Why banks must have an omnichannel digital strategy

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It’s unquestionable that digital technology is changing the way that customers are banking globally, once it’s safe to say that every customer is irreversibly a digital customer. Digital has become more important to customers in every single aspect. Although customers have embraced digital technologies at different degrees, more and more basic transactions migrate from physical to digital channels within traditional financial institutions, which leads to a major repositioning in banks’ distribution mix, once their branch networks are being downsized. The point is that many customers have become digital-only users, preferring to prospect, purchase and interact exclusively through digital channels (internet banking, mobile banking amongst others). The market is also seeing the GAFAs (Google, Amazon®, Facebook® and Apple®) surrounding the banking industry, looking for ways to participate and create value without taking on the burden of a regulated balance sheet and providing an entirely digital journey and experience to an increasing group of customers that are quite aware of the quality, customization and availability such companies are able to provide. Therefore, what lies ahead for banks and financial institutions when it comes to better engaging with the new digital customers is, in many ways, a blank page.

The recent emergence of new technologies into banking brought by the new digital economy has had a permanent impact, as once traditional banking revenue pools are now being sucked up by new competitors, sometimes coming out of the financial services industry. All of this is happening at a time when customer expectations for banking services are being reset by the experiences being provided by online providers. For the past few years, the market could see that the financial services industry has been working hard to deliver an enhanced experience on digital channels. Most banking institutions now realize they must improve delivery of financial services on digital channels to keep pace with tech organizations, which have become the quality standard for many new digital customers around the globe.  Historically, banks and other financial institutions have built their early foundations focused more on cost savings rather than on customer experiences and expectations, and that makes this transformation process even more difficult than within other industries. This rapidly changing behavior of the banking services digital customer is making financial services industry’s executives lose their sleep. The new standard imposed by the GAFAs, which includes unlimited availability, hyper scalability, individual customization, innovation and an unpreceded quality, all provided almost exclusively through digital channels, has been so deep that in a recent global survey done by CGN Research & Advisory Group has found an astonishing market data, where participants where asked if some of the most well-known technology companies offered banking services, how likely would you be to work with them? The chart below shows the result:

This phenomenon, where consumers perform their transactions by using only digital channels such as mobile phones, PCs and tablets, avoiding traditional physical channels, call centers or any other way that would involve human interaction altogether, is being called “omni-digital”.  The financial services industry has been talking a great deal about omni-channel for the past few years, where customers use a variety of channels, both digital and offline, having similar experiences across these and to moving between channels seamlessly and uneventfully. Although the omni-channel has been in the core of most banks and financial institutions strategies, the behavior of the new digital customer has been suffering a great influence by the convenience, innovation, accessibility and easy-to-use platforms available by FinTechs and the mentioned GAFAs, making the omni-channel segment’s customers to significantly decrease over the past years, being replaced by the omni-digital customer, who only uses digital channels. Currently, according to the recent PwC’s 2017 Digital Banking Consumer Survey, this emerging segment is already massive, representing 46 percent of the overall banking customer base, with several implications for the strategies to be adopted by banks and financial institutions, as well as their investment priorities and HR models.

And it doesn’t stop there. Complimentary to PwC’s survey, another recent CGN Research & Advisory Group’s study shows that the trend for the omni-digital segment is for it to grow substantially to an unpreceded 68 percent of the overall banking customer base by 2020, representing a major move from just 27 percent in 2012. That means that more than two-thirds of the customers of financial services will be digital-only users in just 3 years, which shows the importance of a omni-digital strategy, in which banks and financial institutions create a variety of digital relationship platforms that offer convenience, accessibility and innovative ways for their customers to access and hire their products. The chart below shows the digital migration of the banking customers from 2012 to 2020:

Given the fact that most banking consumers will be accessing their banks through mobile phones, computers and tablets, the financial industry must start questioning how this shift will impact their product development and offering, services, mobile and internet banking designs amongst others. But the main topic is how can financial organizations differentiate themselves through digital platforms in order to gain competitive advantage and recover market share from FinTech companies? Well, the first step is a major business model reshape. In open platform business models, the human interaction disappears completely. While human contact is diminishing in terms of volume, the quality and importance of any human touch points will increase. This is especially true for banks’ digital relationship managers, where human connection can play a vital role in building the brand awareness and shaping the market culture of the business. The next step is understanding the customer data. Banks and financial institutions are beginning to recognize the importance of adapting for unique human behavior to shape the quality of the digital customer journey and the effectiveness of their technology solutions. Most financial organizations understand that truly can truly tap into what motivates human behavior and design the customer experience accordingly, and then become the next industry leaders by extensively use human behavior analysis and insights to guide customer digital experience design, and financial organizations will need to understand not just “where” people are today, but “where” they want to be, and then shape the technology to act as their customized guides.

Currently, it’s known by financial organizations that digital consumers are aware of the market options and can rapidly shop for a better digital experience that meets their needs and expectations for any particular financial services solution. A good example is if an omni-digital consumer is in the market for a credit card solution. Even if his or her primary financial institution proactively connects with him or her with an offer, the digital consumer still does his or her due diligence and, if the application process, credit approval and card delivery dates and processes are not seamless, the customer will look for this solution elsewhere, for the digital customer demands experiences that offer convenience, access and ease-of-use, just like almost all the online retailers, T&E and technology companies have set for their expectations. These customers will appreciate fast and easy processes, and if there are too many steps or complications, they will move on, for they know there are many other options in the market.

The imminent and strong growth of the migration for digital channels within the financial industry is no longer a trend, but a reality. Banks and other financial institutions must understand that many transactions are still being done in physical channels because, in many situations, customers don’t have other choices or options, and because, amazingly, many financial organizations still do not provide end-to-end digital engagement options, forcing omni-digital customers into a channel they may not prefer, which will make them very likely to choose a different financial organization to work with. In order to keep pace with omni-digital consumer expectations, banks and financial institutions must:

  • Understand that they must offer their products and services to omni-digital customers at the time, place and mainly through the channels they prefer;
  • Enhance their innovation mindset (and investments) to create ways to connect with their customers and differentiate themselves;
  • Create a new value proposition through a hybrid digital channel strategy;
  • Move into a real-time information delivery model that can help omni-digital consumers manage their finances.

Financial organizations will always have different strategies and priorities, aligned with their financial objectives and digital maturity, but all of them must pace up their digital transformation efforts to keep up with the rapidly changing expectations of the omni-digital costumers. The best scenario would be for financial organizations to use technology as a catalyst to empower and motivate their customers and lead their way to the digital future. Many emerging technologies are going mainstream, such as artificial intelligence, digital ecosystems, , design thinking and others, and they can help financial organizations to respond faster and more accurately to the customers ever-changing needs and expectations. Bottom line is that banks and financial institutions need to evolve into a digital-first business model.

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