Financial institutions have long encouraged their clients to use digital channels to carry out everyday activities. However, in recent years, the pace of acceleration and adoption has quickened. Clients can easily open accounts online, making trips to branches superfluous, and the myriad of call centres and self-service options available means that most questions can be answered outside of traditional branch hours. These all run smoothly and efficiently but typically involve no in person contact.
Jennifer Geary, General Manager, EMEA, at nCino, discusses how keeping people at the heart of digital transformation is critical for success
As financial institutions increasingly adopt and encourage the usage of digital channels, branch closures and consolidations are typically seen as a casualty in digital transformation. The coronavirus pandemic has cast an even brighter spotlight on the way that financial institutions deliver essential services. A recent report by consumer watchdog, Which?, revealed that more than 500 bank branches have closed during the pandemic in the UK.
On the one hand, when lockdowns hit and people kept to their homes, a robust digital infrastructure proved invaluable. However, once restrictions eased, many people returned to branches on British high streets where 47% of consumers would still prefer to open a bank account face-to-face. Whilst social distancing inevitably contributed to longer lines and thereby wait times, the continued demand for in-person services demonstrates that many feel there is something they can’t get from their banks’ digital channels. Although huge strides have been made, there is still more to be done to deliver a truly digital experience that marries the benefits of human interaction with the flexibility and agility of technology.
Personalise interactions with customers
Whilst a friendly welcome at the entrance looks a little bit different – and distanced – today, financial institutions can maintain the bond with their clients in other ways. The digital world can be brought to life through continuous personalisation. Even small steps like greeting customers by name when opening their app can help build brand loyalty and create opportunities for better engagement. Financial institutions need to understand their clients’ needs and respond accordingly with appropriate new services and channels. In doing so, all channels – and especially digital ones – should be tailored to the individual client.
Use technology to unlock high-value employee time
In a demanding space like the SME market, engaged and helpful employees are crucial for a bank to stand out from the competition, serve the credit needs of its customer base, grow its portfolio, and build a more loyal customer base. Santander UK, for example, recognised the need for faster loan processing even before the pandemic to meet customers’ increased demands. By digitising parts of its infrastructure, the bank was able to optimise its SME, corporate and commercial banking divisions to meet rapidly changing customer expectations.
Put speed and efficiency at the heart of all processes
In some instances, there is no replicating the efficiency of digital channels. As customers have become accustomed to fast transactions due to excellent service in online retail, the “need for speed” is now felt in all industries, and banking is no exception. Where digital channels exceed is in flexibility and speed, and this was seen most profoundly this last year. When many businesses were hit hard by the impact of the pandemic, quick lending by banks wasn’t a ‘nice to have’, it was essential for the livelihoods of many. The rollout of the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) was criticised by some applicants for its speed. Those financial institutions with a digital mindset and the right technology saw success in delivering loans quickly, efficiently, and ultimately convincing customers that digital channels can surpass in person interactions. In a remarkable feat, Cynergy Bank reduced onboarding from three days to 54 seconds for identity and verification by moving to an agile, cloud-based platform, and the total customer application took less than eight minutes for CBILS loans.
To get started on a successful digital transformation journey, the views and needs of stakeholders across clients, employees and partners should be consulted. A benefit for one might not be as universally agreeable for the others. Change should offer real added value for everyone involved. One of the greatest attributes of a financial institution is its staff. Unlocking this asset to deliver even more valuable work for clients is critical to build stronger relationships with customers.