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Superior digital experiences are key to customer growth

In this Q&A, Zach Hamilton of Synovus Bank shares why it’s critical to continually enhance the digital experience for customers and how that impacts the bank’s customer acquisition and retention goals.

Sep 1, 2023 / Digital Banking

For Synovus Bank, providing the utmost digital customer experience is one of the key factors in driving customer growth in 2023. Afterall, if a bank can’t deliver the type of intuitive, frictionless experience with the latest features and functionalities on both its online banking site and mobile app, customers will very likely go elsewhere. Especially the younger set. 

Zach Hamilton, Chief Digital Officer of the $59.6 billion-asset bank based in Columbus, Georgia, shares why it’s critical to continually enhance the digital experience for customers, how Synovus is going about doing that and how it impacts the bank’s customer acquisition and retention goals. 

Why is a strong digital experience key to acquiring new customers? 

Customers today expect a seamless digital experience when interacting with their banks. They want to access their accounts, check their balances, transfer funds and perform other banking transactions quickly and easily. If a bank cannot offer a user-friendly digital experience, potential—and existing—customers are likely to choose a competitor that can. 

A strong digital experience can also help build trust. By providing secure and reliable digital banking services, banks can demonstrate that they take their customers’ financial security seriously. This can help reassure customers that their money is safe and that they can trust the bank to handle their financial transactions.  

How have you improved the digital customer experience at Synovus? 

Over the last four years, we have touched or replaced nearly every major digital solution we have available to our customers. Back in 2019 we replaced our consumer online and mobile application and we have continued to innovate and enhance that platform. During Covid, we substantially increased our focus and investment with digital account opening and onboarding solutions. And last year we completed the final wave of a migration to a next generation commercial and treasury digital platform that has been a huge enabler to our commercial lines of business. 

Which features and functionalities of a mobile banking app are now table stakes, and which new ones are desirable to have, to better attract and retain customers? 

If I think about the industry at large, I think the table stakes haven’t changed much over the past few years: account balance, transaction history, transfers, mobile check deposit, ATM/branch locator, biometric login, alerts, card management and support (chat, secure message, click to call, etc.) to name a few. 

In the coming years, I see this list increasing dramatically. Personalized financial advice and low-friction budgeting and spend tracking tools are two that I am having a lot of conversations around. Mobile payments will continue to be an interesting area to pay attention to, as well as conversational AI capabilities, digital identity verification and perhaps even augmented reality experiences. 

How are you accommodating the preferences of all generations within your digital platforms? 

Younger generations in particular have grown up in a digital world, and they prefer self-service—they want to figure things out themselves. For Gen Xers and baby boomers, it’s often more about just needing something simple and basic: “I have a way of doing things. I’m willing to adopt digital, but don’t inundate me with a bunch of stuff. I just want to get in, do my transactions and get out.” 

But you need to give every customer the option to engage in your digital platforms the way they want to. So how do we become relevant for all those different needs? For people to come in and do everything themselves or have the ability to have a conversation with a human if they need to? It’s a balancing act—it’s very important not to disenfranchise any demographic. 

We’re not there yet. We are exploring segmentation opportunities within our digital platforms and how that would feel to different demographics, depending on their goals. We’re aiming to have one common mobile app and not three or four in the app store—one app that can be segmented to give people the customer experience that they prefer. 

Users will be able to download the app and choose which experience they like—one that is more fully engaging with a few more bells and whistles or one that is streamlined and drastically simplified. Such an app can also have other types of segmentation, like for the mass affluent and other customer segments who may have different needs. 

How do you feel the industry is doing overall regarding delivering a true, seamless omnichannel experience across digital and physical channels? 

While progress has been made in recent years, I believe that the banking industry still has work to do when it comes to providing a true, seamless omnichannel experience for customers. Most banks offer multiple channels for accessing accounts, such as mobile apps, online banking platforms and ATMs.  

However, the customer experience across these channels is not always consistent, and there may be gaps in functionality or service between channels. For example, a customer may be able to perform a certain transaction on the mobile app, but not through online banking, or vice versa. This can create frustration and confusion for customers who expect a consistent experience across all channels. Despite these challenges, I believe that the industry is moving in the right direction when it comes to omnichannel banking. Many banks are investing in technology and infrastructure to better integrate channels and improve the customer experience. 

What are the IT challenges to providing a true omnichannel experience? 

Banks must integrate data from various sources, such as mobile apps, online banking platforms and ATMs, to provide a seamless customer experience. This can be challenging, as different channels may use different data formats and may not communicate with each other in real-time. 

Many banks still use legacy systems that were not designed to support an omnichannel experience. These systems may be outdated and difficult to integrate with newer technologies, making it challenging to provide a seamless experience across channels. Providing a seamless omnichannel experience requires secure data sharing across channels. Banks must ensure that customer data is protected at all times and that third-party providers are meeting security standards. 

Additionally, banks must ensure that their systems can handle the increased volume of transactions and data sharing that comes with providing an omnichannel experience. This requires scalable infrastructure and robust testing to ensure that systems are performing optimally. 

What’s on the horizon for future digital banking improvements? 

The future of digital banking is exciting, and there are several trends and advancements on the horizon that will improve the digital banking experience for customers. Here are a few that are top of mind for me. 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) technologies are increasingly being used in banking to improve the customer experience. For example, AI-powered chatbots can help customers with simple queries and requests 24/7, and ML algorithms can provide personalized financial advice and recommendations that dynamically adjust based on customer patterns and behaviors. Blockchain technology certainly has the potential to dramatically transform the banking industry. You already see many of the larger financial institutions investing heavily in this space. 

Open banking is a concept where banks allow third-party developers to access customer data and develop new financial services and products. This can lead to more innovation in banking and give customers more options for managing their finances. Seamless omnichannel experience: customers are increasingly using multiple devices and channels to access their bank accounts, and they expect a seamless experience across all of them. 

Banks are investing in technology that allows customers to start a transaction on one device or channel and continue it on another without interruption. 

As cyber threats continue to evolve, banks have been investing for some time in security features such as biometric authentication, facial recognition, and two-factor authentication to protect customer data and prevent fraud. Various applications of AI and ML technologies are finding their way into this space. 

Advancements in quantum computing also have the potential to significantly enhance encryption and decryption methods, making it more difficult for cyber criminals to steal sensitive data. There are also some interesting advancements in behavioral analytics and intelligence that allow for the identification of bad actors in real-time, which will bring some exciting opportunities to banks to better protect their customers. 

How are you using Synovus’ digital banking experience as a differentiator to retain customers, as well as acquire new customers? 

We put the customer at the center of every decision. And in many cases, to put the customer at the center, you must also consider the banker, advisor or customer care representative that has the personal connection with the customer. We don’t view differentiation or innovation as solely a digital thing. Our approach is combining the best of both worlds and deploying solutions and capabilities in a fashion that is complementary to our digital and physical channels. 

But to answer your question, specifically, with everything we build digitally we don’t overcomplicate it and focus on the things that matter to our customers: convenience, ease of use, personalization, advice and security. We feel if you do these things well, you will stand above the competition. 

BAI recently spoke with several prominent individuals at Commerce Bank, Synovus, Regions Bank and Salesforce about how they are addressing today’s customer growth challenges and opportunities. Learn more in our BAI Special Report, “Driving Customer Growth in 2023.” 

Q&A conducted by the BAI Editorial Team.