copyright 2017


interesting to see how this extract from a 2008 netnography/discourse analysis i wrote on irish banking has aged...

the liminal bank

The idea of liminality provides an analytic perspective through which it is possible to make sense of a bank that offers both security and sophistication, permanence and progression, the traditional strengths of a bank in a new environment.

One of the recurring themes in this netnography is the characterisation of established Irish banks as ‘traditional’ or ‘institutional’, an image sometimes negatively compared with new entrants, who are seen as more ‘progressive’ and, by virtue of that, more flexible. It was also argued that the rise of consumerist discourse and more aggressive consumerism was often considered to be served better by the ‘new’ rather than ‘old’ banks.

However, recent economic events, particularly in the banking sector, have caused many to view the ‘traditional’ values of established banks, such as security and permanence, as strengths in the current market. Of course, none of the established banks would wish to subscribe to this essentially false dichotomy. And nor should they. Nonetheless, in the current climate, it is clearly a competitive advantage against smaller, lighter competitors.

Another recurring theme throughout this report of is the importance to customers of good branch service and this is another area where established banks have a competitive edge against the smaller banks. The downside of branches for the larger banks is that as they seek to rationalise their activities in order to provide services more efficiently to their customers and better value to their shareholders, the labour costs and large property portfolios required to provide comprehensive branch services must be sensibly evaluated against the benefits they bring.

Thus, the availability of branch services is seen as an advantage for customers but an expensive luxury for the banks themselves. And as more and more customers seek to access online banking services, their value is understandably questioned. From the established bank’s point of view, the physical provision of services by tellers is also at odds with the flexible sophistication that many customers appear to want.

It would appear that the ideal bank would be capable of providing security and confidence to customers in uncertain times, a branch service and a physical location when required and a brand reflecting 21st Century sophistication. This ideal bank is the liminal bank: an ambiguous identity that is neither wholly traditional nor modish, but encapsulates the strengths of both.

In practical terms, features of a liminal bank could include online banking within branches. Just as self-check in has been introduced to airports, banks could introduce self-service terminals which allow customers to log-on to their online accounts and perform all of the functions available to online customers. With relatively low levels of broadband penetration in Ireland, this would increase the accessibility of online banking to more customers as well as providing secure access to those who would normally use online banking in internet cafés or other public locations.