“What does good proactivity mean to small business customers?”
When a financial services client recently asked this question, it got us thinking about what proactivity really means to customers, particularly small and medium-sized businesses’customers, and how a provider can best demonstrate that it is being proactive.
‘Proactivity’ is a concept that is increasingly high on the agenda of financial and professional services firms, and is increasingly preferred to‘responsiveness’, which customers and clients see as too passive in the context of a developing and serious provider relationship.
We put our heads together, drawing on recent research conducted among SMEs for banks and others, and defined these key principles of demonstrating an outstanding provider relationship.
- Provide a roadmap, setting expectations at the start
If a small to medium-sized business (SME) customer starts the relationship feeling as though they’ll get lots of personal contact and support, and then this doesn’t materialise, they are likely to feel the provider is not paying enough attention or being proactive enough. Setting expectations at the outset about contact, advice and what help and proactivity will look like should aid customer satisfaction – but only if these expectations are then met or exceeded consistently throughout the course of the relationship.
- Proactivity is more than anticipating and reacting: it must appear tailored to your customers’ individual needs
As a provider, this activity is based on an understanding of each customer’s business needs, goals and sector challenges, and then providing a customised response. In the context of a financial services provider, targeted proactivity can be demonstrated through a combination of the following:
- Regular contact, usually from a dedicated Relationship Manager. Customers place great value on personal relationships, though there are often challenges of contact time, and there can be a feeling of:‘Why do they not have more time for me? Am I not important enough? Are they favouring other clients over me?’ This can be remedied by ensuring a single point of contact and being easy to get hold of.
- Making suggestions for financial products/ vehicles. These are likely to be well-received, if they are seen to be new, and it is essential that they are perceived as relevant, targeted and tailored – not just random or generic, and not put across in a way that seems ‘salesy’– a real turn-off for SME customers.
- Providing other anticipatory services. This could include annual reviews (opportunity to re-assess goals and expectations), or offering some sort of valid ‘help’ which also demonstrates proactivity.
- Providing information – a source of financial knowledge – and arranging focused networking events. These should either be sector-related (though not a room full of direct competitors), or with others who are at the same stage of their business journey, and with the same needs / challenges (e.g. startups, those in a growth stage, etc).
- Judge how reactive they want you to be
A few things to consider:
- While some customers will welcome – and even demand – proactivity, others would hate it – so this should be understood early on and catered for on an individual business basis.
- There is no point trying to be proactive and offer products, services and advice if your business is not a good fit with theirs. There are already many active SMEs, and this figure continues to grow.Providers should attempt to narrow down the target list to those suitable for this sort of proactive relationship building.
- It’s only credible to make proactive suggestions if a provider really knows and understands a customer’s business. Generic ‘small business’ advice tends to be ill-received, as lacking relevance.
- The approach will vary according to size and personality:
- Smaller businesses will often have needs similar to individual consumers
- SMEs are often (rightly) truly passionate about what they do – it is their life, not just their work – and they can often feel that their business is unique, and be quick to think that nobody can offer appropriate advice as they don’t understand them and their business.
Overcoming scepticism around truly tailored advice is hard, but the first step to any proactive suggestions or advice is that it must feel personal.
- Don’t make them work for it
SME customers are always busy, and often looking for efficient help – that’s why proactivity is often wanted / required. But many customers (including SMEs) often feel they are putting in far more effort than the provider – so brands should, wherever possible, demonstrate that they are putting in at least as much effort as their customers (an effective customer – company effort ratio). Crucially, they should continue this throughout the relationship, not just at the start. This idea of ‘fairness’ can build relationships that last, and create advocates of brands.
- Innovation, innovation, innovation
The launch of PSD2 / Open Banking in January 2018 presents new opportunities for financial services providers to offer a whole range of new proactive solutions for SMEs. Providers could enhance their support of smaller businesses by developing products and services, utilising open APIs, that will tap into SME pain points and help ease pressure.
As an example,SMEs are often time poor and find business administration an unwelcome drain on their time; they may also lack the resources or expertise to manage tax and accountancy obligations as well as they should. A service that could integrate with existing small business accounting software packages to automate and speed up invoice reconciliations, payment initiation and tax liability calculation sought to be very well-received. There are also opportunities to support SMEs with cashflow concerns and instant payments.
- Fall in love all over again
Demonstrating proactivity is likely to be a constantly evolving commitment to client service, but when successful, it will help build loyal, sustainable relationships with business customers, worth both the time and financial investment.
The banks have not always enjoyed the best relationships with their smaller business customers over recent years. Perceptions of low willingness to lend and, in some instances, of declining levels of service and support can make SMEs keen to look for alternative sources of advice and ultimately finance. Demonstrating proactivity through these sorts of behaviours and activities could play a big part in convincing SMEs that you not only want their business, but you really value them. And those that truly feel valued may, in turn, support you by becoming advocates for your brand, making recommendations and referrals among their peers.
How banks can take on Google in the race for AI talent
By Nicola Sullivan, solutions director at candidate engagement tech firm Meet & Engage
The events of 2020 have made the battle for AI talent more ferocious than ever. In a volatile landscape where innovation is key, multinational firms are rolling up their sleeves for the inevitable scrum ahead.
For incumbent banks, the stakes are intimidatingly high. In one corner stand the fintech startups: the likes of Revolut and Monzo, who are snapping up AI-literate graduates while laying down pressure for capacity in exactly that area.
In the other corner, we find the Silicon Valley contenders of Amazon, Facebook and Google, who have phenomenal pay packages – not to mention glamour and visibility – on their side. And technologists with a finance background loom firmly in their crosshairs (Facebook employs hundreds of ex-banking recruits).
This unsettling picture is intensified by a chronic tech shortage: in a recent study by AI firm Peltarion, 83 percent of AI decision-makers agreed that a deficit of deep learning skills was seriously hampering their competitiveness. But, with the global impact of AI on financial services companies set to hit $140 billion in productivity gains and cost savings by 2025, banks need to find a way to break ahead and secure the AI talent they need. Here’s how:
Fish from a wider talent pool
We tend to think of AI in relation to a very niche set of qualifications. Yet in reality, it’s a fast-moving sphere that also requires a host of soft transferable skills such as problem-solving, agility, great communication and a sound analytical mind. In short, it’s less about what a candidate knows/does, and more to do with what they could know or do.
It’s worth thinking about whether you are being open-minded enough in your interpretation of tech talent. Do the AI roles you’re looking to fill need specific skills and criteria, or are they better suited to people who are inherently curious, intelligent and quick to learn?
Depending on the answer, you may want to expand your search from the bright young things of MIT or Berkeley to other related careers or older candidates with transferable skills. You may even want to look internally for the next generation of tech talent.
For example, if a bank’s customer-facing roles are declining but AI supply is not keeping up with demand, maybe this is a problem that could fix itself. The bank in question could run a two-week internal virtual AI internship to test interest, with the aim of rechanneling internal talent and avoiding redundancies. If AI is as critical as all forecasts suggest to the future of finance, investing in a more comprehensive approach like this may make a lot of sense.
Then there’s also the question of underrepresented groups. The proportion of black or latino people at major tech companies remains depressingly low, while women make up only a quarter of computing roles.
As well as driving equality, this issue of diversity is also a market gap that could be used for competitive advantage by banks. But doing so requires a deep-seated strategy that addresses the root reasons why candidates from these groups are turning away from tech. Issues such as lack of career development and accessible education need to be solved at ground level from the inside-out; an effort that begins before, or in tandem with, recruitment.
Make your recruitment process personal and transparent
When you’re fighting for top AI candidates who have the world at their fingertips, it’s not enough to bundle them through a generic Applicant Tracking System. You have to actively woo them, and get them on-side with your vision and community. This is especially important for millennials and Gen Z recruits, who are more purpose-driven than their predecessors.
Live online chat sessions hosted by high-profile speakers across the business is one tactic our banking clients have seen great success with here. For example, a shortlisted group of technologists get to meet with a bank’s CTO or Chief Human Resources Officer via a group chat (which they can join anonymously if they want to), to ask questions and find out more about a company’s technology roadmap and cultural ethos.
This is a rare opportunity to give candidates real takeaway value; even if they’re not thinking about leaving their current job, few will turn down the chance of time with the person who runs cybersecurity at a major bank. And this person will invariably be able to communicate a much better sense of culture than a third-party recruiter can.
Visibility is also important here: if you want to attract more BAME or female candidates, you need to have lead BAME or female technicians as a vocal part of the recruitment process, showing what success in your company looks like. If you don’t have people to fulfil these roles, you need to go back and address that rather than making empty statements.
Opening the doors to your company in this way is a winning strategy for tech candidates: it’s a “wrapper” to put around them and make them feel wanted, welcome and motivated – even when a recruitment process lasts a little longer than you’d like.
Talk like yourself but walk like a tech expert
Part of the openness needed to recruit key tech talent is about being authentic, too. There’s a tendency among some finance incumbents to “get down with the kids” and appear more like their disruptive competitors than they truly are. If you are a long-established brand in the banking world, with a good track record of developing careers, that alone is enough to attract AI technologists – you have a lot to offer, and you don’t need to put on a guise.
Equally, if you do have work to do in being more accessible to potential candidates, focus on real progression rather than image. This may mean putting through measures to build awareness and role modelling around recruitment diversity, or enhancing employee wellbeing.
With mental health issues on the rise in the workplace, a co-managed wellness programme of fitness and community events can make the difference between which way a candidate sways in a roomful of enticing options. This is especially true since banks – for all their boardrooms traditions – have a reputation amid technologists for a better, less brutal work-life balance than Silicon Valley.
Lastly, banks need to walk the walk when it comes to tech-enabled recruitment. However hard you try to make it personal, most candidate enrollments will involve a degree of automation at some stage – and it’s important to make that process as quick and slick as possible. For a candidate with consumer-grade tech experience, first impressions count: they want to know that this is a place that will recognise and nurture their skill set. So instead of a long, clunky application process, maybe consider a virtual assessment centre or a sophisticated chat bot, which can capture essential information in a fast, engaging way.
Recruiting the world’s top tech talent isn’t a question of magic or even necessarily a huge pay cheque. Instead you need to weave together these “micro-moments” that signal your bank’s character, integrity and technical ambition. Do this, and you stand a good chance of persuading leading AI candidates to skip the queue and come directly to you.
1.4 million customers to stop using bank branches due to COVID
8.4 million customers had already stopped visiting branches in person before lockdown
However, three quarters (74%) of customers will return to banking in branch after the pandemic
Of those who plan to return to branches, over two thirds (69%) will only return when they absolutely need to
A further 1.6 million (3%) said they don’t have an account with a high-street bank, meaning a total of 3 million Brits don’t have a need for physical branches.
This number may rise, as 8.4 (16%) million Brits had stopped using their bank’s branches before lockdown and are not sure if they will ever return.
However, not everyone has gone completely digital as 3 in 10 British banking customers (29%) have already returned to using their bank’s branches, with an additional 44% of customers planning to return soon.
Of these people who plan to return in the near future, over two thirds (69%) will only return when they absolutely need to and their problem cannot be solved online or over the phone.
While a third of those consumers (31%) are waiting for a COVID vaccine or treatment before they go back to their local branch.
This means that eventually, three-quarters of Brits (74%) will return to banking in-branch the way they did before lockdown.
However, they may face a longer journey than they previously did to find a branch. Data from ONS shows 25% of branches have closed in the UK since 2012 and this decline in branches is likely to continue if people follow through with their plans to avoid branches.
Customers in Northern Ireland will go back to banking in branches more so than those in any other region, with 85% of customers here saying they have already returned or plan to do so soon.
Interestingly, a quarter of customers (25%) in the East Midlands had already stopped banking in branches, making this the area with the most customers who no longer use branches.
Those in the North East are set to follow the same path as residents in the East Midlands, with 5% of customers in the North East saying they will stop using branches in the future.
To see the research in full visit: https://www.finder.com/uk/banking-branch-usage
Commenting on the findings, Jon Ostler, CEO at finder.com said:
“Lockdown has quickly changed many aspects of our lives and our banking behaviour was no different. Not being able to visit bank branches in person meant many consumers had no option but to start using online banking and bank’s mobile apps. These are generally easy to use and intuitive so you would expect some of these new converts to stay away from branches going forward.
“While the digital-only banks excel at their app offering, previous research we carried out found that sentiment towards these banks fell almost three times as much during lockdown than towards high street banks. This could be a sign that the quality of apps and online banking from high street banks is catching up.”
Finder commissioned Onepoll on 26 to 28 August 2020 to carry out a nationally representative survey of adults aged 18+. A total of 2,000 people were questioned throughout Great Britain, with representative quotas for gender, age and region.
Liquid Assets of a Bank
Liquid assets are tangible and movable assets which are easily convertible into cash in a crisis situation. Liquid assets are used by lenders to fund their loans. Examples of liquid assets include government bonds and central bank reserves.
To stay alive, financial institutions must have enough liquid funds to pay withdrawals and other immediate financial obligations by depositing holders of checks. But the amount of money they have in liquid form is not enough to cover these short-term obligations and their financial problems will become worse. Liquid assets of the financial institutions should be regularly replenished to make the banking system financially stable. In order to maintain a sufficient amount of money in the economy, the Federal Reserve System will always be in need of additional assets.
There are several ways in which the financial institutions can replenish their liquid assets. One of the ways is by borrowing funds from banks and credit unions. The other way is by issuing debt securities to provide liquidity for the monetary system.
Borrowing from banks and credit unions: Banks can borrow funds from other financial institutions in order to meet their liquidity requirements. However, the rate at which banks borrow funds from other financial institutions is usually very high. This high rate can only be beneficial for the financial institutions because the borrowed funds are used to purchase commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS). In return for providing CMBS, the banks can receive interest payments on the principal balance of the loans they have made to other financial institutions.
Issuing debt securities: The assets that a commercial bank or credit union secures as collateral for the loan from other financial institutions can also be used to liquidate its existing liquid assets. Usually, the assets used as collateral to secure loaned funds are Treasury securities, corporate bonds and treasury bills. However, as the value of these securities decreases, the banks’ ability to recover them through the redemption of their treasury bills and the federal income tax on the principal balance of these securities can increase the amount of funds they will have to pay out on short-term debts.
Securing debt securities: As mentioned above, the assets which commercial banks and credit unions can use to liquidate their liquid and non-liquid assets can also be used to secure loans made by them to other financial institutions. But it is important for the banks and credit unions to ensure that the funds they use to secure these loans are not used to purchase more securities. In order to obtain maximum gains from the sale of their assets, they should use a method to redeem the securities before the maturity date of the loan.
In addition to using these methods to secure other financial institutions’ loans, banks and credit unions can also sell their assets in order to raise the funds they need for making short-term payments. For example, if a commercial bank has a large inventory of commercial mortgage-backed securities, it may want to sell some of its assets in order to raise the capital required to make a single payment. If the purchase price of these assets is less than the total loan balance, the bank can sell its securities and cash in order to raise the necessary capital.
Although liquid and non-liquid assets can help the banking system to make its operations more stable, the loss of one type of asset can severely affect the financial condition of a bank or credit union. Therefore, even if there are many types of assets, it is important for the banks and credit unions to maintain a balanced level of liquidity in order to make sure that the economic system is not adversely affected by any one type of loss.
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