I have been following the soap opera between the ANC and FNB with interest and more than a little cynicism. The reaction in the aftermath too has been very intriguing. It seems that some banks are determined to be involved in matters which make me wonder if they really are banks or wannabe retailers, politicians, social media stars or what? Banks have been under the cosh a lot in recent times, especially since the great smack of 2008. In South Africa we seemingly missed a lot of the pain our international compadres suffered but it nonetheless sparked a flurry of thinking that would make John Freame and Thomas Gould (founders of Barclays Bank) wheelspin in their graves.

Five years ago African Bank bought Ellerines. What the hell? Last year Absa cemented a deal whereby they bought control of the Edcon debtors book. The red bank has been in a joint venture with Woolworths Financial Services since 2008 and Nedbank have a relationship with Pick n Pay since 2002. Capitec have expanded so rapidly that most retailers wish they were a bank. And somewhere in all of this banks go on, well, trying to be bankers.

But back to our soap opera. What I find so amusing is that for the last year and a bit we have been inundated, bombarded and irritated eventually by the very clever Steve, beep bank campaign run by FNB. Was it successful? No doubt. Was it unique and cleverly timed? No doubt. Did it bring kudus and accolades and customers? Oh yes. And did it make them appear arrogant and smug? Yebo! Oh, and did hearing that Steve ad eventually make one want to puke into a lap while driving? Damn right. And then in December the ultimate wank ad on TV showing the chief executive of FNB, Michael Jordaan, waxing lyrical about how great his staff where and what a fabulous job they had all done and blah blah fish paste. And the media also crowned him the king of twitter as CEO’s goes.

Fast forward to mid-January and oh my word does the pooh hit the fan. The ”You can Help” TV campaign causes all hell to break loose. The world’s most innovative bank suddenly finds itself cowering behind dustbins in a downtown Johannesburg alley as the great and mighty government launches its own bullshit tirade against what was seemingly a freedom of speech right every company has to reach out to the citizens of this land. Bliksem, I used to get so excited watching Isidingo back in the old days — when banks were still banks — but now this song and dance is something else.

Suddenly the turquoise bank are having major second thoughts and not only pull the campaign off all media platforms but they then huddle with the great masters and come out rather shamefaced having made a public and embarrassing apology. And this is where I really smile because nowhere do I read that Michael is involved. Oh no. This is a job for the big boss, Sizwe Nxasana. So I wonder, was Michael not invited to the grovel session or had he just pissed the ANC off too much. I did read too that our innovation champion is certainly not going to resign. Who me? I wonder if his indignation is the result of him not really supporting the risqué campaign. In any event there he is in his fox hole with a staaldak on, dodging the bullets.

I applaud FNB for what they have done in the retail banking space over the past 12 months. They claim to have on boarded one million customers as a result of the Steve noise. Good for them. However, I know just like you, dear reader, that we are mostly so frustrated with bad service, endless phone calls, bad manners and overpaying on our bank charges. We would fire them all if there was another way, I’m sure. I bet FNB they don’t tell how many clients they lost in that period and they certainly won’t be telling what the fallout is from our soapie. As Steve would say, the beep bank? I think not. More like the Bo Peep bank. Pass the scotch Steve and by the way, do try to stick to your knitting in future.



Lawrence Twigg

Lawrence Twigg is a former retail and banking executive turned consultant and part-time cynical blogger.

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