Similar to Apple, Banks Need to Develop and Offer ‘Sublime Objects’

By Biff Motley

Apple is now the world’s largest publicly traded company. Interestingly, however, it has achieved this incredible stature with just a handful of products.

As I stood recently in the entry of our Apple store, I could see maybe three or four versions of traditional computers, two iPad models, two iPhones, a handful of Apple and vendor add-ons, and the all-important Genius Bar.

Virtually every other store in our mall offered hundreds, if not thousands, of products. I was reminded of Steve Jobs’ devotion to product design and obsession with creating “sublime objects.”

While this approach to a developing market for personal computers put Apple behind Microsoft for quite a while, Job’s focus on design-driven treasures ultimately pushed Apple to the forefront with an enviable combination of consumer preference/loyalty, profit margin and marketing savvy.

As we bank marketers ponder how to transition our offerings to fit the emerging self-service/professional-adviser hybrid marketplace, here are some possible “Apple-like” product concepts to consider. Now, as we learned from Apple, you don’t need to launch these all at once. Rather, you need to focus on and test the design and usability of each one so that when you launch them with great theatrical fanfare, they are truly “sublime objects.”

Think about just a couple of product concepts in each of the three basic categories of payments, investments and lending.


Self-service with multiple access immediacy is clearly the playing field. Consumers want to look at their iPhone to see how much they have in their account right now. And, if they need to spend more than is there, they want to click a link to access a line of credit to complete their transaction. Simple. No fuss, no muss.

In other words, they want their bank to shift focus from policing a bunch of antiquated transaction processing requirements to facilitating an interconnected relationship. They understand that this may take some effort, and they are willing to spend the time, online or in person, to set it up. But if the end product is as sublime as an iPhone, they will be a client for life.

Small businesses are strapped for time and would like something similar but focused on their productivity and progress toward profitable goals. Envision an offering that would allow businesses to set sales and profit targets, then track them at the end of each day on a “dashboard” on your bank’s website. Add to that a template for their website that you provide enabling these businesses to sell and service their clients 24-seven, collecting their payments, and reflecting the results in a daily income statement/balance sheet.


Your sublime offerings revolve around helping clients prepare for and manage through retirement with all of its conundrums. This is a clear and present challenge for the Baby Boomers and is quickly emerging as an unmet need among their kids. Of course, just as the iPad is more than a computer, the solution to this challenging dilemma is much more than an IRA account and involves a comprehensive holistic plan, budget, feedback mechanism and continuing advice. Think: “How much do I have and how long will it last?”


We might well move toward a client-centric approach where, with our client’s counsel and a comprehensive personal cash flow and credit monitoring system, we establish a reasonable but broadly focused credit-line extension. This amount would be based upon a combination of income, assets, expenses and credit. It might be extended to clients in the form of a dually overseen line-of-credit with the banker and client periodically reviewing the appropriateness of the arrangement based upon real-time Web-based update of our client’s overall income, expenses, credit and current cash flow.

Critical to this approach would be a trusting relationship between the banker and his/her client, plus the aggregated information and any desirable alerts. And while much of this information monitoring could be automated, the personal “advise and consent” dimension provided by the trustworthy banker would be essential.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is to build into the meticulous evolving offering your version of Apple’s Genius Bar. Think of this as your rescaled and redesigned branch network, where clients can make appointments with talented specialists to sort out those infrequent but annoying problems that inevitably occur from time to time with the growing array of online, self-service “apps.” And, of course, don’t overlook the opportunity to use this element of your new delivery system as a place to merchandise a few new add-on features to your “Sublime Banking” offerings.


L. Biff Motley is president of Motley & Associates, New Orleans. Email: [email protected]