What a neighbourhood bank is, 2022 edition

17.54, Monday 14 Feb 2022

In the window of a bank branch near my house is a poster with a grid of a dozen large QR codes. I snapped a pic when I saw it on Saturday. Here it is on Instagram.

This branch of Barclays is on a busy neighbourhood high street, and right by the junction where the market is. So lots of passing footfall. And it was Saturday, so the branch was shut.

Initially I thought the poster was absurd - and it looks weird - but actually it’s genius.

The explanatory copy says:

The Barclays app makes it easy to manage your account … The following QR codes will take you to a ‘How to’ video of help on each topic.

Then the topics are:

  • Download the Barclays app
  • Manage your standing orders
  • Make a payment
  • Open a new account in the app
  • …and eight more.

That’s a bank branch now!

Couldn’t the app be, you know, well designed? That way people would know how to do these things?

Well, kinda. However: DISCOVERY.

If you don’t know that the Barclays app can do those things, why would you open it? Websites and apps are great at performing tasks and bad at discovery. That’s why we have search engines and ads.

I’m not even a Barclays customer! Even if I were the sort of person that browsed the menus of my banking app, which I kinda am actually, I’m not the sort of person that speculatively downloads the apps of other banks to see what they can do.

So this poster

  • has informed me (and other people walking by or lining up to get cash from the ATM) what Barclays does. QR codes are really noticeable compared to more elegant-but-invisible solutions like NFC tags.
  • is reaching its target customers - the demographic of people in my neighbourhood - enormously efficiently.

The cost of getting a new customer via advertising/PR/etc is called the Customer Acquisition Cost, CAC. For online businesses that mostly means targeted online ads, and that mostly means Facebook. Facebook is very good at squeezing as much cash out of advertisers as possible.

BUT – what if, instead of Facebook ads, you open a shop? Physical retail. And people just… walk past? And pop in? Which is what online retailers are doing, from Amazon down. Hence the line: Rent is the new CAC. (Which is maybe not quite as true as it was given the pandemic, but there’s something in it.)

I mean – I wonder how it stacks up, if you do the maths on it all? You need a branch to host the poster, so absorb that into the cost. So that’s punchy. But the alternative is billboard posters for new customers PLUS a punishing experience of notifications for existing customers to tell them what the app does… The poster of QR codes might be a bargain.

Barclays recently closed their Hackney branch and opened a pop-up in a shipping container nearby (Boxpark is a stack of containers on a busy corner populated by small retailers and lunch spots.)

Maybe that’s what a branch is now? A poster of QR codes and a person in a car park shipping container with a Calendly?

I… wouldn’t object.

A bank branch can just be a paper poster wherever there is footfall.

Let’s go further! Post me a letter once a month with QR codes for all my recurring payments, shortcuts into the app to edit them. Give me a chequebook when I open my account which is just a book of post-it notes to put around my desk, all with the QR code to open the app to the payment screen.

There is something wonderfully direct about this.

I think there’s lessons here for all kinds of ads and discovery: food ads should include a QR code to push the item to my online grocery shopping basket (ok now we need an intermediary which can deep link across all online food retailers); phones could come with a little service directory booklet full of codes.

All of which is a reminder that customer acquisition does not stop with acquisition. The story does not go: marketing to purchase, and done.

It goes: marketing to purchase to customer success.

Today’s adtech world is so much built around that first step - getting the purchase - that perhaps it has been forgotten that a customer who knows how to maximise their benefit from the purchase will also be a happy customer, and therefore more like to refer.

Would you mind seeing a Facebook ad reminding you how to use a feature on the dishwasher you bought six months ago, with a QR code to specifically that feature that you can right-click into your photo library?

And ALSO a reminder that, when it comes to customers, you fish where the fish are.

More posters in shop windows with grids of QR codes please.

(Hey Apple: what I wish I could do is tap on a QR code in a photo in my photo library, which it seems like I can’t? Because then I could save photos of all these posters and make my own ad hoc deeplink homescreen as a photo album on my phone, and share it with my family.)

Update 16 Feb: it turns out you can indeed tap on QR codes in photos in your iPhone photo library, if you tap on the little text recogniser widget first! For some reason this works for some codes in the photo I took and not others, and the highlight mechanism doesn’t make that fact obvious. So it seemed like it wasn’t working at all. However the use case stands… QR codes in any image on my phone should be live (not just in the photo library and camera) and I would like to share an album of deeplinks with my family because that feels like a neat hack.


Barclays was the first bank - anywhere in the world apparently - to open an ATM, in north London in 1967. Here are some pics of Barclaycash. You had special vouchers worth ten quid each that would be cashed like cheques against your account. As you placed one in the drawer of the machine, you “signed” it with an early electronic signature in the form of a secret 6 digit number – the origin of the PIN.

Here’s a fascinating paper on the history of it all: Emergence and Evolution of Proprietary ATM Networks in the UK, 1967-2000 (CiteseerX; tap through to download the full PDF).

ATMs were originally known as “robot cashiers” it turns out.

More posts tagged:
Follow-up posts:

If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it by email or on social media. Here’s the link. Thanks, —Matt.