Following the north star to digital banking transformation

July 27, 2021 by Daniel Haisley

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In the earliest moments just after midnight on January 1 each year, millions of people worldwide establish resolutions. While I won’t bore you with my resolution for 2020, I will admit that it was not to spend 11 months of the succeeding year working from a makeshift office in my bedroom or making sure my 6-year-old son was always adorned with a mask for any non-familial human interaction. Suffice to say, last year provided us all with unsuspected challenges and learning opportunities — banks squarely included.

The user learning curve

The most impactful learning for banks wasn’t a novel way of connecting borrowers with capital or a new method of taking deposits. In fact, it wasn’t a lesson learned by banks at all, but instead by their customers. While banks have seen foot traffic into the branches decrease at a predictably steady rate, watched ATM transactions hold strong and cheered the increasing usage of online banking, every new medium they introduced to serve clients inevitably became an “and” versus an “or.” Allow me to explain: When ATMs made their way onto the scene in the 1970s, bank customers didn’t stop walking into branches. They leveraged both channels. Same for interactive voice response (IVR), digital banking and mobile banking.

The pandemic changed that. For the first time, it forced banks to close their doors; customers had to stop straddling the line between the branch and digital realms. The choice had finally been made for them. In 2020, customers learned that they can truly have a digital-only relationship with their bank.

Now, more than ever, the crunch is on for banks. Digital banking trends are consistently increasing and the competition is coming in from all sides. Between the moneycenter national banks, a seemingly endless wave of fintechs like Chime and Revolut, and the ever-looming threat of technology firms like Alphabet’s Google and Amazon.com jumping into the mix, how can banks compete? It’s time for a digital transformation.

Where to begin?

There are a number of paths to success in a digital transformation — and an untold figure that lead to failure. Whether your bank starts with the core and works its way out to the digital banking service, or vice versa,– there are a few driving principles to keep in mind.

  1. 1. The cloud provides unparalleled economies of scale. If your bank isn’t taking advantage of a cloud-based solution to realize both the economic benefits and the cutting-edge innovation made available by the hyperscalers (architecture built to scale appropriately as demand fluctuates throughout the day), your institution risks falling further behind.
  2. 2. Data is a bank’s most valuable asset. Unfortunately, it is also the most underutilized. A digitally transformed bank will replace the personal connection of the branch visits by being contextually relevant at the exact right moment, with the proper actionable message to each individual client. Even if they never quite get there, this is the oasis in the desert of commoditized banking relationships and should be every digital transformation journey’s North Star.
  3. 3. Determine how much of the digital banking experience you want to own, really. Many banks strive to create a unique digital experience for their clients, but that uniqueness comes at a mighty expense in both time and money for the duration of its existence. The importance of choosing the technology partner that aligns most closely with your bank’s desired balance of technical prowess and partnered innovation can’t be overstated.
  4. 4. Look for opportunities to leverage your institution’s banking APIs to extend its reach beyond traditional domains. Through initiatives like embedded banking , banks are able to establish mutually beneficial partnerships to empower non-banking services and leverage the functionality of their bank partner. Embedded banking is a growing way for banking services to be integrated into traditionally non-bank websites and mobile applications, like Shopify’s business account offering as part of their seller services. Embedded banking opens the door to perform simple tasks like view account balances, make payments or even originate new deposits and loans.

Even just 10 years ago, these options weren’t available to most institutions. That’s no longer the case. Banks no longer have to resign themselves to providing a mediocre, commoditized digital experience — in fact, it’s the last thing they can afford to do. While the pandemic taught us many things, the most pressing lesson for banks is that the time for a digital transformation is now.