How to break the bank

One of Europe’s crisis-beating banks is set to rebrand its recent acquisitions in the UK – and its corporate website could do a lot more to help, David Bowen says.

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I wonder if Banco Santander is doing anything about its corporate website. I ask because an awful lot of people in Britain are going to be looking at in the next few months, and they will not be impressed by what they find. Unless, that is, the bank has burst forth with a new online wonder.
Santander rode the recession with great aplomb and as a reward picked up a number of its victims. In the UK it took over two building societies [mortgage lenders] turned banks, Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley, which it is bolting onto Abbey, the bank it already owned.
In January 2010 these are all being brought under the mother brand. Santander’s bright red livery will soon become familiar on the UK’s high streets, as it is in many other countries. The UK site ( will become an equally red gateway for customers and others. But many people will also want to know about the group behind the brands, and will turn to the corporate site. Indeed, if they go to, they are already encouraged to do just that.

Low capital in corporate ranking is a somewhat dismal affair. In the 2009 FT Bowen Craggs Index, it came 46 out of 75 in the overall ranking and 20 out of 25 in Europe. The scores (at tell a tale of something rather below mediocrity. The site is not a disaster area, as the index’s real laggards are, but it is not a place of beauty.
Its concentration is on investors, which in itself gives an old-fashioned feel. Apart from primary links for Investors and Shareholders (I think I know the difference, but I doubt many people would), it has three others (General information, Economic and financial information and Corporate governance) that are firmly labelled ‘Information for shareholders and investors’. And even for investors the service is no better than average: plenty of material, but organisation not as good as it should be.

Tell me your story

So, I am an Abbey/Bradford & Bingley/Alliance and Leicester customer and I want to know about the group I now bank with. I go to the home page and find a large red square, which morphs slowly into a map of the world overlaid with three slogans: ‘Closer to you every day’, ‘More branches than any other bank’, ‘Value from ideas’. Only the second contains any information, so I click the square to find out more; nothing happens.
I click ‘About the group’ in the top bar, and find a comforting introduction, stressing how big, profitable and global the bank is. There is also a page on Business areas and another on History, but unfortunately, that’s it. Three pages in total in the About the group section. The history section is clearly written with a series of bullet points, but misses the richness that can make this the most engaging part of a site. The odd picture, as used by HSBC or BNP Paribas, or even an interactive timeline (Standard Chartered) would help bring the story to life – not just for customers but for children, teachers, anyone.
I have seen Santander painted on the side of racing cars and want to find out about its sponsorships. No sponsorship area on the site, so I try searching for McLaren or Ferrari, the teams it is linked to. One press release on each, and those is in PDF only: PDF press releases, now that really isn’t very modern or helpful.
I want to know whether it’s a socially responsible organisation. There is a CSR report, but it too is a downloadable document. A good long way from best practice.
And so on – nothing very bad, but absolutely nothing very good.

What Santander should be doing

The word ‘brochureware’ used to be used derisively for websites that simply reproduced print material. But an online brochure is just what the bank needs now. It should think of the site as the biggest publication it produces and one that could well be thumbed by millions of people over the next year.
A good starting point is to see what its corporate peers are doing.
It needs a home page that engages and gets its messages across effectively: look at Siemens, Coca-Cola. It needs to tell the story of its group: look at Roche. For sponsorship, try StatoilHydro – I particularly like its Heroes of Tomorrow section, which uses films to show off the musicians, artists and footballers it supports.
It should show off its community-mindedness and social responsibility, as Intel and Johnson & Johnson do. And just in case it gets into trouble, which I’m sure it wouldn’t, it should learn lessons in reputation management from Chevron, which is fighting an environmental law suit in Ecuador, largely online.
These are just a few ideas. What Santander (and indeed any other organisation that knows its profile is about to rocket) should do is to realise that its website is soon to become immeasurably more important. Maybe it has realised that and we will get a lovely surprise in the next couple of months. If not, there are going to be a lot of disappointed and slightly baffled people in the United Kingdom.

First published 18 November, 2009
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