- Customer Experience
- Operations and Risk
- Legacy Transformation / IT Platform Innovations
- Emerging Innovation
Personal Financial Management – PFM – has been a worthy goal pursued by many providers, yet consumers continue to ignore its possibilities. Rather than trying to incrementally expand the share of 10-12% of PFM users, banks should instead focus on the next stage in the evolution of personal finance: Personal Financial Experiences, or PFE.
We’re big fans of PFM (Personal Financial Management)…conceptually. We think that it has the potential to help people better control their finances and live happier, less-stressed lives. And yet, despite numerous efforts over the years, traditional PFM has not gained significant marketplace traction. It’s too cumbersome and inconvenient, while crucially often serving up bad news – and who wants that? At the same time, banks have recently begun to focus wholeheartedly on the customer experience of their clients, seeking to improve and coordinate the various interactions that consumers have across multiple and diverse touchpoints.
The convergence of these two trends is PFE, defined as A coordinated set of customer interactions that pushes and provides customers relevant, timely information and advice to enable them to live more informed and proactive financial lives. PFE gives customers the ability to access whatever level of financial detail they want, but focuses primarily on context and appropriate accessibility.
A variety of companies – both banks building their own, and vendors focused on developing white-labeled software – have created a wide range of PFM approaches. Most have historically required a fair degree of intentionality on the user’s part, and treat PFM as a discrete activity – a separate tab or a standalone app, for example. PFE changes that. Users will experience PFE without ever having to call it up; it will just happen to them via an alert on their mobile, an idea from a branch representative, or an unexpected landing page on their laptop. The “E” stands for Experiences, plural. PFE isn’t just one touchpoint; it encompasses the wide variety of interactions that a consumer has with her financial institution. Today’s Digital banking will, in fact, become PFE. When banks move to the end-state of PFE, customers will no longer have to choose to manage their financial lives (or by not choosing, default to unmanaged ad-hocracy); instead, financial management will happen in the background, facilitated and orchestrated by the bank, as part of the overall relationship.
Three key principles provide the foundation of a robust set of Personal Financial Experiences.
1 Automatic: Users don’t have to put much conscious thought or effort into entering the data or even asking for guidance. The system gathers that information and proactively provides nuggets of advice and discrete, concrete calls to action.
2 Intuitive: There is no learning curve. Just as kids can start using a new mobile phone out of the box without reading any sort of manual, PFE will be intuitive and user-friendly. PFE becomes normal digital banking.
3 Relevant: PFE will deliver only the information needed at the appropriate time. No longer will a user be confronted with a huge dashboard of charts and dials confusingly presented. Relevance and contextuality will rule.
The iPod wasn’t the first MP3 player; it built on and refined pioneering work done by others. So, too, is PFM the first step in the journey to PFE; we’re not there yet, but we’re well on our way, helped by advances in technology and the incremental changes that FI tinkerers continue to make. We’ll be exploring this concept in greater depth over at celent.com; please check back in, or reply to this post, if you’d like to learn more.
No one downloads a banking app from their store of choice for fun, nor do they open it up to amuse themselves. Instead, bank apps are used to accomplish specific tasks – check a balance, pay a bill, send money to a friend. Despite the undeniable utility of these apps, institutions struggle to persuade their customers to use them; adoption rates, depending on the specific measure, hover around 50% and have been stuck for a while at that plateau. Furthermore, while it’s undeniable that many customers want a better customer experience, and at least some of those customers would like more and better features, digital executives struggle to find the ROI of investment in their apps. Of course, there’s the argument that it’s analogous to malls that put up Christmas and other holiday decorations – consumers just expect it, and there’s not an explicit ROI – but that’s the subject of another post.
What if consumers could perform their basic banking tasks without ever having to open up their banking app? They could say, “Siri, what’s my bank balance?” or “Alexa, pay the water bill out of my main checking account.” While we’re not there yet, consumer desire for convenience (aka “seamlessness” or the “frictionless customer experience”) knows no bounds. My experimentation with Siri and Alexa, together with my preliminary research into Artificial Intelligence in banking, have led me to hypothesize that this scenario is a lot closer than many bankers might imagine. In the obligatory Uber example, the payment is invisible; what happens when the consumer makes this happen in all other sorts of interactions?
How are you prepared to offer your customers this new level of service? Do you have APIs that will let this happen? And is there a strategy to go beyond simply fulfilling a request and offering more insight, advice, or perspective than simply what being asked for? Like European banks facing the challenge of PSD2, all retail institutions can look at this as a moment where they’ll be relegated to the background or one where they can revamp their service models to build better, stronger, and deeper customer relationships.
It’s remarkable that in just five years Money 20/20 has gone from a standing start to having about 11,000 [sic – you read that right] registrants. We go to many conferences throughout the course of the year, and the growth in Money 20/20 is unprecedented in the financial services space (as the chart shows). We’ve used data from sponsors and from blogs to assemble the numbers below; there’s no doubt that Money 20/20 is now the 800 pound gorilla in the space.
Money 20/20’s growth is due in large part, we believe, to the ecumenical approach that the organizers have taken toward the payments ecosystem. Rather than focusing on just banks and vendors, the show includes processors, merchants, venture capitalists, startups, and other various and sundry hangers-on (including analysts). The organizers’ excellent marketing has played a role, to be sure, as has their interesting mix of commercialism and insightful content from the various participants on stage in both plenary and track sessions. But in many ways Money 20/20 has hit a particular point in time just right, recognizing that the payments ecosystem is bigger than just banks, and needs a forum where every participant could get together. The tragedy: this event could have belonged to any of the incumbent organizers of conferences, but they didn’t seize the initiative.
A final thought on substance: while the need for cooperation and collaboration across the ecosystem was universally acknowledged, as was the precept that incumbents and fintechs must partner (hallelujah!), it was interesting that one of the most ambitious payment collaborations of all time, MCX, was nowhere to be seen. It, at least in 2015, was a bridge too far.
Having just returned from the whirlwind that is Sibos, I (along with many other industry observers) feel compelled to contribute my two cents on the top takeaways from the event, along with one observation on the mood. Nothing about Sibos can be exhaustive, but three key areas stood out: Cyber, PSD2, and Open Banking / APIs.
Cyber was the first topic mentioned in the opening plenary address. Its seriousness brought into stark relief by the $81mm Bangladeshi incident (something my cab driver in Boston asked about on the way to the airport!), Cyber was a focus throughout the conference. While it has long been an important issue, it has catapulted to the top of the agenda of every member of SWIFT’s ecosystem given the recognition that the system is only as secure as its weakest node.
PSD 2 is often thought of in a retail banking context, but its implications will carry over to the corporate side as well. There are two critical points: 1) Banks must make their customers’ data accessible to any qualified third party, and 2) Third parties can initiate payments. These changes will have profound second-, third-, and even fourth-order effects that can scarcely be imagined today. Banks are thinking through what they need to do to comply, as well as what their strategies should be once they’ve implemented the necessary (and not inconsequential) technology changes. For a primer on the current state of PSD2, see Gareth Lodge’s recent report on the subject.
Open Banking is enabled by APIs. While PSD2 is certainly accelerating the concept, it would have been gaining momentum even without the external pressure. There are simply too many activities that can be done better by third parties than by banks, and the banks have realized that they need frictionless ways to tap into these providers. APIs are a critical mechanism to enable this interaction. Technology, of course, is a necessary but not sufficient condition for success; banks must be culturally able to integrate with new partners quickly and flexibly.
On a final note, the mood was pragmatic. The atmosphere wasn’t one of consternation, panic, or confusion. Instead, the buzz was focused, purposeful, and businesslike. Bankers and their service providers are ready to roll up their sleeves and get the job done instead of wringing their hands about all of the possible ill-fated futures that could arise. We at Celent look forward to the progress to come in 2017. What are your thoughts?
At Celent we’ve long said that banks must become better at partnering. And Fintechs have come around to the realization that it’s going to be the rare beast that can compete head-on with incumbent financial institutions – most will fare better by figuring a way to cooperate with them instead.
Eastern Bank, Celent’s 2016 Model Bank of the Year, took this idea one step farther by building Eastern Labs within the bank – an in-house Fintech. While most institutions won’t be able to replicate this (it’s really hard!), there are nevertheless some lessons for banks as they consider best how to engage with smaller, nimbler firms. The diagram below shows the complementary strengths and weaknesses that banks and fintechs bring to a joint endeavor.
When they get together, some weaknesses of fintechs are mitigated (e.g., they now have access to data and a brand), while many of the disadvantages of a bank persist (e.g., slowness and risk aversion). Additionally, new complications arise: goals diverge, information may not be completely shared, the cultures are wildly different, and handoffs can be agonizingly slow.
So what are the lessons when a financial institution engages with a fintech? We’d suggest concentrating on four key challenges.
- Focus on individual goals to ensure that they’re compatible, even though they’ll be different
- Be as transparent as possible and build that transparency into processes from the beginning
- Recognize cultural differences and address them at the outset; be realistic about the challenges
- Set expectations about achievable timelines
Although other complications will undoubtedly arise, partnering is a muscle that banks haven’t exercised much. With practice and training, that muscle will get stronger, and with enough dedication, it will play a vital role in propelling the bank to the next level.
Banks are ultimately responsible for all of the services that they provide, even when they contract with third parties to help them deliver those services. More and smaller banks are partnering with outside providers, and there are more and smaller third parties being formed to meet more specific bank needs. While there’s even a section in the U.S. Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council’s (“FFIEC”) IT Examination HandBook detailing what sorts of due diligence a bank should conduct on its third party service provider, there’s still room for interpretation when deciding how more inexperienced banks should deal with those responsibilities.
The answer isn’t straightforward. All banks are challenged when contemplating a relationship with a small fintech because of the first three items on the FFIEC checklist: Existence and corporate history; Qualifications, backgrounds, and reputations of company principals…; and Other companies using similar services from the provider…. Small, new companies will find it more difficult than established firms to pass muster; many banks simply won’t want to take the risk of dealing with them. And many smaller banks simply won’t have the resources or expertise to properly vet these new entrants.
At the same time, many larger service providers to banks (including software vendors, outsourcing providers, and consulting shops) are searching for ways to bring innovation to their banking clients.
In recent conversations with clients I’ve been struck by an increasingly popular solution: a larger, more established firm bringing a fledgling company under its wing. The incumbent does the due diligence, offers advice, and, when satisfied, vouches for the FinTech. It may license the software, or engage the Fintech as a subcontractor; in any case, it’s assuming responsibility for the work of the smaller and newer firm.
Executed properly, it’s a three way win: the bank accesses a new and innovative solution; the incumbent service provider is able to add new value to the relationship; and the fintech is able to begin a relationship from which it would otherwise have been shut out. All participants in the banking ecosystem should consider whether this solution can help their particular situation.
Today’s banking watchword is simplicity. As ludicrous as it may have sounded a couple of years ago, the difference between three taps and two has become significant, and is getting more important every day. But what if there were no taps?
I've always been a bit of a tech geek, but had resisted buying the Amazon Echo, mainly because of my wife's ridicule. Spurred by an encounter at a recent conference, however, I decided it was time to bite the bullet. And now, having played with the Echo for a couple of weeks, I can see that its implications for banking will be profound. No longer is there the necessity to even click when you want to interact with Echo. You simply say “Alexa” to wake it up, and then ask what you want. I'm currently able to access my music library, ask what the weather is, and make general knowledge queries (e.g., how far is it from Boston to Atlanta).
While it’s early days yet, and there is a lot that Alexa doesn't yet know how to do, it is inevitable that its functionality will continue to grow. Capital One is the first and currently only bank to integrate with Alexa, but I’m very curious to see who’s next and how fast this phenomenon will grow. Asking my balance is easy and seamless.
Being very honest, I initially pooh-poohed the utility of voice interaction, but now that I've gotten a taste of it, I (and likely many more) want the full meal. I already can ask Alexa my bank balance. Soon I’ll schedule my utility bill for $220 for next Thursday (since Capital One isn’t my main bank I haven’t fully explored its capabilities on Echo).
The Amazon Echo is a vision of the next step on the road to complete seamlessness and ambient responsiveness. While today Echo may not be that much more than a toy, its implications are profound. Sure I could click on Weather Underground, but asking Alexa the forecast takes virtually no effort and doesn’t require lifting my fingers from the keyboard. I can see the pathetic elements here, but still: I want the same thing with my financial life.
Who’s going to be next to jump on the Echo/Alexa bandwagon?
- The gap between hype and reality for fingerprint authentication is big, but shrinking;
- Banks don’t have to be large to do this; and
- More banks should be offering fingerprint authentication.
- They’re arranging their first bank account ever.
- They’re opening a second account in addition to an existing one elsewhere.
- They’re setting up a new primary account to replace an old account.
Enabling this one-week switching process was enormously costly for the banks, who, it’s fair to say, did it only under duress. But people still aren’t switching And yet, the switching rates are well below what was projected, even after most barriers have been completely eliminated! And it’s not because consumers don’t know about it: 72% of respondent have heard of the Current Account Switch Service, and 75% said it would be easy to switch banks. And it’s not because it’s not quick: more than 99% of switches are completed within the seven working day timescale, and 72% of responding consumers said it would be quick to switch banks. All of this is according to BACS itself, as of January 2016. There’s a great deal of back and forth between regulators and banks about what the true switching rate is; the crux is definitional, distinguishing between “active” and “funded” accounts on the one hand, and “manual” vs. “automated” switching on the other. What’s clear, though, is that switching hasn’t increased significantly despite having been made much simpler and easier, and that overall rates remain low, between 1.8% to 3.0% per annum (depending on definitions). Perhaps more significantly, switching rates haven’t increased over time. And the churn rate (“the ratio of account openings to the stock of existing accounts”) remains at roughly 7% [p.15, Personal current accounts, Market study update, Competition & Markets Authority, 18 July 2014]. The graph below based on BACS data shows that the number of account switchers in the UK remains flat to slightly declining. Even “Challenger Banks,” new banks that UK regulators are actively encouraging to increase competition, have seen little very little uptake to date. That may, of course, change over time, but it’s likely to be a decade-long process since consumer behavior changes so slowly. Potential explanations The CMA report reference above prosaically speculates that “competition being more limited than it would otherwise be” could be due to “…customers’ belief that there is limited differentiation between providers, and the complexity in [Personal Current Accounts] charging structures results in low switching.” [p. 17] I think that’s a good bet, and I’d go even farther: customers know the foibles of their current bank, and while they may be unhappy with it, they at least know what to do and what to avoid. They don’t know the ins and outs of the alternative banks, and don’t think that they’ll be much better. In the absence of a markedly better alternative, inertia sets in and they remain where they are. Lessons for banks There’s been a longstanding hypothesis that customers stay with their banks because it’s too inconvenient to switch. A related hypothesis is that if it were only easier to switch banks, more customers would do it. After more than two years of data from the UK, I contend that both hypotheses are wrong. And they’re likely to remain wrong for at least the next three years: customer behavior just changes too slowly. So what does this mean for incumbent banks? I’d offer three key takeaways:
Launched in September 2013, the Current Account Switch Service is a free-to-use service for consumers, small charities, small businesses and small trusts that makes switching current accounts simple, reliable and hassle-free.
The service aims to increase competition in the high street, support the entry of new banks in the current account marketplace and give customers a greater choice when switching from one bank or building society to another. It is backed by a Current Account Switch Guarantee, and UK banks and building societies covering almost the entire competitive current account market offer the service. All aspects of the Current Account Switch Service (CASS) are now managed and owned by Bacs, the company responsible for Direct Debit and Bacs Direct Credit in the UK.
- Stop spending so much time on making your offerings sticky; they’re likely already sticky enough and your efforts could be better spent elsewhere (like delighting your customers).
- Don’t invest in making it easier to switch to your bank; that’s not what’s holding customers back, and again, your efforts could be better spent elsewhere.
- Continue to please your profitable customers, and enlist them as your allies. Consider refer-a-friend programs, for example The account switching experiment in the UK offers valuable lessons, and we’ll continue to monitor the situation.