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By Tim Dimond Brown, Head of EMEA North, GMC Software 

The European Union’s “Europe 2020” strategy was eagerly awaited by the financial services industry; mostly for its focus on the removal of contract-related barriers to cross-border financial trade with the intention of opening new channels for conducting business. But what will this mean for financial services across the continent?

The new rules are designed to remove road blocks to competition, as well as the large and inconsistent burden on the ability to increase services. These don’t, however, guarantee success. The ultimate success for businesses will be largely dependent on how well they can communicate with individual customers across the European Union. The industry must continue to focus on reaching and communicating with customers no matter how long they have had with the company, or where they are in the continent.

Combining the old with the new 

The removal of barriers and the easing of cross-border trade will mean that companies have the potential to make the most of the European Union’s 508 million inhabitants. Despite the expected increase in business volumes, companies can’t let communications with existing and potential customers slip. They need to ensure that people are fully engaged whether they have been a customer for three days or three decades. Let’s say a bank gets distracted with the anticipation of brand new customers and, to save time, texts all existing and potential customers with a special welcome offer. The company risks disaffecting existing customers who may find the use of text intrusive, and as a result could be tempted to take their business to a competitor; meaning the business must recruit more customers simply to break even. The importance of the customer as an individual is imperative and cannot be ignored, regardless of when they joined.

Crossing cultural borders 

It may sound simple, but successful customer communication goes way beyond sending customers the right text message. Financial services companies need to understand that there are many factors to consider. For example, ensuring that language and cultural references are relevant to the individual customer is crucial. It might seem obvious, but wishing an English customer a Happy FestadellaLiberazione, or expecting a Portuguese customer to respond during Portugal Day is a swift route to alienating an audience. Similarly, while some customers may be comfortable with communications via letter or email, others will appreciate a more modern approach, e.g. via SMS or a mobile app. Indeed, according to OnReach, 64 per cent of consumers would prefer text over voice as a customer communications channel. Balancing these needs, and doing so across Europe, could test the limits of many organisations. As a result, they will be forced to look to technology to make the transition easier.

Welcome to the digital age 

Digitalisation has attracted a less than positive response from many organisations: being branded as a mere trend, or a disruption that will force businesses to completely overhaul existing legacy systems. Yet digitalisation is key to giving financial services companies the ability to truly communicate with customers, wherever they are, whenever they joined, and however they prefer to engage with the business. At the same time, customers of all ages will come to expect digital communications as a matter of course. Digitalisation doesn’t need to mean a complete rip and replace of legacy systems. Instead, organisations should look to technology which adapts to existing legacy systems and content, allowing consistent communication across all channels. This will allow communication to be more frequent, more targeted and more interactive, delivering customers the information that matters most to them; whether that’s a mortgage update or their current bank balance.

Step up to the challenge

 While the financial services industry comes to terms with the new rules, companies will find themselves in a favourable yet challenging environment. They need to consider how they can communicate better, with their customers on a much bigger scale. The industry needs to engage with every single customer, from Dublin to Dubrovnik; to ensure that every customer is satisfied across their entire journey with the organisation. Only then will the industry be able to make the most out of the opportunity that is “Europe 2020”.

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