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But is it lies? 'Steve' vs Standard Bank

I seldom pick sides in fights such as #bankwars. Barring an ambivalent flip through the twitterverse to find out who hates who and get a glimmer of insight into why (thanks, @WalterPike, for your detailed take on the whole issue), I wait for the cacophonous twysteria to die down; for my stream to return to 'normal'.
But this time, I have a definite bias. Because I did a bit of field research - myself, in person. And guess what? In the case of FNB, it appears that some utter hogwash is being advertised. Like, how much FNB wants your business.

Disclaimer: This is not another article about Standard Bank's lodging of a 'misleading advertising' complaint over FNB's newspaper ad two weekends ago. Whether or not FNB has lied about its firsts in certain areas is interesting but irrelevant to my story. What's relevant is that FNB seems to be implying that it wants, and can accommodate, new business. I believe it cannot. (You should know that I have to be profoundly unimpressed to leave my Grammar 'n Language Soapbox for a Customer Service Soapbox. Hold your venom please - or at least, hold it 'til the end.)

So, those 'Steve' ads...

For those of you who've been hibernating, they're a series of radio adverts featuring 'Steve', an unnamed bank's supposed call-centre agent, in a parody of the annoying cold callers who chirpily try to sell you stuff you already have or don't need.

The ads irritate a lot of people. But they're memorable. They're funny. They cover a lot of factual ground. And guess what? They work. Of my circle of friends, about 15% has moved to FNB over the last few months - and these are intelligent, measured, practical consumers. Not people who'll switch banks just for a discounted iPad.

As a copywriter, I consider myself to be an advertising skeptic, and it takes a lot to make me consider change of any kind. But the 'Steve' ads began to work on me, too.

Not because I'm unhappy with my bank, which happens to be Standard Bank. But because, while Standard does almost everything I require, it doesn't wow me. And I'd like to be wowed. FNB, from what I could gather via 'Steve', was serious about offering easy banking (associated with forex, investment, apps and the web), serious about attracting new clients and serious about helping them switch in '10 minutes'.

It sounded pretty wow

So I did what the ads suggest: I visited And yes, you can apply online. But I didn't do that, because I wasn't sure which account would be suitable. And I wanted someone (say, the FNB version of 'Steve') to give me that nudge.

I wanted a verbal wow

I sent an email (as directed by the site), containing my request for contact about switching. I received an auto-response within the hour. Fab. I then got onto Twitter, polled my mates/followers, and found a fair bit of encouragement to make the move. One pal said the debit swapping had been easy; another raved about the iPhone app; a third mentioned the relatively light paperwork. By then, I was almost sold.

Except, FNB didn't make contact. Not within two days. Not at all. And this was three weeks ago. I don't know if FNB has phoned you, but it (still) hasn't contacted me.

I gave it four days and on 13 February, I tweeted this:

#FNB, you blow my mind. Tweeted Thurs about moving fm @StandardBankGrp, inspired by #Steve ads. Went to site. Emailed. No follow up? #Fail

Nothing. I was starting to get a complex. FNB wanted everyone else's accounts. When I moaned to my husband, he laughed at my naiveté. "You should know better," he said, "than to believe what you hear in a radio ad. It's just advertising."

Two days later, I tweeted:

@Rbjacobs [FNB Guy] Have emailed, in vain, about switching from Std. Are the #Steve ads just ads? You guys seem utterly uninterested in my business...

And guess what?

Silence. Resounding silence.

As I write this, we're on 17 days since my website message. And I'm feeling guilty. Because a couple of weeks ago, in a piece for a US copywriting newsletter, I wrote:

"...Many copywriters, me included, are also spin doctors who try to come up with the most impressive ways to convey unimpressive things. We are often asked to white-wash the facts; to make the negative positive. And if we do it well, the end-user only sees a lovely piece of copy..."

Who's the baddie? The client? Its service people? Its creatives? Me - for being honest in my heart and a shameless liar when it pays well? And what, if anything, am I going to do about it? That's something that, as a communicator, I must wrestle with.

Enough about me. FNB ignores people. But, to my shock, Standard Bank didn't.

The punch line

I got an unsolicited phone call from the head of Standard Bank Private Banking at Clearwater Mall (not my branch) to "discuss what's making you unhappy".

Someone had read my tweets, gone onto my website, looked up my number and phoned me. (I doubt that it was whoever manages the @StandardBankGrp account, as I find it largely useless and limply placatory.) But, the fact is, I am impressed.

I'm still un-wowed by my bank, but if I have to choose between the devil I know and have used for 20 years, and a competitor that has an extremely clever ad campaign but can't respond to a website message, email or tweet, I'll keep my savings, cheque and home loan accounts where they are, thanks, and watch the twornado instead.

About Tiffany Markman

Tiffany Markman is a highly opinionated copywriter, copy editor and writing trainer who has worked for over 300 clients worldwide. She hates misplaced apostrophes, old-fashioned business writing and the word ‘revert'. She loves generous paragraphing, art, skulls and black coffee. Read more at, email , follow @tiffanymarkman on Twitter and sign up for her newsletter.
Shelley Finch
I was rather amused to receive this tweet : @Rbjacobs @firebird_rising Thank you for your post. #FNB AFTER my tweet earlier this morning :@firebird_risingAn example of how online reputation management worked fr @StandardBankGrp and failed @Rbjacobs (FNB) via @BizcommunityPity he didn't reply to yours in the first place and saved himself/FNB the trouble!
Posted on 27 Feb 2012 13:14
Steve Edwards
Are you sure these "battling' banks" aren't collaborating to keep you all trapped within their paradigm? Paranoia aside, remember what banking is really all about and have a look at Capitec: no frills, no fuss, ridiculously low fees when any apply at all. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. :)
Posted on 27 Feb 2012 18:33
Eleanor Van Niekerk
I agree with Jay101. You can apply the same to airlines. Recently a friend of mine living in Germany flew with Lufthansa on an A380 with his wife and two kids. The 16 month old todler was allowed to use the Baby Basinet (in Aviation Rules, they are not to be over the age of 6 months nor weigh more than 10kg's which ever comes firts). In addition to that his three year old boy was allowed to sleep on the floor. On his return flight however, the Crew were vigilant and did not allow any of the above, rightfully so. Having worked for SAA, Virgin Atlantic, kulula, British Airways and now SAA again, I have heard it all before: "I am never flying this airline again" On every single airline I have heard it from some passenger. I think it boils down to who is the employee that will WOW you, not the brand, the company or their ad campaign. Maybe companies should invest in some more Soft Skills and Customer Skills Training instead of wasting millions on Radio Ads. How about some good old fashion WOM to WOW you?
Posted on 27 Feb 2012 22:51
Tiffany Markman
Hi everyone.Thanks for the comments. What's particularly interesting about this, for me, is that I've had contact from both FNB and Standard Bank since this article went live yesterday.@rbjacobs is now desperate to help me, after ignoring me for three weeks, and some high-up fellow has been calling my cell, to 'help out'.The Standard Bank higher-up hadn't read my article, supposedly, but was following up on whether I'd like to upgrade my account...Interesting - and more than a little bit sad - what a Bizcommunity article can do that being a random and faceless consumer can't.Roll on, #bankwars.Tiffany
Posted on 28 Feb 2012 07:46
Chene Cundill
Both my husband and myself have been with FNB collectively 45 years. When trying to get a bond for our 3rd house, we were told NO. We paid off our 1st bond in 1 year, we paid off our second bond in 2 years.....So after a few persistent calls from myself to FNB, they suggested a 70% bond. Standard Bank gave us 90% with less interest. We are now proud Standard Bank Private Bankers and extremely happy. One call to my banker and things are done ASAP. My question to FNB....(how can we help you) can you help me???? You did not help. You lost a huge account. Send my regards to Steve.
Posted on 28 Feb 2012 09:00
Walter Pike
Tiffany - Its one of the mistakes made by companies - to have special teams dealing with those who can do the most damage on twitter and other spaces - its just band aid and really meaningless.I have written a follow up article for biz - should be up soon.
Posted on 28 Feb 2012 12:12
Tiffany Markman
Hi again.Appreciate the comments. There's now a follow-up piece on this - i.e. what happened next. [[ Have a read]] (it's under Related News above, on the right hand side), and let me know your thoughts. In fact, what I'd really like to know is this: If your bank (or banks in general) could do only one thing better, to make you happier, what would it be?Tiffany
Posted on 12 Mar 2012 12:04
Zak Cronje
Tiffany, I need to thank you for this piece. I have been pondering the daunting task of switching banks, which entails changing bank details at work and all the debit orders. Your piece made me realize that I need to switch, and switch to STD who was my obvious choice anyway.Secondly I have to disagree with you in comparing between being a copywriter, and supplying lies to the public about a lucrative business and its undertakings. You paint over a grey picture with lush colours, but you don’t mislead millions with claims about yourself and how you apparently conduct business between you and your clients.I’m a “Platinum Cheque, Credit, and Petro Card holder”, and have a home loan with FNB. I am also part of an “elite group” that has a “Private Banker” at my beck and call. None of this helped me in trying to stop a debit order from debiting my account for the past 2 years. Quickly did some maths and it already cost me more than R6500. Not only couldn’t the “Private Banker” or myself stop this order, he also promised me that FNB would refund the money. This happened twice, once in his office and once over the phone. When I sent an email to “Customer Service” and CC’d him, he denied in saying this and that no one at FNB would tell me that. This he again told me over the phone. Since then I only communicate with FNB via email since I cannot trust them and want to retain proof of whatever they claim.Another incident was that I fell victim to a fraud scam of R16900 two weeks ago, which “they will resolve and maybe refund me in 8 weeks”. As soon as their “investigation” is over and I am refunded I will start the switching process to Standard Bank.There’s plenty more unhappiness from my side about FNB, but I wont bother you with that. Just to make it clear, most of the words in quotation marks are things I believe is bull, incompetent or worthless.
Posted on 10 Jul 2012 17:36