Mobile banking must replicate branch experiences

In the not-so-distant past, walking into a bank and speaking with a teller or a loan specialist was a normal occurrence for almost everybody. It was an important mode of interaction that humanized the banking brand, allowed employees to deliver personal expertise and consulting, and fostered customer loyalty. Then along came the coronavirus.

For many banks, the shift from in-person to online exposed gaps in their online and mobile banking options and, in doing so, raised a number of pressing questions regarding functionality. Can a banker or customer service rep join customers in the app to help them figure out more complex transactions like depositing checks, transferring funds and applying for loans? Can the app support a loan officer’s need to guide the borrower through confusing disclosures and qualification paperwork? Can the app enable secure digital meetings with a financial advisor to develop investment strategies?

BAI’s Banking Outlook for 2020, released prior to the pandemic, found that about half of customers under age 55 would switch financial institutions for a better banking app and digital platform capabilities. Banks now need to take inventory of how well they are delivering digital banking functionality that will help them win customers and build lifetime customer loyalty.

In-app support is now a must-have

While COVID-19 may have stopped customers from walking into a bank, it certainly has not put an end to customer questions and issues that need real-time support. In many cases, customer-initiated queries have escalated due to the unfamiliarity that many consumers have with digital tools. This is when strong in-app support capabilities come into play.

In 2020, customer service capabilities shifted from nice-to-have to necessity. Exceptional app support improves adoption and brand reputation for institutions that want to turn their digital apps into a growth channel. Some issues can be solved with bots and automated support. Other issues demand that a human knowledge worker be able to join the customer in the app, see the screen and offer guidance to resolve the issue.

The COVID effect forced the industry’s hand when it came to providing the equivalent of face-to-face communication in a time of social distancing. Many initially opted for readily available online meeting technology, and were quickly encountered security and privacy concerns. Online meeting technology is generally not engineered to comply with financial services-grade enterprise data security and privacy policies, particularly encryption, authentication and masking sensitive personal information. Financial institutions need to provide a safe and secure experience in order to build consumer trust in a digital environment.

Balancing automation and humanity

The pandemic shutdown has created a massive void in the ability of banks to deliver empathy and human expertise. Customers applying for a loan, exploring mortgage options or identifying the right investment strategy can have dozens of questions. They want to see and speak to a banking expert and receive assurance they are making good choices and that the bank brand is worthy of their trust.

Automated digital tools are not designed for this, and when combining the shortcomings of AI with customers’ lack of familiarity in finding resources through the banking app, frustrations will only rise. This is why banks need to pay careful attention to the nuances of the mobile app, and ensure it parallels the delivery of expertise and service that brick-and-mortar branches are known for. It is paramount to inject humanity into the digital experience.

There are customers who will always seek the advice of their bankers to find the best product or service for their particular needs. It doesn’t matter how robust the automation is, or how intuitive the interface. Customers who have questions and concerns about life-changing financial products deserve to be provided with the requisite level of service that will allay fears and reinforce brand confidence. These conversations rely on real-time human engagement. And these interactions should be able to take place in the secure confines of the app.

Stepping into a bank branch is hard for customers right now. Stepping into the unknown when it comes to the digital landscape can be difficult, too. As we move deeper into the age of digital, recreating that in-branch feel will become the stepping stones for gaining new customers, retaining old ones and keeping them for life.

Tom Martin is chief executive officer of Glance Networks.

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