Banking digitalization: From ‘How’s it coming?’ to ‘How fast can we get there?’

I coach a girls’ fastpitch softball team in my spare time. I constantly motivate my players with the classic Billy Sunday quote, “It doesn’t matter how well you start if you fail to finish.” I say it often—so often, in fact, they now joyfully complete my rallying cry for me. I’m proud of that. It’s now our mantra. It has galvanized our team. And it shows up in our performance on the field, as well as how we’re perceived by our competition.

For all of us, whether we’re at work or play, expectations are always high—even when the stakes go up faster than you could turn a bang-bang double play.

This past March, as the pandemic took hold in the United States, the game changed for everyone—none more so than for the volatile and emotional financial services industry. But just knowing it changed isn’t enough, especially for an old ball coach like me. I had to know how much and why.

At Harland Clarke, we recently polled banks and credit unions of all sizes and asked them questions about COVID-19’s effect on how they conduct business and connect with customers. We received 280 responses. Of the respondents, 74 percent experienced 10 percent or more growth in digital banking adoption.

What also changed was the reason for digitalization—the why. Before 2020, digital banking adoption was viewed as a cost-cutting initiative, and not as a means of building a resilient, innovative business model that mitigates attrition and supports growth.

Whether they’re searching store shelves for toilet paper or depositing a check, consumers are unwilling to accept compromise over access and quality of service. The biggest challenge for institutions was and continues to be servicing difficult transactions digitally. Today’s consumers want an end-to-end digital channel experience that reflects their value to their institution.

Data has a very personal story to tell

Mad Men’s Don Draper said it best when he quipped, “Happiness is the moment before you need more happiness.” With consumer fragility at an all-time high, what could be more damaging to your brand than loudly announcing to your customers that you have no idea who they are, where they are in their financial journey, and what they need to be happy?

Our survey revealed many financial institutions are dropping the ball at utilizing data to create personalized customer interactions:

» 40 percent of respondents do not use customer data and analytics to enable personalized offerings and interactions

» 34 percent of respondents use name and address information only

The game stakes have been raised. Personalization is no longer simply name and address. It’s not even in the same zip code. Consumers expect more. Winning in marketing is achieved by breaking down internal communication siloes to meet customers exactly where they are in their journey, through every channel, with a consistent, connected and personalized message that lets them know you are there for them when they need you most.

Making change work

I don’t have a lot of power hitters in my girls’ softball lineup. We rely on contact, ball placement and speed. Our kryptonite is a muddy infield. So, when an unexpected thunderstorm emerges from a totally clear blue sky, in the middle of a tie game, we need adapt quickly to an altered playing field.

COVID-19 is like that unexpected thunderstorm. Working from anywhere is the altered playing field. And now institutions need to create a remote work culture that supports seamless interactions between employees, coworkers and customers and builds business continuity. That’s what leaders do.

Among our survey respondents, 23 percent consider working from home the new normal in banking. And to the surprise of no one, a remote workforce has put considerable pressure on internal contact centers’ ability to handle increased calls and responsibilities.

When asked to name their top internal contact center challenges:

» 68 percent said increase in call volume
» 39 percent reported work-from-home
» 37 percent named capacity limitations due to social distancing

Contact center staff challenges range from having the tools to obtain and share knowledge broadly, to their inability to physically tap a cube neighbor’s shoulder for insight, guidance and advice. It’s not just about tech—it’s about creating that connected experience for your employees as well as for your customers.

What’s inspiring is how institutions have adapted to sweeping change. Employees have the same needs as customers to feel engaged and connected. The workplace is their community. The crisis has exposed our ability to interact in new and different ways in a work from-anywhere world. Virtual water coolers and brown bag lunches, Zoom calls, Slack meetings and Skype calls have become new dictionary entries and part of our everyday language.

By investing in technologies that empower employees to work from anywhere, balancing in-person experiences with remote customer experiences, financial institutions have not only closed the gap in delivering customer service excellence, but also strengthened the bond with their teams. Empowered employees are happier, more proud and more productive—and it shows up in each and every customer interaction.

Let’s keep building a winning culture with an eye toward the post-pandemic world. Investing in digital transformation and transitioning to digitalization as a primary business mode should be a priority for every financial institution that wants to compete, build a customer/employee-centric culture and stay relevant.

Jeff Hassemer is senior vice president, marketing, at Harland Clarke.

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