AI Will Be Critical to Delivering End-to-End Customer Journeys

The Financial Brand Forum Highlight To turn potential leads into paying customers, many banks will need to develop marketing toolkits that combine the latest AI tools, robust customer data and new digital marketing techniques.

The digital customer journey is quickly becoming the next battleground for banks.

As digital marketing opens up new ways of thinking about banking customers, it’s also creating a more complex playing field for the industry to navigate. Staying ahead of marketing trends and technology – like gen AI and automation – may make the difference between bringing in new revenue and falling behind the curve.

To create a digital pathway to turn potential clients into paying customers will require combining AI, customer data and digital marketing techniques into a single strategy.

Yet many financial institutions have yet to build a complete customer journey from awareness to purchase decision to become customers, says James Robert Lay, CEO of the Houston-based community bank and credit union consultancy Digital Growth Institute. Only 16% of banks and credit unions have mapped out digital consumer journeys, according to data from the firm.

Lay will be a featured speaker at The Financial Brand Forum 2024, May 20-22 in Las Vegas. His three-hour workshop, “Digital Growth Masterclass: Maximizing Marketing ROI,” will teach how to identify and close the biggest gaps in digital buying journeys, provide proven strategies to convert more loans and deposits, explain top automation technologies to build a digital growth engine, and more. See the Forum website for more info on his workshop, and details on the full program.

“People enter a buying journey feeling confused, feeling frustrated,” according to Lay. He says some 65% of potential clients begin a lending application concerned that they are not going to get approved for the loan.

“There is just so much anxiety,” he says. “What do we have to do? We have to provide them with clarity.”

Create Automated Contact Through Personalization

Not surprisingly, the most challenging part of the journey is converting those leads into paying customers. The key for financial institutions, Lay says, will be to create a clear plan throughout the customer lifecycle. Approximately 75% of all new loan applications are abandoned before they are ever completed, according to the Digital Growth Institute.

“It’s a leaky shopping cart problem,” Lay says.

Leaning into personalization can help. Offering specific emailed product recommendations based on personalized data, sometimes in real time, has proven highly effective for financial institutions and is already in use at some of the industry’s most successful banks. To deliver these hyper-personalized experiences, client data will have to be robust enough to allow AI to gather real insights.

“You’re attracting leads with these personalized offers and nurturing them with automation and content,” Lay says. “Then move them to your conversion point.”

picture of digital growth institute james robert lay

Follow-up emails reminding leads about the unfinished application can be automated, but they need to be sent out promptly and with a human touch. The “2-2-2 rule,” for example, which refers to emailing customers once after two days, then two weeks, then after two months, is outdated. Fintechs now send email touchpoints anywhere from 10 to 15 times within the first month, he says.

“Many of these onboarding programs are just antiquated,” Lay says. “They’re not personalizing the experience.” Emails should come from employees at the bank, like a loan officer, instead of the organization.

Banks need to deepen these digital relationships to increase engagement with potential clients and increase retention, Lay says.

The good news is that financial services firms are starting to take notice of new tech. The majority of respondents (52%) in a February survey of more than 100 banking executives said their firms are thinking about adding gen AI capabilities this year. An additional 22% of respondents said they are definitely adding the technology and just 26% said they would not adopt gen AI, according to the data from Dragonfly Financial Services.

Budgets and Mindsets Need to Support New Tech

While banking executives are eyeing the latest technologies to create new customer journeys, tech investments remain a major hurdle for many banking institutions. As technology advances, executives will have to determine how to deploy capital, especially at regional and community sized-banks with smaller customer bases and budgets.

Without the ability to aggregate the large pools of customer data, hyper personalization becomes extremely challenging – and investing in the right tech becomes critical.

Still, Lay says the financial services industry is consistently five to 10 years behind other industries when it comes to adopting new tech: “Is it the banker’s mindset? They’re just naturally risk-averse. It’s a fixed mindset of scarcity that threatens the future growth of financial brands – maybe even more so than a lack of technology itself.”

“Is it the banker’s mindset? They’re just naturally risk-averse. It’s a fixed mindset of scarcity that threatens the future growth of financial brands – maybe even more so than a lack of technology itself.”

— James Robert Lay

Through new tech investments, today’s executives have a real opportunity to help steer profitability, according to a 2024 PricewaterhouseCooper survey. Some 44% of banking CEOs said they expect generative AI to make their businesses more profitable in the next 12 months, and 81% of marketing executives said they anticipate AI to change their business model over the same period.

To do that, executives will also have to have the knowledge to understand the potential opportunities, Lay says. Getting up to speed on the advantages of technology is paramount. Competitors, like digital native fintechs, are already looking for opportunity instead of limitations, he says. If banking executives are too fearful, or unable, to embrace change, others will.

“Go ahead and merge,” Lay says. “Save everyone time.”

Don’t Let Homepages Become Wasted Space

Outdated website architecture is often just as easy to blame for a lack of growth. Some institutions are wasting upwards of 80% of the space on home pages by using banner advertisements instead of personalized experiences. Lay says eight in 10 people will never see the second message on a rotating banner across the top of a website, meaning that space is simply going to waste.

“That space is prime, beachfront property,” Lay says. “It’s Santa Monica, California right there, but it’s being used as nothing more than a glorified billboard.”

With core data, institutions can have an account holder come to the home page and see personalized advertisements for products, or next best actions, that are tailored to the individual. Below the offers, the websites can display some editorial content or educational elements that support those products.

“Look for the low hanging fruit to add some personalization,” he says.

Sean Allocca is an award-winning journalist with more than 15 years of experience. Most recently, he was Editor-in-Chief of, overseeing the company’s content strategy and long-term editorial goals. He was also deputy managing editor at InvestmentNews, an editor for the wealth management publication Financial Planning, and editor of CFO magazine. He has a M.A. in business communication from Fordham University and a B.A. in writing from Loyola University, Maryland.

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