What the traditional financial services industry can learn from neobanks and fintechs

Slower-moving incumbents need to rethink the way they do business in a digitally driven world that puts customer experience first.

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The pandemic has exposed gaps and accelerated transformation in virtually every industry, and banking is no exception. Faced with spiking demand and the need to go digital fast, most traditional financial services providers saw customer experience as a lower priority over the past year. This was not lost on customers. According to recent Salesforce research, “Trends in Financial Services,” only 27 percent of customers believe the financial services industry is customer-centric, and just 23 percent think the industry handled the pandemic well. Meanwhile, nearly 70 percent of customers say COVID-19 has raised their expectations of companies’ digital capabilities. 

Becoming an industry that puts customers first

Until now, the financial services industry has been slow to embrace innovative technologies. Concerns about security and regulatory compliance have led many institutions to neglect cloud migration in favor of building their own internal data centers. This may have enabled functionality in the past, but it has limited banks’ ability to be agile, scale and meet the changing needs of customers. Disparate data sources housed in legacy systems add red tape and prevent companies from connecting the dots in order to offer seamless service, personal and integrated experiences, and avoid hidden compliance issues. At the same time, customers are more connected than ever, have myriad choices at their fingertips and are willing to switch allegiances if they aren’t satisfied.

Today, moving to the cloud has become necessary to enable the personalized and nuanced engagement that customers are demanding — expectations that have only escalated over the past year. Having a single, secure view of client data is key to improving efficiency, building stronger relationships with customers and avoiding regulatory missteps. When it comes to technology, the question for financial services institutions is no longer about build versus buy; rather, the trade-off is between building internal solutions and organizing for customer-centricity.

5 lessons from neobanks and fintechs

The pandemic has created an opportunity for traditional financial institutions, including those corporate and investment banks, to innovate in order to improve customer experience. In doing so, they might take a page from the playbook of neobanks (aka digital-only banks) and fintech companies, and even D2C retail brands. These digital natives know the importance of cloud and innovative technologies to deliver more intuitive, personalized engagement and effortless services that drive loyalty and growth. It’s not enough today for banks to focus on digitization — simply taking their existing services and processes online. Instead, they need to undertake true digital transformation, rethinking the way they do business in a world that is digital-centered and puts the customer first.

Following in the footsteps of industry disruptors, here are five steps traditional institutions can take to adapt their digital services to customers’ needs and expectations.

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1. Migrate to the cloud

Banks have slowly been moving away from internal data centers, with the average institution now hosting 58 percent of workloads in the cloud, according to Accenture. Their research has found that the move has clear benefits for banks, cutting operational costs by up to 20 percent and improving time to market and provisioning speed by up to 50 percent. Moving to the cloud is also the first step to uniting data sources in order to enable agility and a better customer experience.

2. Move from omni-channel to “opti-channel” 

Banks have been doing their best to engage customers everywhere they expect them to be — at the same time and with the same message. Amid the pandemic, 45 percent of wealth managers have expanded to support new channels. But just offering services across new channels isn’t enough. Following the example of challenger brands, banks should move from this standard omni-channel approach to “opti-channel” engagement. That means optimizing communication channels to reflect the unique needs and preferences of each client and deliver personalized engagement in the moment. This requires a smart, real-time engagement platform that draws on customer data and interaction history across all channels.

3. Deliver a holistic experience

Clients of corporate and investment banks are not much different than customers at retail banks and D2C brands. At the end of the day, we’re all humans engaging with services on a device. Customers have the same expectations for personalized service as they do for consumer brands — a fact that neobanks and fintechs have embraced. To catch up, traditional financial institutions should focus on leveraging data to proactively offer products and services that are relevant to individual customers’ lives. And they should connect mission-critical business processes — including onboarding, account origination and service fulfillment — to create a holistic customer experience.

4. Expand the financial services portfolio to support financial enablement and better outcomes

The banking industry is moving beyond offering products and services to promote financial enablement — helping customers meet their goals and supporting their financial wellness over time. According to Salesforce research, more than 70 percent of retail bankers and wealth managers say that focusing on client well-being has become more important since the onset of the pandemic. Technology can help empower financial advisors to become not just suppliers of investment advice, but also financial coaches who provide individualized guidance on everything from insurance to estate planning to family dynamics. Shifting to the cloud can help advisors employ AI-powered insights to create customized experiences, such as tailored risk profiles and personalized portfolios.

In investment banking, for example, AI can not only help surface or predict areas of opportunity for bankers to deliver innovative services, but can also uncover and deepen relationships. Artificial intelligence (AI) I-powered research assistants crawl the web, data sources, news articles, email, and social media to uncover and analyze relevant information. This helps bankers gain greater insights to nurture leads and enhance relationships.

5. Invest in AI-powered automation

AI tools can improve the customer experience at traditional banks in multiple ways. Automating repetitive back-office processes drives efficiency while freeing up financial advisors to focus on using creativity and a human touch to engage customers. Automating front-office services can also help banks deliver value in new ways. Both of these are examples of autonomous finance, which Forrester Research defines as “algorithm-driven financial services that make decisions or take action on a customer’s behalf.” According to Salesforce’s research, 6 in 10 financial services leaders report that better personalization is a top benefit of autonomous finance, allowing for an improved customer journey at scale.

Becoming a customer-first, digitally centered company

In the last year, we’ve all heard that leading organizations must innovate to serve digital-first customers. This is true. However, the most promising companies will become customer-first companies that prioritize digital innovation to enhance customer experiences and invest in ways to also create net new value.

The financial services industry has long lagged behind others in adopting technologies to improve customer experience. The pandemic has widened the gap between what customers want and what banks can deliver and created an opportunity to accelerate innovation. In order to better serve their clients, banks are turning to technologies that offer a real-time, unified view of their customers and AI-powered insights. At a time when customers are exploring their options, traditional financial institutions would be wise to follow the roadmap of neobanks, fintech and other innovative companies prioritizing connected customers in their digital transformation.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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