By Mang-Git NG, CEO & Founder of Anvil
Community banks have always prided themselves on their ability to serve their local community with an unmatched level of customer service. My family has experienced this first hand when my parents immigrated to the United States as graduate students with no credit history and very little income. When no national bank would open an account for them, the local community bank provided the banking services my parents needed to help them find their feet.
You can expect to be anonymous at a large bank but as a community bank customer, you expect a more personal connection with your banker—after all, you live in the same community.
While the ability to nurture personal relationships remains a critical differentiator, community banks face a number of ever-evolving external pressures, from the scale of large incumbents to evolving customer expectations, threatening the ability to grow their customer base and even retain existing ones. It can be especially frustrating as a long-standing customer to be asked for your basic personal information over and over again on bank forms when your relationship goes far deeper than that.
Automation and customer experience are no longer a trade-off
Small business owners are increasingly willing to pay more for products and services that make their lives easier. This trend favoring convenience is likely to accelerate with the rise of Gen Z given their preference for mobile-first instant messaging apps. With this in mind, the need to transform products and services with digital technology adoption is a top priority for many banks. In a recent KPMG survey, 72% of bank CEOs said they were prioritizing investment in new technology, and 58% even said they have begun using artificial intelligence (AI).
However, community bank leaders have faced a dilemma in the past. The adoption of automation technology often meant compromising on customer experience. We’ve all dealt with frustratingly unhelpful chatbots that are ill-equipped to handle complex queries or advice that often come up in financial services.
Fortunately, automation technology has progressed beyond simple chatbots and now offers smarter ways to authenticate users without adding more friction, predictive analytics are helping bank employees make more strategic product recommendations that match a customer’s needs, and workflow automation is enabling banks to improve customers’ account opening process while also dramatically reducing the overhead of processing applications.
Combining these digital tools with a human touch to create personalized automation, and applying each in the right way, will help community banks stand apart from large banks, keep existing customers happy, and attract new ones.
Automation and profitability go hand in hand
In 2018, fraud against bank deposit accounts amounted to $25.1 billion, including $2.8 billion in losses. Intelligent fraud detection can help minimize such losses, thus impacting the bottom line. Banks that embrace security and fraud detection technologies have a significant advantage over their peers.
Similarly, automation to help streamline existing processes can prove invaluable. Every year, paper and PDF-based processes cost banks billions of dollars. Adopting paperwork automation technology leads to faster processing times for routine, repetitive processes like account openings and loan applications, resulting in greater efficiency and reduced costs. The use of dynamic forms with built-in validation also eliminates human error and the need for manual checks.
As an added benefit, automating away mundane processes like data entry allows community banks to invest time and human capital in what they do best: getting to know their customers and developing personal relationships.
Finally, process automation can enable banks to unlock growth. As an example, Minnesota’s Sunrise Banks adopted paperwork automation technology earlier this year to increase their ability to process Paycheck Protection Program loans from 85 to almost 500 per day, thereby allowing them to extend their lending capabilities beyond their existing customer base.
Thoughtful automation is crucial for survival
Embracing new automation technologies that allow community banks to match customer expectations while improving profitability is the key to long-term sustainable growth and success. A majority of bank CEOs recognize this and believe that, without agility, they would likely face bankruptcy.
While poorly applied automation technology can be an expensive way to create a bad customer experience, it is undeniable that meeting evolving customer expectations demands thoughtful application of such technologies. To avoid automation for the sake of automation, community banks should evaluate solutions based on their ability to improve the customer experience and the bank’s bottom line.
Ultimately, bank leaders should think about their top challenges and how automation can be a part of the solution, consider if the organization is ready for an investment in both time and money, and if they have the infrastructure in place to support thoughtful automation.
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