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Will banking survive the future?

By Cliff Ettridge, Director for The Team

Summary

  • Six ways in which the banking industry can enhance their customer and employee experience to fuel innovation.
  • Purpose is important, but it is nothing new. Banks must look to their brand heritage and make it relevant in today’s age.
  • Banks face an uncertain future. The IMF states that the US is on the edge of recession. We live in a low-growth world, with historically low interest rates.
  • Banks have been slow to innovate. Many still run on legacy systems and are unable to harness the power of data and the cloud.
  • Failure to encourage a culture of innovation and collaboration is suppressing a quality customer experience and speed to market.
  • Banking is not relevant. Unless banks embrace the idea of ‘banking as a service’ they will be bypassed by customers who head for start-ups.
  • There is still value in bricks and mortar to build relationships and cement credibility.

How financial services brands can change their experience to survive in 2020

Take a walk down Upper Street in Angel Islington, London and you might be accosted by someone in casual clothing asking if you’d like to try out a banking app. This is because you’ll be passing one of those rare things in banking; a digital experimentation lab.

I’m not going to name the bank, but they’ve set up a shop and given their designers and developers free reign to develop prototypes and take them straight onto the street for immediate testing. It’s a glimpse into the hyper-agile and innovative approach to customer experience that banks need to adopt if they are going to survive, let alone grow.

Let’s be clear, if you work in the banking sector then the chances are that in 10 years’ time your company will not exist. Fact. Either macro factors will get you or your culture will.

The future for banking – and the general economic outlook – is a bit bleak. You guessed it; this is not a happy blog, but it is not without hope.

We are experienced at working with financial services brands, having helped transform the NS&I brand; invested in the culture at RBS and TSB; developed payment experiences for Capita; and, introduced change communications across the digital function at HSBC.

A consistent picture of what may lie ahead is emerging from the IMF, Deloitte, PWC and S&P: the potential for recession, low growth, and a banking infrastructure and model ill-prepared for economic shocks.

When it comes to infrastructure, banks are still creaking. Many operate on legacy mainframe systems that were developed in the 1980s and run on programming languages like COBOL. Picture railway enthusiasts running a steam engine line and you can just as easily picture what is happening inside banks. The knowledge and expertise in place to run these systems is literally dying out as talent retires. This was brought into sharp focus when we worked with our client Avanade to develop arguments for banking to embrace the Cloud.

Never has it been more important for banks to innovate and place themselves on the front foot by developing a better experience for their customers. And yet, frighteningly, as PWC reveals, just 61% of bankers say a customer-centric business model is “very important” to them.

This could be because, as they look into the PESTLE of banking, they see their immediate challenges as being best addressed by battening down the hatches:

  • Politically, protectionism is on the rise and markets are looking inwards
  • Economically, forecasts suggest low growth with historically low interest rates
  • Socially, established markets face an aging population and younger customers who demand more
  • Technologically, digital disruption will continue, and legacy systems will fail
  • Legally, regulation and open standards are putting more pressure on established practices for banks
  • Environmentally, banks must face up to the impact of climate change and how this affects their portfolios.

It’s not good news. As Deloitte points out: “Economists forecast the probability of a US recession in the coming year at 25 percent, similar to last year. Most other G-7 countries, such as Japan, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom, are in a similar situation or worse.” The low growth ‘Japanification’ of economies looks set to take hold.

Comparatively, US banks are in a relatively stable position, while European banks are still rationalising and reducing headcount. And Chinese banks – the biggest in the world – are operating in a market where too many global hopes are pinned. It only takes one unforeseen incident – such as coronavirus – to hit confidence.

You get the picture. It’s all a bit bad.

But low growth is the perfect breeding ground for innovation. As creative thinkers, banks should all rejoice in the opportunity to do things differently so that they can lead us back to growth.

And patterns are changing, especially among younger audiences. Most people today have multiple accounts with various banks and are very careful who they give their money to. A State of Pay report from Vocalink discovered that 40% of people had a secondary current account, with the figure rising to 48% for customers aged between 25 and 34 years old.

The Federal Reserve guarantees funds to $250,000 and central banks provide similar guarantees; this is one reason for multiple accounts, but banking customers today are also looking to tick quite a few other boxes. Values, image, reputation, sustainable policies and, most important of all, ease and helpfulness of channels and the usefulness of apps is driving further selection.

People expect their bank to act as their personal financial advisor and life coach. They expect features such as price comparisons based on the bills they pay and to be told where they can save and make more of their money.

As The Team’s head of Experience Design, KardoAyoub says: “Different banks have managed to do different things well and have unique and compelling features, but soon someone will come along offering all these useful features under one roof and challenge everyone else in the market. Banks have to get more creative when it comes to customer experience.”

Creative? Banks? Historically, creativity has not exactly been fertile territory for banks but that has to change, and here is how.

Every PESTLE needs a MORTAR, so download our Banking on a different future white paper to learn about the six ways in which the banking industry can enhance their customer and employee experience to fuel innovation.

Express your Mission; embrace Openness; build Relationships; a Technology culture to Anticipate; and be a brand that is Relevant and enjoyable.

Mission

Everyone is talking about purpose and it’s easy to get sucked in. But remember, it is not as if banks have lacked purpose before. Looking forward is essential, but so is looking back. In these current times, heritage matters – even for youngsters. As The Team’s NS&I consultancy lead Sally Tarbit puts it: “Even for youngsters, they like to know that, as a brand, you have experience to draw on. There is countless research that heritage and gaining reassurance from the past is even more important in times of political, social and economic change. If a brand has done something for a long time, made mistakes and knows what works, that’s important. But it’s vital they see a brand that’s looking forward while drawing on strength from the past.”

The purpose for NS&I is simple and clear: ‘to inspire a stronger savings culture. We believe everyone should have the opportunity to save confidently.’ The Team worked hard with the organisation to understand how to bring that purpose to life in unique and compelling ways. That started by increasing access to saving products by creating an online bank that was attractive to new customers and still accessible for the older established customers.

As Sally says: “The challenge is how you bring the brand to life in a relevant and progressive way, so that it doesn’t look outdated and dusty. This is especially important for NS&I, who had a very rich heritage but still needed to signal their progressiveness. We have spent time looking at how people are relating to brand missions in these changing times. Lloyds is an obvious example where semiotics (signs and symbols) are being used to nod to heritage in a progressive way. The black horse has a familiar, emotional attachment but has been re-interpreted in a way that resonates for today and tomorrow.”

Openness

You can’t do it alone, and regulation is going to enforce changes to ways in which brands improve experiences. Kardo says: “The brands that will be successful are the ones that learn to work in exciting ways with other brands. Customers don’t care about the artificial walls created by organisations. They just care about seamless services.”

Service as a mindset will be something that banks have to embrace, as well as Banking as a Service (BaaS). SolarisBank is a prime example of a financial services brand that has both embraced the idea of service and has seen the importance of repositioning itself in the market: it makes clear that it is a technology company that happens to have a banking license. As a result, SolarisBank is perfectly positioned to integrate banking into other services, meaning that your bank could also be your utility provider, your local council, or your preferred social media provider.

This explains why Facebook Pay is consolidating payments across all of its apps. It recognises that a banking experience needs to be integrated across a customer’s common touchpoints.

We know integrated online experiences matter. As Business Insider points out, when broken down by generation mobile use is high:

  • 97% of millennials (up from 92% in 2017)
  • 91% of Gen Xers (up from 86%)
  • 79% of Baby Boomers (up from 69%)

Critically for the banks themselves, 64% of mobile banking users said that they would research a bank’s mobile capabilities before opening an account, and 61% say they would change banks if their bank offered a poor mobile banking experience.

Relationships

But before we rush online, bricks and mortar are not dead. Paying in cheques may be dead but speaking to people is not. One of the ironies of AI is that we may start to see jobs return from outsourcing markets to home shores so that more nuanced advice can be given by contact centre workers closer to the markets where customers reside.

Steve Morgan at FinExtra is not alone in thinking that in order for banks to offer advisory services moving forward, they will have to start to open up micro-branches all over the country.

Banks must connect with their communities in order to remain relevant. That means having a presence, which is a challenge for digital start-ups. Research suggests that customers of all ages like the security and credibility that bricks and mortar suggest. Cyber security is a hot topic, but the emotional connection to security is just as important. As my own daughter said to me recently: “I love Monzo and I love that it’s easy to use, but there is something reassuring about knowing that I can walk into my HSBC if something goes wrong.”

But the experience in branch needs to change. As Accenture pointed out in 2017, the branch needs to go digitalbut more than that the branch needs to recruit employees who can provide empathy and trusted advice. Banks, more than ever, need to employ people who can connect with customers and advise them on their financial wellness, rather than employees who are just good at getting the transactions done. This is going to be a huge brand differentiator. We have seen RBS and NatWest push Moneysense and First Direct is promoting financial wellness in their latest advertising but, importantly, it needs to be at the heart of the proposition.

For NS&I, it is right there in the purpose of savings. As Sally adds: “Saving is about good financial admin and the mental, physical and material wellbeing that brings. Saving, no matter how small, is infinitely better than a life built on credit.”

That need for empathy requires brands to recruit employees and encourage behaviours that enable the correct judgment calls to be made.

Technology culture

Infrastructure in too many banks is still appalling. There is a need to modernise legacy systems and start to focus on how data can begin to unlock better service. This means banks will have to eventually move to the cloud. Blockchain will also allow multiple players to access banking services and this is the tech that will have to be deployed.

To realise this opportunity, banking tech teams themselves must become as agile as their cloud providers. In 2017, HSBC was releasing 200,000 code updates a year – Google and Amazon were releasing a similar number every day.

Anticipate

This section could have easily been entitled ‘Artificial Intelligence’, as brands must learn to anticipate and use predictive analytics across retail and investment banking.

Bizarrely, AI can fill the gap left by the dehumanization of banking. At the end of the day, banking is all about money and customers want reassurance, access and trust. Whether it is retail or investment, they want to feel okay about parting with it and where it has gone. Building and facilitating that into the process when humans are being removed from the transactional process is essential. AI needs to anticipate what is happening to customers’ money and suggest simple decisions that they can take.

Relevant and enjoyable

At our best, as people we all value human relationships. We want authentic experiences and we want them to be enjoyable, whether we are talking about leisure activities or banking.

The thing banks need to ask is how they can design experiences that are enjoyable. Monzo recently learned from Strava and Apple’s ‘memories’ notifications. Where Strava sends riders and runners details of their last year’s exercise and Apple photo memories, Monzo served up customers’ year in spending – where they shopped, what they bought the most, where they liked to eat, and what they liked to buy. Presented as a trip down memory lane, it was also a subtle nudge on how to reconsider spending.

Kardo says: “We live in the Experience age; customers are more demanding than ever and expect smooth and stress-free experiences, especially when it comes to their money.”

Josh Reich and Shamir Karkal, two MBA students at Carnegie Mellon University, tapped into behavioural economics when considering what would motivate customers. They recognised that people love positive imagery to encourage savings. If a customer’s savings account is called ‘Trip to Hawaii’ then it is more likely to grow than if it’s just called savings.

The ability to name the account also offers up lots of rich opportunities to introduce customers to other providers – learn to surf; read about the Pacific; the right holiday insurance. It’s a value exchange that suddenly matters.

As Sally concludes: “The future of banking is all about joined-up experiences. It is about embracing open banking standards and looking at how you can put customers first and get behind one strong purpose. For NS&I it’s all about building a nation of savers; for high street banks it is about giving people access to seamless and responsible services. Define that purpose and organise experiences around that.”