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The reinvention of innovation in the financial sector

The banking sector has long been the subject of disruption. In recent years challenger banks such as Monzo have become established in the wallets and on the smartphones of digital natives, while tech giants like Apple, Google and Facebook continue to explore how they can develop their own financial offerings that integrate seamlessly with their core services that consumers use every day.

In response, many ‘traditional’ banks set up their own fintech accelerators, bringing in digital expertise from a broad range of companies and consultants to help design and deliver their own services to challenge the challenger brands. There’s no doubt these collaborations have introduced the banking sector to much needed innovation, however, meaningful digital transformation can often be much more straightforward.

In fact, some of the most successful digital transformation stories for banks today revolve around the streamlining of manual processes. Whether that’s reducing the emphasis on form-filling or finding alternatives, the seemingly countless signatures required to set up new accounts or apply for loans. By digitising these physical processes, banks are not only able to replace a process that could have taken weeks with a more convenient one that takes a matter of seconds, they also enable staff to be spend more time helping customers with higher-value tasks.

TSB did just that. In response to the pandemic, it took 18 forms that would otherwise have had to be completed in-person, online so that customers could carry out important processes from the safety of their own homes. In the first eight weeks, TSB processed over 80,000 online interactions, cutting down over 15,000 in-branch, face-to-face visits.

While the banking sector has taken a big step forward when it comes to digital innovation this year, the work is far from done. With digital-first disruptors continuing to explore new ways to deliver banking services that meet and exceed the expectations of customers, the established players need to keep up, or risk falling behind again. Keeping the customer experience front and centre of their thinking, there are three areas to focus on.


Build on the changes made during lockdown

The widespread adoption of remote working has brought on a rapid change in digital behaviour for customers and employees. But, whilst consumers are able to return to the high-street branch, and employees are able to return to the office, it’s unlikely they will return to their pre-lockdown habits.

Banks need to ensure that the digital changes made this year are more than situational. Instead, they should focus on what their customers and employees want next. Exploring how new technologies can be implemented to make an even more streamlined and enjoyable experience, and even rethinking the role of the bank branch will help keep banks one step ahead of consumer expectations, not behind.


Double-down on data

With more customers signed up to digital banking services, banks have more access than ever to valuable data that enables them to understand each and every customer as an individual. Today’s consumers have expectations that any brand they share data with will deliver better, more personalised experiences in exchange, and banks are not exempt from this.

Real-time customer profiles are integral here, and banks can create these by applying analytics to multiple customer touch points and analysing their unique behaviours across online, mobile, apps and visits to the branch. By stitching this data together, banks gain a holistic view of the customer, and their unique their habits, preferences and needs. By understanding this and tailoring services and experiences in-line with them, banks will earn the long-term loyalty of their customers. 


Reinvent customer touchpoints

As well as using data to inform operations, innovation can also come from rethinking communications across different touchpoints, with the contact centre being a good place to start.

With more call centre staff working from home, banks need to triage customer calls on a case by case basis. This will help them to determine which calls will require the attention of an agent, and which can be handled more quickly and effectively through other means, such as chatbots or FAQs. AI and analytics capabilities can help banks here, identifying and prioritising those who had particularly long wait times, or those that never got through at all. When combined with Natural Language Processing technologies (NLP), banks can determine which customers may be more frustrated and in need of urgent attention.

One of the most important customer touchpoints for many customers remains the physical bank branch. There are many ways the experience can be reimagined here. It might be as simple as enabling branch visitors to speak with customer service agents in store via video call, or it might be high impact experiences for the community such as workshops on investments, savings or cyber fraud. The branch is something traditional banks have in their possession that the disruptors do not, and the most successful will use this asset to their advantage.

One of the many impacts of the pandemic has been to bring forward the digitisation plans of the more traditional players in the banking industry. Banks have had to pivot to a more digitally focused approach that industry disruptors were pushing them towards already. They don’t need to rip up the rule book – banks can deliver moments of surprise and delight to their customers by removing the friction that might be expected from certain processes. 

Being able to continue servicing the needs of customers during lockdown has generated some much-needed goodwill towards traditional banks. Now they need to look ahead and build on this solid foundation and show their customers that they can be more than just a place to keep their cash, and deliver against their expectations for excellent, personalised, digital services that enhance their daily lives.


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This post is from a series of posts in the group:

Innovation in Financial Services

A discussion of trends in innovation management within financial institutions, and the key processes, technology and cultural shifts driving innovation.

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