As chairman of BrainReserve, a New York-based consulting firm, Faith Popcorn takes the cultural pulse of the nation for Fortune 500 companies. She gained renown for spotting and naming such trends as "cocooning," to describe some insular habits of the modern-day middle class, and "cashing out," which many Yuppies have done from conventional corporate life. In her latest book, "Clicking," Ms. Popcorn uses the computer mouse and remote control as metaphors. Some business practices "click" and others are "off-trend." She devotes 15 pages to explaining why banks are woefully "off-trend," whence Jennifer Kingson Bloom of American Banker launched into this recent interview. You make banks sound frumpy. What are they doing wrong? Basically, we're saying there's not a trend that they're "on." So frumpy is an understatement. Banks need more personal service, more involvement with their customers' financial future. They need to turn into a refuge from the storm, to become a comfortable place where people expect preferential treatment and personal attention. They need to focus on service rather than real estate. It's very hard to see your own future when you have so much invested in real estate. That's what the department store people face, that's what the supermarket people face, and that's what the banking industry is going to face. And the man or woman who sees it wins. It's bigger than banking. What must banks do to "click" with customers, or get back "on-trend"? They need to care about each customer. We call it "one-on-one marketing." We're talking about making house calls. A commercial for Natwest Bank is on the right track when it shows a mother with a newborn child and announces that a service representative will make a house call to open a savings account in the baby's name. And we're talking about having a personal banker - a real person - available all the time through 24-hour telephone-only banks. We're also talking about making banks cozier and more comfortable - the "Barnes & Nobling" of it. Easy chairs, couches, desks instead of tables, espresso machines in the lobby. If lines are long, you could take a number like at a deli, and be able to sit and sip coffee until your number is called. How realistic do you think these ideas are for banks? Are you just being tongue-in-cheek? As tongue-in-cheek as Len Riggio was when he created Barnes & Noble Bookstores. I really think they need to just do something, make it comfortable. I think that a bank, if it wants my business, needs to just be willing and available to manage my financial future, not just be a bank. That's how all the insurance companies and others who are going to take the banking business away from the bankers are approaching it. Can you give another example of a company that's doing things the right way? MetLife. It's one of the most innovative insurance companies around. We at BrainReserve sat down with their CEO and COO and asked, "How many female entrepreneurs do you sell to?" They said they hadn't collected data in a way that would let them identify how many of their customers were women. So we suggested that they create a FemaleThink division, and told them it would represent a $1 billion revenue stream. We showed how the female market was being undervalued and underserved, and was underpurchasing financial services as a result.
So we came up with the concept of "MetMentors." Essentially, these were a female-supportive sales force who would offer women information and advice on insurance and other products. Understanding female-think and creating a relationship with women and helping women grow their business is something banks should learn to do as well. Female businesses are growing enormously. Female-run companies are currently employing more people than the Fortune 500 companies combined globally. You need to help women grow their businesses to get their banking loyalty. And that means showing up there if you have to, because she's got kids, she's got her business, she can't get out. Pull up to her driveway. You know the bank van idea? Mobile bank vans - which would pass by your home, your office, your shop and make change, deliver cash, accept deposits - could be the Good Humor trucks of tomorrow. Are there other industries you would compare to banking, in terms of being out of touch? It was hard to find another industry that was completely "off." In my first book, "The Popcorn Report," we said supermarkets also are making it hard for shoppers to shop based on their diets, or based on time, or based on carrying their children with them. They should have a place for shoppers to dump their children when they come in. They should have home delivery, of either ingredients or already-cooked food. Is one reason you're so down on banks that you had a bad personal experience with one?