Magazine article Marketing

Profile: Banking Pacesetter - Chris Pilling, Chief Executive, First Direct

Magazine article Marketing

Profile: Banking Pacesetter - Chris Pilling, Chief Executive, First Direct

Article excerpt

Perhaps it is because he heads a bank that positions itself as being more friendly than its competitors, but Chris Pilling is not happy about slipping on his jacket for a photo shoot, arguing that it gives off the wrong vibe.

'I haven't worn a suit in years,' he says, concerned that it may make people think he is more serious than he really is. 'I get that feedback a lot, mainly because there is only a tiny difference in my expression from when I am cheesed off to when I am ecstatic about something.'

Despite his serious countenance, Pilling, 41, reckons he is a bit of a party animal. 'I'm extrovert and I like to get things going and get cracking,' he adds. It is his ability to 'get cracking' that led to his appointment to the role of chief executive last year.

Though it is often still thought of as a new brand, First Direct celebrated its 18th birthday last year. But Pilling, who started his career in marketing at Procter & Gamble, is certain he can put his mark on what is now an established company. 'The best brands cannot stand still and things are moving at a faster pace than ever before,' he says. 'The brand has been in calm waters for a period of time, doing a fantastic job, but I think it needs energising again.'

Of all the banks, First Direct has had the most satisfied customers in the UK for 13 consecutive years, according to MORI and NOP research - a record that Pilling could help extend, as he brings a wealth of knowledge of customer service experience to the role.

He also brings a wealth of experience in massaging messages to make them more palatable, a skill that becomes evident when he claims that the bank's decision to introduce charges for some customer accounts, which was met with outrage when announced last November, is a way of deepening the relationship it has with its consumers.

'We provide a premium service and premium products to premium customers and this is one way to retain, grow and deepen our relationship with our target customers,' he says.

Pilling is highly energetic. Colleagues say that even when crossing the car park, he doesn't walk, he marches. He regularly plays football at weekends 'with a bunch of middle-aged blokes' in his home town of Harrogate. Despite describing his team as 'past their sell-by date', he leaves the impression that they remain highly competitive. …

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