As people all over the world are hopeful that this year will see the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, the focus has shifted towards the recovery of the global economy and the role that banks and financial institutions will play.
Sanat Rao is the Chief Business Officer & Global Head at Infosys Finacle. Sanat has over 26 years of experience in international banking and technology-led business transformations. His experience spans strategic partnerships with clients through their digital journey across multiple markets globally. In his present role, Sanat is responsible for growing the Finacle business and driving industry leadership with innovations in the banking space.
Here, Sanat shares his perspective on business model innovation for changing customer needs in the Post-pandemic era.
With nations around the world ramping up their vaccination programs, the focus on recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic is inevitably, and thankfully, moving away from health concerns and shifting towards the global economy.
From that perspective, many industry commentators are bullish on the prospect of steady upward growth in the second half of 2021. In this scenario, banks have an important and continuing role in relieving pressure on economically vulnerable sectors of society. Strong balance sheets, rebuilt after the financial crisis of 2008, are now in good shape to help provide much-needed support to small- and medium-sized businesses as well as hard-hit individuals.
In the months ahead, senior leaders across the banking sector are reimagining strategy and operations for the coming post-pandemic era. Although the future is always uncertain, there are key areas where banks can make a significant, positive, difference, and three stepping-stones to that future spring to mind: strengthen existing customer relationships, reinvigorate the High Street, and embrace a hybrid, customer-centric model of engagement.
Weathering the Storm
In the current moment, many retail and commercial banking customers are concentrating their efforts on weathering the storm, and therefore less likely to consider switching providers. However, in the medium- to long-term, there is significant potential for a sharp and sudden increase in customer migration, as businesses and consumers regain confidence and assess the best banking options for their new circumstances. This scenario is a particular risk for banks that were perceived to have provided inadequate customer support during the COVID-19 crisis.
For all banks, though, the increasing portability of financial services means that customer engagement and satisfaction are more important than ever. For example, UK government legislation compels banks to allow customers to switch their accounts within seven days. Similarly, around the world, the growing popularity of open banking services is introducing additional competition from fintech companies.
To secure customer loyalty, a successful strategy will ensure that operations are fully geared towards understanding customers’ preferences at the most detailed level possible, and building responsive, high-quality services based on highly efficient core processes.
Reinvigorating the High Street
Broadly, a bank can revise its business model in one of two ways – by focusing on an area of excellence without changing its basic model, or by evolving its existing model into a new hybrid one. Note that the options under each approach are mutually exclusive but can overlap with those of the alternative approach.
As rates of COVID-19 subside and schools, offices and shops reopen, the high-street bank branch will undoubtedly have an important part to play in the overall customer experience. Extended periods of local and national lockdowns have driven home the importance of social, face-to-face interactions in our working and personal lives. We could see a resurgence of demand for these types of personalised services in the post-pandemic world, even from tech-savvy consumers who might previously have preferred digital—which includes online and mobile—channels over brick-and-mortar branches.
For those banks that were able to maintain a significant branch footprint throughout the pandemic, face-to-face interactions will be an invaluable opportunity to understand individual customer preferences and sentiments in a way that can be extremely difficult to replicate on digital channels.
However, many banks have been forced to dramatically cut back their branch networks during the pandemic—some perhaps permanently. For these organisations, retail partnerships could prove invaluable to maintain a presence on the High Street. Businesses like Klarna have already proven the concept, bringing personal financing solutions to millions of shoppers right at the point of sale. A similar approach could allow banks to boost their brands without the cost and complexity of maintaining physical locations.
Embracing a Hybrid Model of Customer Engagement
Regardless of the relative weight banks place on their physical and online channels, it’s clear that adapting to customers’ preference is key. In turn, that means embracing a hybrid model of customer engagement, combining in-branch, in-store, and online services, with seamless transition between the three.
Yet in a report by Efma and Infosys Finacle, “Innovation in Retail Banking”, 75 per cent of banks indicated that digital transformation was a key priority, but just seven per cent reported that they were delivering these capabilities as desired and at scale.
While the COVID-19 crisis may have accelerated digital transformation initiatives at some of the laggard organisations, the report shows that many banks are way behind the curve when it comes to the digital experience—especially when compared to the leading-edge offerings of fintechs.
Conclusion: Customers will Drive the Future
Whatever the future brings, technology will continue to be the key enabler of customer services in the post-COVID economy. As well as reimagining strategy, forward-looking banks should therefore seize the opportunity to take a fresh look at their IT infrastructure.
The maturity of public, private and hybrid cloud offerings means that it is easier than ever for banks to harness cutting-edge microservices architectures to rapidly build, test and deploy new digital products and services ahead of the competition.
Those institutions unburdened by legacy systems will be agile enough to move quickly in response to changing market conditions: to open up new channels and entice highly targeted groups with personal service and real-time information. The scale of industry disruption can be compared to that of the travel industry, whose agents have lost their power as savvy travellers source flights, cars and hotels online, building their own packaged holidays.
When the world’s pandemic recovery is complete, or at least our response COVID-19 is normalised, banks that can deliver outstanding customer experiences—on every channel—will be in the strongest position to succeed.