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Pandemic-proofing digital experiences: A step-by-step guide for financial services firms

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Pandemic-proofing digital experiences: A step-by-step guide for financial services firms 1

By Nick Caley, Vice President, UK & Ireland, ForgeRock 

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented acceleration in consumer behaviour changes, as individuals switched their day-to-day activities to online or mobile – many for the first time – in order to minimise in-person interactions.

But Covid-19 has done more than just drive people online. It has persuaded them to stay there. A

recent survey of British consumers conducted by ForgeRock found that the behaviour changes triggered by the pandemic are likely to prove permanent. 49% of respondents said they plan to use more digital services post-pandemic than they did before and 66% said they plan to use banking services mostly or only online – even after pandemic-related restrictions are lifted. Just 1 in 10 (11%) said they plan to bank mostly or only in-person after the pandemic.

For financial services firms – and indeed any businesses with brick-and-mortar business models – the implication for the future is clear: the quality of online and digital experiences is going to be more important than ever.

Financial institutions have already been under constant pressure to transform, pushed by regulation, driven by competition and hampered by an array of challenges such as legacy infrastructure and liabilities. The ambition of digital transformation has now become an imperative as the pandemic forces acceleration in adoption. Aside from the difficulty of meeting the change in customer expectations, there is a significant downside in the escalating costs of inefficient customer engagement.

So how can banks design and deliver simple, secure digital experiences that will help them thrive in the short-term and our post-pandemic future?

Step 1: Learn the lessons of the last few months 

The good news is that most banks have already laid a solid foundation having been on a path to move into more digital engagement as extensive branch networks have been rationalised. The lockdown served as a catalyst for rapid improvement in serving customers, individuals and businesses by enhancing digital self-service options across online and mobile.

Moreover, before the pandemic hit, banks may have previously struggled to reach the full demographic of their customers as many shunned digital services and preferred cash and in-person experiences. Now those customers have by necessity been motivated to adopt digital and the challenge is to keep and retain them. Special consideration must be paid to these new digital adoptees given how steep the learning curve is with adopting these tools and a track

record of under-supporting these types of customers.

Over-delivering for this new constituency will help cement customer loyalty – and it’s also just the right thing to do as customers face emotional, health and financial stress.

Asian banks – in a culture where one-stop super-platforms are more common – have led the way in reinventing digital financial self-service for the pandemic era. For instance, Ping An, a leading Chinese bank, launched an integrated and holistic digital coronavirus program encompassing banking services, wealth-management and advisory services bundled with non-banking-related services ranging from assistance with shopping to medical appointments and the delivery of medical supplies. Another launched a digital site that combined information on how to use online tools to bank remotely with information on public-health awareness and a way to support the local Red Cross Society.

Crucially, these banks did not try to simply replicate the in-person experience of banking with a digital facelift, instead they holistically assessed the needs of their customers at that time and revamped their offerings – which ultimately prove to be far more useful.

For services that require branch interaction which will remain for some time yet, digital tools can certainly augment this experience by providing information on adjusted business hours, essential services, heightened safety precautions, social-distancing measures, and queuing in busy branches. Surely the most seamless of experiences will go beyond mere information provision and will recognise the step a customer has reached in their journey and pick up exactly from that point in whichever channel of engagement they prefer to move to. This is the reality of modern digital identity.

Whilst many banks have rushed to improve their digital offering in recent months, there’s now a demand to go further: double down on the improvements they will have undoubtedly made, and learn the lessons from what hasn’t worked, to design the next generation of digital offerings around the principles of clarity, optionality, simplicity, and transparency.

This is where a robust, future-proof set of capabilities for digital identity is vital. Digital identity is so often the key to driving effective digital transformation because it allows banks to develop a 360-view of customers and develop a mutually beneficial value exchange built on trust. Organisations can use the convenience, choice, self-service and management of consent to engender a degree of customer trust by giving customers control over who gets access to the data they’re sharing. Executed correctly, digital identity can create a virtuous circle where organisations gain a better understanding of their customers, encouraging users to share more actionable information. This can then be used to create authentic, engaging customer experiences that contribute to bolster loyal customer relationships.

Step 2: Use ‘hacker journeys’ and digital identity to secure customer journeys

In this environment, financial institutions need to be able to recognise, understand and adapt to each customer as an individual, regardless of how they choose to interact with you. The next step is to make sure your financial institution has the right approach to combine customer experience with the ever present challenges of security and fraud.

Again, digital identity is the key for an adaptive approach to risk. Different organisations will – and should – have different approaches to implementing digital identity controls throughout the customer journey based on factors such as risk appetite (which is substantially lower for financial services as a heavily regulated industry), recent incidents (e.g. data theft, loss or leaks, account fraud) as well as the overall desired digital experiences.

To untangle this all, banks should evaluate their critical points of risk during the re-design of customer journeys. A useful way to frame this is to turn it on its head and map a hypothetical hacker journey: how might a cybercriminal exploit your system’s weaknesses along the route of a normal customer transaction?

With a modern digital identity platform, financial institutions can protect against malicious attacks and identity fraud through multi-layered security models, that utilise real-time contextual signals at the time of access and other critical points in a transaction. Through contextual authorisation and adaptive risk features, organisations can verify the authenticity of users, devices and things continuously throughout a session and mitigate risk whenever an anomaly is detected. Integrating identity context within the security response capability allows financial institutions to monitor users and their activity, with alerts for changes to identity and access behaviour in user activity fed directly to the security operations centre.

Step 3: Understand how to balance tradeoffs between security and convenience

When designing journeys, banks have always had to make trade-offs that often help bridge from physical in branch experiences to app and online.

Understanding the tradeoffs you have to make and to have a clear view of the impact of your choices on the user is critical. For financial institutions, where customer trust is absolutely vital, this is an especially fine line to tread.

A process that prioritises security may be heavily restrictive based on device recognition thresholds, account terminations to strict criterias and deprovisioning of dormant users. Rigid security applied too frequently means customers can become frustrated, discouraged and will lead to them abandoning the transaction altogether. However, it mitigates risks arising from regulatory and reputational damage if a breach or fraud occurs.

On the other hand, a process that prioritises customer experience will be as flexible as possible. For instance, this could mean increasing the limits on transactions, simplifying the password reset process and allowing access with the right credentials regardless of dormancy or status. In addition to providing a more seamless experience, these self-service changes can also help reduce the escalating costs associated with contact centre and helpdesk support.

Even for heavily regulated sectors like financial services which are required to maintain periodic authorization, a selective approach can still be beneficial. For example, a bank could give app users the option to automatically see their account balance on the ‘Hello’ page which is a direct result of the increased confidence in the analysis of the real-time device context.

Banks know that displaying this information carries less risk until the user wants to do something. Providing customers with a choice as to which form of authentication they prefer to step up with is key for increased adoption and satisfaction. At the same time, if a customer does want to proceed to an account transaction, they can also be confident that they are involved in a secure process that they’ve chosen. In this scenario neither security nor convenience are compromised.

Customer loyalty will outlast the pandemic

The pandemic has forced businesses in financial services and every other sector to focus on the customer touchpoints that matter, and increasingly these are online and digital.

Many businesses – especially those that rely on brick-and-mortar – will be anxious about the uncertain future ahead. The ‘new normal’ certainly brings new challenges but also new opportunities for those that can adapt effectively.

At a time of massive social, economic and political dislocation, for businesses and consumers alike, right now is the perfect time to take stock and make important decisions about what your customer experience looks like now and into the future because there is a post-pandemic future.

The winners over the coming months will be those who find an optimal balance between digital experience and digital security to retain existing customers and gain new ones, while shielding themselves from external risks. Those businesses that are able to execute on this change effectively in the near future, will find that they reap the rewards for years to come.

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