same…dislike for paper…One of them, as if was rehearsing to take part in one ad, promptly said, you should change to Monzo. No paper required — no specially formatted letters, no stack of paper to sign — that seemed bliss.
“I will send you the link and you will get a bonus from signing up from that link — and me too.”
Curious as I am, that day in the evening, from the table of restaurant nearby I I did the sign up for the account. Needless to say there was no paper involved Bam!!!…at the end of a few minutes I had my account created. No trips to the bank, no involvement of other people, just me and my phone. That was refreshing!!!
The exposure on my daily commute to ads about Starling, some people mentioning that was the card that didn’t have the numbers on the front and seeing someone paying with the bright green card at Boots sparked my curiosity. I also wanted to see what was the experience of signing up and using a Starling account.
After Monzo and Starling came Monese, Curve, and Google Pay — the latest a lifesaver when I forgot my wallet at home one day (while previously onboarding most of my cards there…phew!).
With each one came a different user experience and a different aspect to highlight, but all had demonstrated a sheer effort to put the customer and her tendency for cold sweats at the center of the experience.
Every time I enrol for a new card I now feel like I am entering different worlds of possibilities whereas before I could only see one. Being able to round purchases to make savings, receiving notifications saying how much I have spent during the day and the possibility of splitting my expenses are contributing to becoming a more aware — if not more conscious — manager of my finances. A somewhat unassuming and not colourful role I had taken for granted for most of my live.
There are many strong contenders to win this game…who in the end will make it to the royal flush?