What’s Your Definition of ‘Digital’ in Banking?

“Digital” is the new buzz word in the banking sector, with banks all around the globe hopping onto the digital bandwagon. Just like how the introduction of mobile technology massively disrupted innovation in the banking sector, digital is now doing the same. Banks of all sizes are making sizeable investments in digital initiatives in order to maintain a competitive edge. So, what does “digital” actually mean?

A recent post by Jin Zwicky, VP of Experience Design at OCBC Bank, on the Next Bank Facebook forum asked, “What’s your definition of ‘digital’ in banking?” It has attracted more than 100 comments from the world’s top banking innovators, sharing their thoughts on the issue. I have tried to summarize and synthesize the thoughts of the dozens of participants in the discussion. They definitely provide a glimpse into the future of banking.

According to Steve Monaghan, Regional Head of Innovation at AIA, what digital essentially does is that it uses technology to design experiences, both seen and unseen. As Chief Innovation Officer at DBS Bank, I agreed posting, “Digital is all about making what can be seen unseen – making services so smooth and seamless that it becomes invisible to the customer.” I added, “Despite all the automation and improvements that digital banking has the potential to achieve, customers and their needs still form the very core of the banking sector.”

In fact, many of the comments made by the dozens of participants in the discussion revolved around simplicity of design, the removal of friction and the ability to improve the customer experience. Yann Ranchere, Director at Anthemis and Finance 2.0 blogger, put his perspective as succinctly as anyone by saying, “It’s making banking more human.” Brett King, CEO of Moven, author, speaker and radio host also provided a quick insight when he added, “Banks don’t need a head of digital, that’s the CEO. Therefore, digital in banking should just be best practice banking.”

As aptly put across by Duena Blomstrom, VP of International Sales at Meniga, “As much as digital banking can automate services, the debate on whether consumers still prefer face-time and how much customer advice can really be automated remains.” That said, Duena has gained quite a following for her conceptualizing of ’emotional banking’ at Next Bank Sydney last year.

Brad Jones, Head of Asia Transformation at National Australia Bank, provided further elaboration on this by adding, “Firstly I think that ‘digital’ is buzz, in the same way ‘mobile’ has been put in front of everything from payments to commerce to money. In emerging markets, ‘digital finance’ is the new buzz word, but nothing much has changed from the last buzz word ‘mobile money’. At the end of the day it is all about ‘money’, and money is emotive. That said, planning for digital initiatives requires more than just the automation of services, but to also take into account the emotional aspect of banking – how do customers feel about money and what do they do with it? Emotional needs must be at the centre of the entire customer experience.”

Read More: Financial Institutions Unprepared For Digital Future

Scott Bales, author of the book Mobile Ready and authority on digital transformation and mobility, pointed out several interesting challenges facing digital initiatives. “The real difficulty lies not in finding out what digital means, but in learning the value that digital provides to various segments of society – businesses, consumers, employees, citizens and society. Many of these segments have different behavioral defaults and the key to success is finding the value behind the digital implementations.”

A more idealistic opinion on digital in banking was articulated by Bradley Leimer, who leads the Digital Channel Strategy for Northern California-based Mechanics Bank. According to Bradley, “If we tie our efforts in this shift to digital to a way that adds inclusivity and opportunity, we can leverage technology to make a societal impact as big as access to broader education and knowledge.” He added, “Digital provides the unprecedented opportunity to pull up segments of society to do more than spend meager dollars from one misguided direction to another, to spend on things that have the impact the lift a generation.”

Christel Quek, Regional Contact Lead for Twitter in Singapore was actually the first to respond to the question about digital in banking by posting, “Its really about behavior and not technology or channels. That influences strategy, content, and drives advocacy. Its not about being mobile first or digital first, but being people first.” Harriet Wakelam, Principal Customer Experience Strategist at Capco, was an early participant in the dialogue as well “Digital is an enabler that allows the delivery of financial services to be augmented.. Whether these be storytelling or transaction, literacy or investment … It is simply a means to support and enrich service.

Jim Marous at The Financial Brand said, “Digital banking, done right, makes the experience more personalized and proactive by allowing the right discussion to be had with the customer in real time on the right channel. Executed with the power of big data and geodemographic insight, it should be embedded into the consumer’s life to make their money management and the customer’s life easier. The consumer should not think about ‘digital banking’. Instead banking should be in the background of everything digital, enhancing the experience. Digital banking should be seamless, integrated, powerful but invisible.”

Read More: 7 Ways to Navigate Digital Disruption in Banking

Finally, Matt Dooley, Managing Director at Connected Thinking summarized by posting, “The nirvana will be to creating ‘magical moments’ with various ecosystem members/3rd parties that leverage data points to create real insights that can be immediately capitalized for value by individuals, corporates and retailers for the benefit of the individual. Future (digital) banking is about creating a ‘jet fighter helmet’ view for me that improves my everyday living and working environments.”

Perhaps digital will bring us back from all the complexities of the banking world to the fundamental and original purpose of banking – to serve our customers and society – and perhaps that is the real meaning of digital in banking. For now, only one thing seems to be certain. The digital disruption has already begun, and all of our experiences would be forever impacted by digital. It is no wonder that banks and big consultancies are all over it – It’s their only ticket for future relevance and survival.

Additional reading on this subject is available in the 2014 State of Digital Transformation by Brian Solis and the Altimeter Group.

neal_crossNeal Cross is the chief innovation officer at DBS Bank in Singapore. A highly sought after speaker and accomplished industry thought leader specializing in innovation for banking, insurance and capital markets, Cross is recognized for his management of new innovative banking solutions from ideation through to commercialization.

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