Five Strategies to Become a Digital Pacesetter in Banking

Financial services industries need to break free from the "fast follower" mindset and shift the focus to becoming innovators of digital technologies if they are to survive the next wave of digital disruption.

For too long, the financial services industry has been in the “fast follower” mindset when it comes to adopting digital technologies. According to a report from Adobe and Econsultancy, the only way financial institutions can survive is to not only adopt new digital processes, but become early adopters and set the pace for other industries to follow.

Here are five strategies that leaders in the financial industry can use to shift from their organization from “late adopter” to “digital pacesetter.”

1. Digital Pacesetters Accelerate Innovation

In the past, many technology and marketing providers in the financial industry simply gave up on innovation. And many financial institutions became too bogged down in processes that you they can’t function effectively in today’s digital world.

But times have changed, and the market no longer forgives those who show up late to the party. These days, leaders in the banking industry must court innovation and become an agile competitor. You don’t have to be the very first adopter of everything, but the complacent attitude of yesterday’s fast follower mentality will lead you right out relevancy.

“Banks and credit unions have a reputation for being very conservative, very slow-moving, very slow to react,” says Giles Richardson, head of analytics at Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). “We need to react at the pace of our customers’ expectations, and certainly their expectations digitally are at an all-time high and they’re only accelerating. We have to take risks, because if we stay at the same level for too long, we’re going to get left behind.”

Read More: Ignoring These 6 Big Banking Trends May Make You a Digital Dinosaur

2. Digital Pacesetters Focus on Teams and Processes that Move Ideas Forward

Bryan Van Dyke, managing director and head of digital at Morgan Stanley says digital transformation is an exercise in leadership — all about change management. You need the right support team.

“It’s not about technology, it’s about people and getting people motivated to rally around a common cause,” he explains.

Organizations that are successfully navigating their digital transformation realize that people, processes, and organizational structure are the secret.

  • Don’t underestimate the need for organizational change from all levels. If your current environment is more of a hindrance than a help for digital, now is the time to reevaluate your digital marketing strategy.
  • Swap out silos for integrated teams and open processes. Keeping things compartmentalized is a recipe for broken down communications and roadblock for enhancing the customer experience.
  • Assess your culture’s digital readiness. Knowing where you stand is an important part of setting measurable goals and achieving digital transformation across the board, from user interfaces to back-office functions.
  • Empower your decision makers. Getting company buy-in from senior managers and executives is essential to overall digital success. Giving executives hands-on experience and showing them how new technologies can make their jobs easier is a crucial aspect of moving technology forward company-wide.

3. Digital Pacesetters Try to See Everything as Their Customer Does

Financial services firms have too long been focused internally, providing experiences based on what worked for the internal structure or how their technology worked best, not how the customer wanted them.

RBS decided to change that. As a 300-year-old financial institution, they saw the importance of reinventing processes through the lens of the customer experience. They understood that full digital transformation requires a commitment to completing the customer journey from first contact throughout the entire process. For example, having a clunky and disjointed online process where the customer can start and application online but still has to finish at a branch is not the digital experience consumers want.

“Our digital experience is so critical to us now,” explains says Giles Richardson at RBS. “Our brand is our experience, and the experience of digital will be how people touch us more than anything else. So we have to get that right.”

RBS transformed their digital team into journey managers, giving each one full responsibility for a customer journey from start to finish.

“That journey could be something small like, ‘How do I get the mobile app?’ or ‘How do I register for online banking?’ Or it could be a larger journey like, ‘Help me arrange a mortgage to purchase a new home,'” says Richardson. “We have someone who looks after that whole end-to-end process.”

4. Digital Pacesetters Will Keep Up With Their Customers, Wherever They Are

Digital leaders need to offer real services, support, and products through mobile to reach new customers. There is no point in having an app that doesn’t offer useful services and real-time transaction data, in addition to the support today’s customers expect.

In addition to tablets and smartphones, wearable devices are disrupting financial services, with users expecting to be able to do more and more from their wrist. Context of the device is much more important than resolution and screen size. This requires in-depth knowledge of customer needs—and the data and technology to turn those insights into actionable steps. But when you’re able to analyze mobile use and experience metrics, you’ll be able to see exactly where your customers are successful (and not) in achieving their desired functions on your mobile applications. From there, you have a blueprint for where to head next.

Read More: Digital Banking Success Requires a Cultural Shake-Up

5. Digital Pacesetters Know It Is a Never-Ending Challenge

When it comes to technology and innovation, the landscape is constantly changing, as are the needs of your customers. Having a firm grasp of their needs is the first step, and the steps that follow require an evolving relationship based on their needs at that specific time in their financial lives. You can have a great product and the technology to support it, but if you don’t know your customers enough to know when they need it, you are missing valuable opportunities to build lifelong relationships.

Being at the forefront of digital innovation is about transforming your personnel, your organizational structures, and your motivations as much as it is deploying the right technology. But remember digital transformation is a marathon, and you want to think about the long game. Look for partners, strategies, and tools that will help you in your journey to be a digital pacesetter.

When all is said and done, financial services institutions should not “sell products” but create experiences to advise and enable their customers to achieve their goals. The winning financial services companies are realizing people don’t buy things — they buy relationships.

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