Technology – financial technology specifically – figures prominently in the retail banking industry’s view of this year’s major trends. There are references to how such developments as the internet of things, data analytics and blockchain technology will likely affect banking.
In December, The Financial Brand published its Top 10 Retail Banking Trends and Predictions for 2018. The publication’s seventh annual study draws from the trends prioritized by a panel of 100-plus global financial services professionals it surveyed. The three trends ranked highest by that panel also resonated strongly with several local financial professionals.
Those three priorities were “Removing friction from the customer journey,” “Expanding the use of data and advanced analytics” and “Improving multi-channel delivery.”
Those are priorities for local financial institutions as well.
“With consumer-focused companies like Amazon and Netflix offering seamless digital experiences, customers expect their financial institution to offer the same efficient, digital and personalized service,” said Kendra Tolley, head of retail product at financial software company nCino.
Tolley’s comments referenced the importance of data analytics and well-designed software to providing that kind of service.
The common link between the study’s areas is the “important integration of advancing digital technology and how it impacts bank operations, interfaces between systems, and most importantly, promotes a consistent, high-quality and reliable client experience that all consumers of financial services demand,” said BB&T’s Wilmington market president Charlie Mattox.
Consistent service across multiple channels just means that customers feel comfortable and have a good experience regardless of how they choose to bank, from in-person to phone and digital transactions, officials said.
“Banks are improving multi-channel delivery in all of these access points,” said Christopher George, senior vice president and regional manager of PNC’s Wilmington region. “The outcome is that the client can get many services through [branches, call centers and digital services] and these channels have similar experiences for the client.”
It all comes back to knowing and understanding the customer, according to several local bankers.
“I’m going to give you options on how you bank with me, but I need to know who you are so I can contact you about new features you may be interested in and ways to get things done,” said Ben Woodruff, executive vice president of First Citizens Bank in the Wilmington market. “We give you an avenue to access accounts you can do on your own, but that creates the additional challenge of creating automation to let us know who you are and to follow up with you, offering additional products and services that might be better for you.”
Richard DeCrescente, regional vice president of Alliance Credit Union, echoed Woodruff’s emphasis on the importance of cross-training personnel and personalizing products.
“People still want that personal touch. It’s still about relationships, about seeking advice. Our people are relationship managers, trained across functions,” he said.
Traditionally, the banking model was focused on what was good for the financial institution, but it’s now focused on the customer experience, DeCrescente added. And big data, used with that goal in mind, is key for Alliance in learning about its members.
“When a member comes into one of our branches, we can see how that member is currently using us,” he said, explaining that an associate will pull up the member’s profile, which displays which products and services the person is tapping into. “Big data allows us to understand the member better and even to predict behavior. It allows us to see patterns and send the member an email or text if those patterns change.”
All the technology and good intentions in the world aren’t going to enhance a customer’s experience if customers don’t understand features designed to help them, and if employees can’t explain them, officials said.
“Really, here’s what technology has done: People used to joke about bankers’ hours, but now bankers’ hours are 24/7,” DeCrescente said. “As part of the recent remodeling of our two Wilmington branches, we have installed a technology bar. It gives members a real-time view of all the mobile applications available. The idea behind this is for members new to mobile apps, we can show them, even during time they may be waiting to see one of our people.”
Wells Fargo, buffeted by news about fake accounts some employees created for customers, has embarked on a major initiative called Change for the Better. The effort embraces the need for both personal interaction and advanced technology.
Thomas Cline started training for it in August, when he assumed his new role as Wells Fargo’s Eastern North Carolina regional bank president, based in Wilmington.
“We spent six months really listening to our team members and customers about what they felt we should do,” he said. “Phase 2 will start in late February, rolling out to the leadership team in the mid-Atlantic region, which includes North Carolina. It’s more about interactive technology, making sure our team members understand our technology and can explain it to customers.”
Change for the Better also includes small changes, such as positioning a team member’s computer screen so it’s visible to a customer as well as to the employee.
“We want to be transparent around what customers can expect and what they have with us,” Cline added.
One new high-tech feature allows Wells Fargo customers to get onetime secure access to their accounts and even cash via an app on their smartphone, should they lose their card or be out and about without it. The bank also recently announced a partnership with global wearables brand Fitbit to launch Fitbit Pay to its customers.
BB&T’s Mattox outlined the challenges he believes lie ahead for institutions as they harness technology to power a successful customer experience.
“In the not too distant future,” he said, “the clear winners in the retail banking space will be those that are relentless in the pursuit of providing perfect client experiences across multiple channels and platforms, have the financial resources today to invest heavily in technology integrations and advances and are willing to take calculated disruption risks in order to consciously to evolve and gain strategic advantage equating to larger market share and revenue growth.”