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Caught up in Disruption: Let’s challenge our digital assumptions


With disruption happening across the industry, financial institutions are focused on playing catch-up with digital and mobile to keep up with pace of change. A host of mobile-only banks have burst on the scene, while traditional banks are choosing to shut down branches to almost “force” customers over to digital channels.  

While the industry has been caught up in disruption, we may have overlooked a simple idea: that people want to see and talk to other people when money is involved. Digital Investments have certainly paid off with millennials, who consistently report high levels of satisfaction with its ease of use. Their comfort level means digital is intertwined with the future of banking. But banks have to retain and engage both baby boomers and millennials – and we can’t assume millennials will never want to see someone in their decision-making.

What do we know about customers? They prefer personal 

European banks have recently encouraged customers to make less use of their branches and more use of digital channels. While British banks like Lloyds, RBS and Barclays have been closing branches in the expectation of an online migration, a global survey from Nielsen shows that Brits are among the world’s least likely to try mobile-only banking.  Nearly two-thirds say they wouldn’t consider a provider that does not offer physical locations. Research from Ernest & Young indicates that more than half of customers still prefer personal contact, preferably in branches, when seeking advice and considering new products, or when making a complaint.

And they are unpredictable… 

The customer journey is complex and almost always includes many touch points. It involves research, face-to-face meetings, and reading and thinking that may happen on the subway or in the shower. The challenge is that we can’t predict when or how customers will carry out each of these phases or when they may re-trace their steps.  Their journey can be shaped by their mood, their location, or the device they are using – and a host of other factors we can’t know. More than half start their journey either online or using a mobile device, and most of them end up finishing the process in a branch. When it comes to opening a new account, nearly two-thirds (61%) of consumers start their journey in a digital channel, while more than half (58%) of those end up in a branch. 

Measure personal interactions vs. self-service, not the channel

According to Foresee, many banks and credit unions would consider this bumpy customer journey a failure because the online and mobile channels didn’t deliver a fully digital consumer journey from start to finish.  But banks need to be reminded that “all-digital retail delivery experience” is not realistic. Based on the latest customer preferences in banking, it’s not desirable most of the time, either.

Banks should also stop analysing and carving up the customer journey as customer interactions that happen at the branch versus interactions on digital channels. Data suggests it is more helpful to divide customer interactions between those that involve a bank professional, whether at the branch or remotely, and those that are managed through self-service.

So what can we assume?

We can assume that customers want the convenience of digital alongside the personal services they get in the branches and on the phone. Their preference for traditional channels is likely because, in their minds, that is where they get the best support and advice. The challenge for banks is to make the online experience more personal, while improving the offline experience with the convenience of digital tools. It’s worthwhile to continue asking ourselves how digital can contribute to the offline and online experiences. The customer isn’t consciously placing emphasis on their channels of inquiry and decision-making. If it’s convenient, they’ll send their advisor a text message. But if they have more time, they may hop in the car and spontaneously visit them.  While each channel has to seamlessly lead into another, we should take our cue from customers and focus on how to be more personal, rather than their choice of pathway. Because the more a bank can play the very personal role of advising, coaching and supporting their clients, the more valuable they will be.