Techknow: Net heads

Techknow: Net heads - Name: Phil Garlic

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Name: Phil Garlic

Position: Head of operations, Smile - the internet bank

web site www.smile.co.uk

This month Phil Garlic, head of smile, the cheery, chirpy online bank, tells us why it's great to be first, how there's no room for sloppiness when it comes to internet financial services and how, in the wired world, the consumer will really be king.

When did you become interested in the internet?

The concept for smile came together around May 1998; that was when we (the Co-operative bank) decided we should go for it and create an internet bank. And we spent the back end of 1998 and the start of '99 doing a lot of research before launching in the second half of last year. Personally I became interested in the net about two years ago, when I started surfing in the course of research.

How much time do you spend surfing each day?

Between 30 minutes and an hour, depending on what I'm doing.

Which sites do you use each week?

As soon as I log on I go to the BBC site (www.bbc.co.uk) to look at the latest news; you can't beat it. I also like the Daily Telegraph (www.dailytelegraph.co.uk), which has very easy-to-read business pages and fletch.co.uk, Fletcher Research's site, which is good for financial services. Personally I like mcfc.co.uk - I'm a sad Man City fan - lastminute.com and grapeandgrain.co.uk, the Co-operative group's online wine shop. And of course I bank at smile.co.uk.

Who are your advisers?

Our site was designed by Technophobia, a Sheffield-based company. Our consultants would prefer to remain anonymous.

What is your company's web strategy?

Our initial strategy is to take advantage of the fact that we're the first full internet bank in the UK. A lot of our marketing strategy at the moment is to attract customers.

I think we've got 'first-mover advantage' and there's a great opportunity for customers of existing banks, especially the big clearing banks, to move to us. Secondly we're going to be rolling out new financial products such as mortgages. And thirdly we want to get into the more lifestyle aspects of the internet and make the smile site somewhere people will go because it's interesting and not just to do their banking. Finally, we want to offer exceptional customer service - any problems users have must be dealt with straight away and customers must feel there's someone behind the screen. Banking is serious and it's just too important to get things wrong. People need reassurance.

What is the most significant change the internet will bring about?

It will put the consumer in control of what they do. I don't think anyone really understands the power of the net, especially in the long term. It'll give the consumer the power to demand better deals and goods and services that are unavailable now. The challenge for business will be to do this in a cost-effective way. Realistically there will only be a few big winners and that is why we're doing what we're doing now.

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