Simon Read: Is loyalty to your bank all it's cracked up to be?
Saturday 30 July 2011
Yorkshire Building Society announced on Monday that it is taking over the Egg brand, as well as all the savings and mortgage customers of the online bank. It's a good move for the Yorkshire and a good move for the remaining customers of Egg who will become part of a mutual (the credit card users were sold off to Barclaycard earlier this year).
But it raises questions about financial brands. Do they mean anything at all? Are the millions of people who remain loyal year after year to their bank or insurer just being foolish? Sure, many don't switch because it's easier not to, but there are also many people who choose to stick with the same financial firm that they may have been with for years, even decades.
Take Egg. It was originally set up by the Prudential in 1998 and aggressively marketed as the UK's first internet-only bank to techno-savvy savers and borrowers. The brand was specifically launched to ride the then internet revolution. So what sort of people do you think it attracted?
Those who considered themselves, smart, ahead of the curve, maybe? Or were people simply lured in by the online bank's then leading savings rates? It was hugely successful in its time, attracting around three million customers. Any who joined then and have remained at Egg must feel a little bemused about what became of their exciting brand.
Prudential ultimately didn't want it and neither, as it turned out, did Citigroup, which bought it from the insurer in 2007. To be fair to Citi, whatever hopes it may have had for the brand to be used as leverage to build up a significant UK presence were scuppered by the credit crunch, when the mighty American bank itself had to be bailed out by the US government.
Since then Citi has been looking to unload Egg, trying to sell the whole business last year with no success. It sold the credit card part of the business in March to Barclaycard – which unsurprisingly turned down the opportunity to buy the Egg brand, preferring to migrate customers on to its longer-established brand.
So what now for Egg? The Yorkshire already has a multi-brand strategy keeping the names of the building societies it has taken over in the last couple of years – Barnsley and Chelsea – even though the branches are now effectively Yorkshire branches. It plans to do the same with Norwich & Peterborough, assuming it gets member agreement to take over the society next month.
That strategy makes sense when you're dealing with decades of tradition, but the same is clearly not true of Egg. The society says it is yet to decide whether to keep the brand but there are some reasonable arguments for doing so.
But even if Yorkshire does decide to scrap Egg, should we mourn it? Do its customers actually care whether their accounts are run by a building society, a bank or an insurer? That begs the question why so many of them have remained with Egg when it's been a long time since its savings and mortgage accounts were regularly featured in the best-buy tables.
Some stay simply because of inertia. But there must be others who have remained loyal to Egg. But why? The price of their loyalty can easily be calculated. How much extra interest – or how much cheaper a mortgage – could they have got elsewhere? That's a question to ask whether your account is at Egg, or another financial brand. If you work out loyalty is costing you more than a few pounds, it's time to switch.
Entertaining way to give to charities
toy store The Entertainer has become the first high street retailer to sign up for the Pennies scheme, which asks shoppers to round up purchases to the nearest pound at tills and hand over extra pennies to good causes.
The scheme, which is already available online at Domino's Pizza and Travelodge, as well as in Zizzi restaurants, has so far raised £136,000 for 18 UK charities. Most donations are 10p or less.
Cash raised by The Entertainer will mainly be shared between four children's hospitals: Alder Hey Imagine Appeal; Birmingham Children's Hospital; Wallace & Gromit's Grand Appeal, which raises funds for Bristol Children's Hospital; and Great Ormond Street Hospital Children's Charity.
The scheme is a simple and painless way to support charities as donors do not need to give any personal details but simply press a button on the store's chip and pin machine when prompted. The toy store reckons the scheme could raise around £100,000 a year from generous customers.
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