Reinventing the Retail Banking Experience in a Digital World

Customer centricity is no longer optional. It is the foundation for success for organizations in all sectors. In an exclusive interview, BNP Paribas' COO for Retail Banking & Services shares how digital design, personalization, product innovation and multichannel integration can improve user experiences at financial institutions of all sizes.

Differentiation in financial services is more difficult than ever, with traditional products and services becoming mere commodities. Increasingly, consumers are shifting their loyalties to those traditional and non-traditional financial solution providers that can provide the most seamless omnichannel experiences.

One bank taking major strides to improve how consumers engage before, during and after their purchase decision is BNP Paribas, the eighth-largest bank in the world. Headquartered in Paris, and operating in over 70 countries, including the U.S., the bank serves more than 30 million customers and employs more than 200,000.

One of the leaders responsible for this digital experience transformation is Sophie Heller, COO for Retail Banking & Services. Her team’s mission is to help the various units of BNP Paribas transition their business models, enhancing the customer experience through greater use of digital tools and channels. A major focus has been to develop new, more personalized products and services that also offer the customer simplicity of use. Before joining BNP Paribas in 2016, Sophie spent seven years as the head of retail banking at ING France, responsible for transformation and growth strategy.

Some of the recent innovations introduced by BNP Paribas to improve customer experiences include:

  • Hello Bank! – This digital bank enables customers to open an account in a few clicks and take out a loan online, while being able to benefit from the support of a remote advisor if needed.
  • Didid – A mobile application that lets users see how much they have to save to achieve their “dreams” and to share their goals with friends and family.
  • Lyf Pay – A mobile payment application that uses a QR Code to make instant payments to a third party.
  • Nickel – A solution for people unable to qualify for a traditional banking account, this account can be opened at retailers in a few minutes and at a lower cost, with easy-to-use account management functions.
  • ClimateSeed – A simple, secure and user-friendly digital platform designed by BNP Paribas to allow organizations to offset their unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions by contributing to sustainable projects around the world.

In an exclusive interview for the Banking Transformed podcast, Heller discusses how BNP Paribas approaches product innovation, personalization, digital design, branding, open banking, channel integration, the sales process and the importance of social responsibility. The objective is to use strategies to become a “life partner” for their customers.

Heller also discusses the importance of innovation and building a new digital culture at a legacy financial institution that has a history of over two centuries.

Additional Banking Transformed Interviews:

How has your past experience at ING helped at BNP Paribas?

Heller: I’m really tackling a very, very big organization at BNP Paribas. It’s increasing complexity, which is good, because I can really leverage my past experience. But it’s a very exciting challenge.

Why are you reinventing the personalization of experience at the bank?

Heller: We have new competition – neobanks and GAFA. [Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon] We also have new expectations from customers, and as you say, they want more personalization. They want fast, easy and cheap. We also have a low-rate environment that puts a lot of pressure on revenues, and regulation adds cost. So, it’s really about redefining not only how we acquire customers, but also how we serve them and how we equip them.

How has the acquisition process changed?

Heller: I think that the one-bank-fits-all strategy doesn’t work anymore. In recent years, we’ve come out with new simple and cheap digital offers based on what clients want most. So, take for example, Nickel. It is a debit card and an app for people that just want to pay and get paid. They don’t need credit, they don’t want a mortgage, they don’t want investments … they just want to be able to pay and to manage cash. This is a very simple offer in partnership with a network of 6,000 tobacco shops. For people that are self-directed, and they are looking for daily banking as well as simple saving and credit, we have Hello Bank!

These two examples illustrate that we can no longer make the same offer to everyone.  It’s a function of your situation, your context and your attitude. And so the bank needs to reinvent these offers. We also recently started to do this also, not only through our brand or directly with customers, but also in the ecosystem logic with partners.

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Can you provide an example of an ecosystem solution?

Heller:  Telepass is the leading toll payment brand in Italy. We created an app for professionals where they can manage everything around mobility. Beyond paying tolls, the app can be used to pay for gas, including automatic invoicing which is important for small businesses.

This app allows us to acquire a lot of customers through a completely different channel. We come up with these basic offers, and then we discover what other needs consumers have that we can cover. So, it’s really completely redefining a new strategy for acquisition. This is the first important part of reinvention of customer experience.

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Are these a form of open banking solutions?

Heller: This was our thought when we acquired Nickel. It was a fintech firm created by entrepreneurs. We realized that we didn’t have the right offer for this type of client, so we bought the company. In the case of Telepass, it was not an acquisition, but a partnership with a non-financial organization that was a toll payment leader. Both are much more precise about the type of customers served. What they want, and what value are they looking for? Then you need to design your offers around what they value most.

This is a very big change for banking. Because the bank used to say, “I’m a bank and I’m at every corner and people will come in.” Digital changes the acquisition process because you need to be much more precise at identifying exactly the value added that you provide for each kind of customer.

Are some of your solutions created in innovation labs?

Heller: I don’t believe in labs, at least not as a separate organization. The big risk in having a lab is that you conceive something which is completely outside the company. Then you don’t get the buy-in or the integration to make it work. It can work for a completely standalone business, but not when it needs to work across an organization. The big risk of a lab is that you have something which is a proof of concept, but you are not able to scale it and industrialize it.

So, what is your philosophy around innovation?

Heller: You need to have a holistic and long-term view, because this is really an established system that you are changing. Second, I would say that you really need to have a direction, and you need to explain to the people why you need to transform and how you’re going to transform.

You also need to make sure that you experiment. You make a pilot and when you make a success, people will talk to other people in organization to scale it. You also need to change the culture.

One way we’ve changed the culture of our organization is that we’ve implement the net promoter system with 100,000 people. We have branch people call back all the detractors, being really into listening mode. Then, once a week, they have a meeting where they discuss all the problems that they resolved. When the pilot of the program worked, the people involved spread the good news for us.

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How have you deployed your partnership with Personetics?

Heller: Personetics is a great enabler for both selling and advising at our bank. Personetics has become part of our strategy to have and engage a personalized conversation through the mobile device. We leverage personalized insights for simple processes like delivering a message telling you that you hit your credit limit a few times. Maybe this is time to upgrade your card to a premium or infinite card that has a higher limit.

On a bit more complex basis, we may notice that you have a capacity to save 100 Euro each month, but you don’t have a savings program. We may prompt a discussion with your relationship manager and enable you to book an appointment from your mobile device.

Finally, over the two last years we’ve been building a state of the art application for managing daily banking and we will detect opportunity for contacts with a relationship manager. Our goal is to make the mobile device the center of gravity for their relationship with their account manager.

Do you see the future of digital banking involving humans?

Heller: Absolutely. We are convinced that we need different models because we are all different, with different attitudes. So, we need very digital solutions, with very simple digital offers. We also need digital offers where you can have someone at a call center for assistance. And, we need more completes models where you will have a relationship manager.

In more complex situations, you need more expertise and more bespoke advice because you are talking about investment, preparing your retirement, making sure your house is properly insured and all those things that are better suited for human conversation. Even as a digital bank, we want to continue to have this relationship for more complex needs.

I think the next generation of digital application will be much more organized around the themes or the objective of each person. And this is where also we’d go back to the theme of open banking, because the more you move into an ecosystem and need oriented digital application, and the more you will partner with people that are bringing new services into those environments.

How do we defend against the big tech firms that are offering banking services?

Heller: In Europe, and in most countries, people are very concerned with privacy and with data protection. Consumers still regard banks very much as a trusted partner for security, their money and their data.

Should banks go further with social responsibility?

Heller: We are aiming at having a positive impact on the future, for a better future. And one of our focus is really helping our clients go green. For instance, we have some customers that are ready to give up their car – and would like to have a more green option – but they don’t know exactly how to do this. We are setting up ways where a customer can actually have the comparison of what it costs from a carbon footprint basis versus moving to an electric car. We are also structuring offers where a customer can test an electric car for a couple of months.

Our asset management subsidiary has also decided to offer options for 100% for social responsible investments. We have also committed not to finance polluting energy. Finally, we have created a digital application (ClimateSeed) to help businesses and consumers offset their unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions through investments in sustainable projects.

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