Digital transformation in retail banks

9th Nov 2016

In the last few years, since the 2008 banking crisis, retail banking has been through unprecedented turmoil. With many banks only surviving due to taxpayer-funded support and customer confidence at an all-time low, customer relationships have been under scrutiny like never before. It costs banks around six times as much to attract a new customer as to retain an existing one and so it is clearly in the banks’ best interests to drive value and enhance the customer experience.

Digital transformation has been a key component and today, consumers can perform several routine tasks online and through mobile devices including: checking balances, paying bills, transferring funds and depositing cheques. However, this shift has resulted in fewer branch visits and even more of a gap between banks and their customers.

Branch Closures

Research have shown that, for example, four in 10 Americans haven’t visited a branch in last six months, which also explains the 5% annual closing of branches since 2009. As such, banks can no longer rely on their friendly personal bankers to sell new products and services to consumers when they visit the branch. The gap has grown so wide that banks are losing the revenue opportunities that came so naturally through these in-person interactions.

So what can banks do to recapture these opportunities? The answer is to embrace the digital personal banker.

There is a logical evolution taking place, from in-person branch personal banker to digital personal banker. A digital personal banker utilises technology such as natural language interfaces (virtual assistant or voice), self-service or chat to engage and guide consumers along their banking journeys. Unlike a branch personal banker, a digital personal banker is proactive i.e. can anticipate and engage as needed and leverages the complete context of the customer (customer information, spending/purchase history, etc.) to deliver a superior and more personalised experience than a branch personal banker. A digital personal banker can proactively engage customers in key banking moments that matter i.e. acquisition, servicing and collections. A few quick wins along these banking journeys could include the following:

§ Handle basic questions with a Virtual Assistant – As consumers conduct research and compare products and services, they often have the same basic queries such as "what is the best credit card to pay off debt," "what is the best savings account," and "what are the best mortgage options." Most of these questions can be easily handled with an online virtual assistant, which is far superior to forcing a consumer to navigate the website for answers.

§ Quickly escalate to live chat – for complex questions that arise, especially during acquisition journeys, seamless integration with live agent chat ensures that consumers have the same continuous experience. This increases incremental conversions, which increase revenues and deepens relationships.

§ Incorporate natural language speech into the phone service – Banking customers still use the phone for “journeys” such as bill payments, application status checks, stop payments, etc. These customers often experience frustration due to confusing phone tree menus and long hold times to speak to an agent. Using a phone system that understands natural language can drive lower average handle times, improve first contact resolution and provide a better customer experience.

§ Leverage smartphone capabilities – Since by nature these devices are both auditory and visual, banks can offer a true multimodal experience where customers can use touch as well as speech to complete banking journeys. For example, if a customer chooses to accept an offer for a card upgrade over the phone, after completion of a payment journey, they can receive the new terms and conditions via text on their smartphone, thus lowering handle times as well as improving the experience.

§ Explore emerging channels – The biggest emerging channel today is the use of chat bots. However, to avoid a large number of poorly designed and ineffective bots in the market, it’s essential to choose bots with intelligence and integrate with agent-assisted chat experiences. From a banking standpoint, messaging and chat bot applications open many doors for easier and conversional digital banking interactions in self-service or chat conversations. For example, in the event of possible fraud, rather than email a potential fraudulent activity to a customer, banks can send a message to Facebook Messenger alerting them in real-time and instantly displaying charges to be verified. In the event of a dispute, they can enable a resolution by seamlessly integrating with chat agents.

Investments in the above mentioned technologies today can bridge this separation between banks and consumers and also ease transition from the branch personal banker to the digital personal banker. Before we know it, digital personal bankers will be leading the next phase of creating value, growing customers and revenues, deepening relationships and lowering the costs of customer service.

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