Its over a year since RBS first talked about launching a digital only bank with the brand name Bó. At the time I visualised a branding meeting in which a cynical Scottish banker asked if that was the entire name, why there was an accent and if it might be confused with either the Ikea rival Bo Concept or BO, common parlance for body odour? For people of a certain age, it also recalls the scatologically obsessed comedy show Bo Selecta which ran on Channel 4 from 2002 to 2004.
Not deterred by any of those concerns, RBS has ploughed on and this week Bó - which they say means stay in Danish but nothing in English – was launched. Pretty soon issues with the name emerged – it means cow in Irish Gaelic, is Italian for “I don’t know” and street slang for a friend of the opposite sex. Also, many publications – including the Daily Mail – simply gave up on using the accent – an issue I have found often happens with my name.
If you can get past the silly name, is it a good idea for RBS to launch a digital only bank? Will it – as they claim – claim customers who otherwise would go to the likes of Monzo or Starling? Or will it merely cannibalise business from RBS and its subsidiary NatWest?
The track record of traditional banks trying to get trendy with online offerings ain’t great. Most died a death and the few that still exist – such as Co-Op’s Smile – are so small as to be hardly noticeable.
The question is, are customers motivated by new technology to change banks? According to a recent survey by Caliber on behalf the European Association of Communications Directors, technology rated as the least important factor in trust ratings for banks. Most other studies put accessibility, reliability and service at the top of reasons to choose a financial institution. There is a small, but significant, group of customers who chose Monzo etc purely because they are not traditional banks. Many others tip their toe in the water by getting – say – a Revolut card for foreign travel.
Bó starts its life with a odd brand name and parent with baggage. It may turn out to offer something radically better than the digital rivals and succeed, but if it’s “me too” it’s hard to see how it will differentiate itself.