Santander 123 Accounts: A New Communications Strategy

Santander 123 Accounts: A New Communications Strategy - student project

Santander 123 Accounts: A New Communications Strategy - image 1 - student project

Santander UK Experience Brief


Background: Santander UK is a largely independent subsidiary of Spanish global banking giant Banco Santander.  Santander UK was formed in 2010 with the mergers of domestic UK banks Abbey National, Bradford & Bingley, and Alliance Leicester.  These mergers were representative of a larger worldwide mergers and acquisitions strategy by Banco Santander that included the 2008 acquisition of Sovereign Bank in the United States.  Santander UK manages its affairs autonomously in the UK, from both a funding and liquidity perspective.  No reliance can be placed on the parent Banco Santander.  Because the new Santander UK is really a collection of three separate banks, each came to the newly merged institution with their own sets of both assets and problems.  Santander UK is perhaps best known for their notoriously bad customer service.  The social space is littered with comments from disgruntled Santander UK customers.  In order to address these glaring deficiencies, Santander UK is attempting a three-pronged corporate strategy of:


  • Changing the focus of the retail bank from products to customers
  • Growing SME (Small & Medium Enterprise) Business
  • A £480 Million investment over the next three years in IT and customer service improvements.


Sovereign UK is the third largest bank in the UK in terms of total deposits, second in mortgage holdings, and fourth in branches with 1300. 


Marketing Objectives: Santander’s current marketing campaign centers on a service called the Santander 123 Account.  The Santander 123 Account is a cash back rewards account that gives holders 1, 2, or 3% cash back on various services.  This gives banking customers incentive to handle all their financial transactions with Santander in order to reap the maximum rewards.  These rewards are applied to consumer bills, like 1% cash back on water bills, 2% cash back on energy bills, and 3% cash back on cell phone bills.  (All when paid directly from your Santander account, of course) and also to larger transactions such as 1% cash back on mortgage payments (Up to a maximum monthly mortgage payment of £1000) and 3% interest on balances between £3000 and £20,000.  There are lower cash back returns of 1% for balances above the 1000 limit and 2% above 2000. 

Customers are further incentivized to open up a 123 Credit Card with Santander in order to access additional savings that cannot be accessed with the Current Account, 1% on supermarket purchases, 2% at department stores, and 3% at gas stations. 


The 123 Account offer is presented in tv and internet video ads by Santander UK’s three celebrity spokespersons, Golfer Rory McIlroy, Olympic heptathlon gold medalist Jessica Ennis, and Formula 1 driver Jenson Button. 


Target Audience: The target audience is a working, relatively young, tech savvy, upwardly mobile professional.  Someone who doesn’t have the time or interest to manually execute recurring banking transactions.  This persons primary concern is streamlining their life.  Their primary drivers are simplicity and convenience. 


There are substantial penalties for overdrafts and failing to maintain the minimum 1000 daily balance at any point in a month in the account will terminate eligibility for the program for that month.  There is also a minimum of 500 per month in required direct deposits to remain eligible for the account. 


This consumer is likely to be aware of Santander’s perceived shortcomings in customer service, but also someone who doesn’t require a lot of customer service interaction themselves.  They may be more likely to lay the blame for those overdraft fees and common sources of complaint at the feet of the customers themselves, not the financial institution, and accept a high level of personal accountability for their own financial situation.  That said, even though they are likely financially stable, they may not be quite as financially savvy.  They are less probably likely than those with similar assets to hold a sizeable investment portfolio, and are decidedly risk-averse in their orientation.  They see the 123 Account as a way to get a maximum return for their money with little to no risk. 


Social Media Experience History: Santander UK’s social media efforts are largely concentrated on Facebook and Twitter.  They are completely independent of the larger social media campaigns of Banco Santander.  Facebook efforts currently feature the Ennis, McIlroy, Button trio.  There is currently a contest running to enter to win £5000 and a chance to meet Jessica Ennis.  Prior contesting efforts reinforced the 123 Account branding by offering prizes of £123 and £1230, respectively.  Santander UK maintains separate twitter accounts for general purposes and customer service at @SantanderUK and @SantanderUKHelp.  Its worth noting that on Santander UK’s YouTube channel, (UKSantander) they brand with the Banco Santander international campaign “A Bank for your ideas” where this branding is not included on any of the Facebook or twitter presences.  The first page of original content is all simply advertisements.  Even the “Demos & Guides” and “Our Customers” sections all feature celebrity endorsement content, as opposed to any genuine effort at customer relationship building.  Previous original YouTube content is housed on the site, including F1 Videos highlighting Button and using the line “Driven to do better.”  This line serves to recognize the public perception of Santander’s customer service shortcomings and promises that they will make improvements going forward.  This video is from 2012, and the line does not appear in any 2013 communications. 


One major cause for concern on the Facebook page is the policy of deleting some negative comments.  Customers consistently mention that the bank is actively curating the page, and it is unclear exactly what are grounds for deletion, but the scope does seem to be wider than just inflammatory or inappropriate comments. 


Zones of Social Media Marketing:


Social Community: Customer Service via dedicated twitter account and actively manned Facebook presence.

Social Publishing: YouTube videos with current TV advertising highlighting the 123 Account and historical long-form internet video content featuring past initiatives such as the London F1 race and trick shots with Rory McIlroy.  There is one customer service testimonial, but no community or real customer issue-focused content. 

Social Commerce: Mobile Banking App

Social Entertainment: Branded YouTube content featuring celebrity endorsers. 


Experience Description: Interaction with Santander UK content is limited.  They are offering a minimum presence in social media and not offering means for deeper interaction and connection building with their customers.  Although there is an assumption that the typical British consumer is more transaction oriented than their American counterparts, the lack of true digital engagement efforts is startling, and beyond the scope of what can be explained by cultural norms.  This is a completely different positioning from the bank in the United States, where the bank is actively involved in community oriented programs.  The current marketing of Santander UK begins and ends with 123 Account and the celebrity endorsers. 


Strategy:  The strategy of 123 Accounts is to capitalize on the most profitable customers who can maintain high balances and require little to no customer service support and interaction.  Third parties have reviewed the incentives and determine that only high balance keepers and those with Santander mortgages stand to substantially financially benefit from the service, taking into consideration the £24 annual fee. 


Assessment & Recommendations: There is a great opportunity for Santander to position themselves as adaptable and responsive to their customers needs.  They don’t have to try and be the small town neighbor hood bank, because that’s not what they are; however, continuing to pursue a price only based strategy is at odds with the rest of the global Banco Santander / Sovereign brand.  Word is already out in the financial press that the 123 Account is not nearly as good in practice as it sounds in a 60 second spot.  The bank is making the necessary adjustments and investments in their customer service operations, but somehow this is not being translated to customers through their marketing communications efforts. 



Santander 123 Account.  March 2013 Original Cut.

Santander launches cash back current account.  Knapman, Helen.  March 3, 2012.  Retrieved May 24th , 2013 from

Santander’s New Current Account is Not Quite As Easy as 1.2.3.  Cavaglieri, Chiara.  March, 11, 2012.  Retrieved May 24th , 2013 from

Is This Britain’s best Current Account?  Howard, Laura.  March 5, 2012.  Retrieved May 24th , 2013 from

Santander Marketing Overhaul aims to tackle image problems.  Brownsell, Alex.  June 14, 2011.  Retrieved May 24th , 2013 from

Santander becoming a major force in the UK banking sector. Tomar, Ashirvad.  April 15, 2013. Retrieved May 24th , 2013 from

Santander Tops Bank Complaints List.  Brignall, Miles.  The Guardian, April 19, 2013.  Retrieved May 24th , 2013 from

Santander UK YouTube Channel

Santander 123 Accounts

Santander UK Facebook

Santander UK Customer Service Twitter


Santander 123 Accounts: A New Communications Strategy - image 2 - student project


Sovereign Bank, a leading regional bank centered in eight Northeastern states "from Maine to Maryland" was  purchased in part by Spanish banking giant Santander in 2005.  By 2009, Santander acquired complete control of Sovereign, all its assets, and its 750 branches and 2300 ATM's.  From a branding perspective, the transition from Sovereign to Santander has been a slow process, with most marketing materials being dual branded for the last several years.  In August 2012, Arnold Worldwide of Boston was named agency of record in charge of brand positioning, advertising, social, digital, sponsorship, and analytics, and is responsible for rolling out the final transition from Sovereign to Santander set for October 2013.  

Currently, there are no active Sovereign Bank social media accounts on facebook or twitter due to the transition.  The SantanderUSA twitter account is protected.  The communications analysis will include an evaluation of current worldwide Santander media, as the rollout is expected to mesh with current Santander branding.   

There are mutliple Sovereign Bank hate pages on facebook.  Consumers are particularly irked at the banks policy for instituting $5.00 monthly service charges on all checking accounts that fail to keep a $500 average daily balance.  Instead of responding to consumer demands, the bank has raised the minimum balance to avoid the service charge to $750.  

In the small business community the bank enjoys a solid repuatation as one willing to lend to smaller businesses.  Over the three year period 08-10, 82% of Sovereign's, Small Business Loans in the New York-Newark-Bridgeport CSA were for less than $100,000.  The corresponding numebr of the Boston-Worcester-Manchester CSA was 75%.  43.2% of all small business lending was in the Boston-Worcester-Manchester CSA, followed by 24% in the NewYork-Newark-Bridgeport region.  Sovereign added 200 Small Business Specialists in 2010 and continues ot invest in local communities, with an emphasis on Low to Moderate Income (LMI) neighborhoods, both through direct Community Development Investments and Community Development Loans.

Sovereign/Santander picks new agency.  Arnold Wins Review. Adweek, August 16, 2012

Whats In a Name? Plenty for Sovereign / Santander.  Boston Herald.  March 15, 2013

A Comparison of American and Spanish Consumer Journey's for Personal Loans

Santander 123 Accounts: A New Communications Strategy - image 3 - student project

American Research Journeys for Offline Personal Loan purchases

Santander 123 Accounts: A New Communications Strategy - image 4 - student project

Sovereign/Santander Bank currently falls into a classic financial services position as a high involvement, Grid 1Think brand.  


Steven Bayley

Strategic Planner