Reflections on NetFinance 2014: It’s about relationships

Reflections on NetFinance 2014: It’s about relationships
NetFinance 2014 just finished in Miami.  Celent spoke on “Engaging Mobile Customers through Content, Display, Alerts, and More,” which generated a number of follow-on conversations on how to execute on the notion of engaging with customers, and a great question on how long today’s innovation stays differentiated. Our answer: “not very.” I’ve mentioned before that customer-centricity is becoming a key concept that many banks are highlighting as a key point of their retail strategy. What NetFinance crystallized for me is that the necessary follow-on to this customer-centricity is this simple idea: The best defense against continuing commoditization is a solid customer relationship. Technology, clearly, can go a long way to enhancing that relationship. A number of vendors at the show (like AdRoll, Backbase, Domo, EarthIntegrate, Ektron, Epsilon, IgnitionOne, Leadfusion,  Liferay, Message Systems, Message Broadcast, and Personetics, among others) focus on helping banks touch customers at the right times, or giving them an omnichannel view of all customer touch points, or enabling customers to start a transaction in one channel and continue it in another. But for these technologies to be effective, customers need to be receptive.  And they’re going to be more receptive if they think, and feel, and believe in their gut, that their bank is going to do the right thing by them. All the technology in the world can’t replace some very visceral customer feelings. To engender these feelings with their customers, and stop them from transacting with one hand holding their wallet so their pocket doesn’t get picked, banks should consider some potentially radical ideas (simple concepts?):
  • Not every touch needs to be a sale.
  • Foregoing short-term income for longer term gain can (in many instances) make sense
  • Surprising customers on the upside can yield long-term benefits
Now, the natural reaction to this is that it potentially puts banks into a (short-term) revenue hole. And that may be true, but when the real game of ongoing commoditization is long-term, banks need to thinking beyond the next quarter.

The vision behind the Banorte-IBM partnership

The vision behind the Banorte-IBM partnership
Banorte and IBM announced today in a press release a “10-year strategic agreement that will allow the Mexican finance institution to create a new customer-centric banking model.” For years we’ve been discussing best practices in bank transformation; but few have actually been implemented in more than piecemeal fashion.  Three aspects of this US$1 billion alliance strike me as noteworthy:
  1. Banorte has decided that the time is right to undertake a radical restructuring of its relationship to, and view of, its customers. Now the number three bank in Mexico, with 20 million customers, Banorte realized that delivering value could more effectively come from existing customers, rather than expanded market share. They aim to create value from increased share of wallet, cost take-out, and improved risk management.
  2. The transaction is structured as a true partnership, with risk sharing baked into the pricing, and is structured to self-fund incrementally over time.  IBM will realize upside potential if it over-delivers on a set of specific KPIs.
  3. Senior management was not only involved in the structuring and approval of the deal, but will be heavily enmeshed in the details on a week to week basis. Banorte and IBM recognize that this is much more than simply a technology play, but instead encompasses every phase and level of the bank, from platform, to organization, to process.
While this transaction, five months in the making, is clearly in its early days, Banorte and IBM are making all the right noises about how to execute on a well-structured vision. True partnership, risk sharing, and a professed commitment to true customer-centricity are necessary, if not sufficient, conditions to a potentially extraordinary deal. In the spirit of full disclosure, I worked at IBM from 2001 until 2009.