Rethinking the Customer Experience: Themes from the 2017 Model Bank Submissions

Rethinking the Customer Experience: Themes from the 2017 Model Bank Submissions
This is the third article in a weekly series highlighting trends and themes from Celent’s Model Bank submission process. Dan Latimore and Zil Bareisis led off with two great pieces on the evolution of the Model Bank Awards.  Articles from this week on will explore some of the broader themes within each category. Customer experience initiatives are typically the most numerous.  While this makes the category more difficult to judge, it offers immense insight into what’s happening in the market. The standards of customer engagement are constantly changing, and banks are experimenting with new ways to drive increased satisfaction, higher revenue, and greater loyalty.  Three themes stand out this year. Digital banking subsidiaries: Many banks are finding that existing systems are too rigid to accommodate a truly digital experience.  A number of customer experience submissions this year focus on building out separate digital subsidiary brands within traditional institutions. Banks are typically going in two different directions.  The first is a digital subsidiary as an offshoot of the parent bank.  These brands are basically separate products that offer a digital-first experience to a certain demographic, but are closely tied to the main bank. Brands are similar and products/ services are frequently cross-sold. The second type is a completely separate brand ring-fenced under a different technology stack, operating under the umbrella of the parent organization but effectively a separate entity.  These banks may leverage the parent for product support, but are usually sandboxes for “testing” digital.  Submissions were a mix of the two approaches. Fintech partnerships: The shift from disruptive to collaborative relationships between financial services and Fintech startups feature prominently in this year’s award submissions.   They range from standard B2B vendor relationships to more advanced functional partnerships where portions of the Fintech’s offering is exposed within the traditional institutions digital UI.  Initiatives reflect the growing acceptance among the industry that banks can’t be all things to all people.  Institutions are acknowledging the valuable and complementary role Fintech can play in providing a modern, innovative customer experience. AI and bot technology: Bursting out of the gate in 2015/16, Banks have begun a mad dash towards AI and other bot technologies.  This is a broad spectrum of projects that include everything from simple bots to cognitive computing.  Submissions this year show institutions spreading their resources across many different applications.  Like any emerging technology, most institutions are in a “test and learn” phase.   These technologies are at varying levels of maturity, but the potential to revolutionize the customer experience through AI may be truly transformational, and Celent was pleased to see so many projects in this space. This is just a taste of what we’ll have in store at the 10th annual Innovation and Insight Day on April 4th in Boston. We’ll be diving much deeper into the various topics, revealing the winners of all the awards, and discussing how they combined serious innovation with tangible business benefits to stand out from so many strong contenders. I look forward to seeing you all there.

Why banks should pay attention to “Assistant as an App”

Why banks should pay attention to “Assistant as an App”
Last week I had the pleasure of going to Finovate, a biannual event (at least in NA) where startups and established vendors show off their newest creations. My colleague Dan Latimore wrote an in-depth piece about it last week. It’s usually a good temperature read of where the market is and what banks are thinking about. PFM used to be hot, now it barely makes an appearance. Mobile account opening and on-boarding was massive. Each year you can count on a few presentations tackling customer communication, whether it´s customer service applications or advisory tools. While this year was no different, I didn´t see any presentations representing an emerging trend in mobile: assistant as an app. What is assistant as an app? Basically, it puts a thin UI between two humans: the customer and the service provider (e.g. retailer or bank). The UI layer enhances the interaction by allowing each party to push information back and forth, whether its text, pictures, data visualization, etc. There are a wide range of possibilities. Apps are already starting to incorporate this idea. For a monthly fee, Pana offerings a human personal travel assistant who will take care of any travel related need. The concierge books restaurants, hotels, rental cars, and flights, all via in-app communication. Pana Vida Health allows users to push dietary information to a health coach that can then send back health plans, ideas to diagnose health issues, or create a weight loss regimen. The dating app Grouper uses a concierge to coordinate group dates. EasilyDo is a personal assistant that can manage your contacts, check traffic, schedule flights, etc. The app Fetch uses SMS to let users ask the concierge to buy just about anything. For a small fee (sometimes free, subsidized by business or premium services) these companies provide value-added premium services to customers through a mobile device. The applicability for banks is obvious. Finances can be complicated; most people aren´t good at managing money, and according to Celent research, consumers still prefer to speak to a human for important money matters. Assistant as an app would offer institutions a clear path towards monetising the mobile channel, moving interactions away from the branch, and capturing a growing base of digitally-directed consumers. I predict this will be a major trend in financial services in the future. What do you think? Feel free to comment below.

Pushing beyond apps

Pushing beyond apps
It struck me while I was driving this morning: First-gen mobile apps are fine, but virtually everyone is missing high-volume opportunities to engage with their customers. Allow me to back up a step. I was stuck in traffic. Not surprisingly, that gave me some time to ponder my driving experience. I found myself thinking: Why can’t I give my car’s navigation system deep personalizations to help it think the way I do? And how do I get around its singular focus on getting from Point A to Point B? I explored the system while at a red light. It had jammed me onto yet another “Fastest Route,” disguised as a parking lot. My tweaks to the system didn’t seem to help. I decided what I’d really like is a Creativity slider so I could tell my nav how far out there to be in determining my route. Suburban side streets, public transportation, going north to eventually head south, and even well-connected parking lots are all nominally on the table when I’m at the helm. So why can’t I tell my nav to think like me? I’d also like a more personal, periodic verbal update on my likely arrival time, which over the course of my trip this morning went from 38 minutes to almost twice that due to traffic. The time element is important, of course. But maybe my nav system should sense when I’m agitated (a combination of wearables and telematics would be a strong indicator) and do something to keep me from going off the deep end. Jokes? Soothing music? Directions to highly-rated nearby bakeries? Words of serenity? More configurability is required, obviously, or some really clever automated customization. Then an even more radical thought struck. Why couldn’t my nav help me navigate not only my trip but my morning as well? “Mr. Weber, you will be in heavy traffic for the next 20 minutes. Shall I read through your unopened emails for you while you wait?” Or, “Your calendar indicates that you have an appointment before your anticipated arrival time. Shall I email the participants to let them know you’re running late?” Or (perhaps if I’m not that agitated), “While you have a few minutes would you like to check your bank balances, or talk to someone about your auto insurance renewal which is due in 10 days?” What I’m describing here is a level of engagement between me and my mobile devices which is difficult to foster, for both technical and psychological reasons. And it doesn’t work if a nav system is simply a nav system that doesn’t have contextual information about the user. But imagine the benefits if the navigation company, a financial institution, and other consumer-focused firms thought through the consumer experience more holistically. By sensibly injecting themselves into consumers’ daily routines—even when those routines are stressful—companies will have a powerful connection to their customers that will be almost impossible to dislodge. Firms like Google have started down this path, but financial institutions need to push their way into the conversation as well.

On the margins

On the margins
Celent recently released the report On the Margins: A Comparison of Banks and Credit Unions by Asset Tier, where community institutions of the same size are compared across a number of performance metrics, mainly efficiency ratio. One of the most interesting findings is that credit unions are becoming less efficient at a faster rate than banks of the same size. Efficiency ratios measure how much it costs an institution to create one dollar of revenue. Looking at the data in previous sections, credit unions are increasingly spending more money to generate as much revenue as banks of the same size. Efficiency ratio can be dependent on a number of factors, but as a way to look at simple margins, it´s one of the more useful industry metrics. At a glance it seems counter-intuitive. Credit unions are generally more customer-centric and have higher technology adoption. They use real-time systems, simpler product lines, invest in labor saving technology, and leverage community involvement like CUSOs and shared services to drive down prices. But there are obviously distinct business model differences, where credit unions, being member-owned, generally run thinner margins, returning more benefit back to the customer in the form of better interest rates and/or lower fees. Although this is an intentional business decision reinforced by member-centric charters, it leaves the institution with fewer resources than similarly sized banks that may take a more profit-driven approach. So what’s the issue here? It comes down to the effects of digitalization. Celent sees three challenges that may affect the credit union market going forward:
  1. As the complexity of business demands in financial services grows (e.g., technology), the resource requirements may present a challenge for credit unions (and all community institutions) running thin margins. Since raising capital is limited to retained earnings, non-profits need to be more intentional about how they prioritize tech investment.
  2. Banks in recent years have seen a significant shift in how they view customer service. Once a key point of differentiation for the CU market, banks are now coming on board to make customer centricity the new operating model, increasingly driven by the digital experience. While customer centricity is healthy for the industry as a whole, it’s unclear to what extent it indicates an erosion of credit unions’ key value proposition.
  3. As technology breaks down geographical barriers of financial services, customers are given more options, and the competitive landscape widens based on the availability of channels. Switching financial services providers is no longer a high-friction process, and the selection is wider than ever. Digital is also redefining what it means to be a part of a community, and it’s increasingly being decoupled from physical proximity. This puts pressure on institutions that have previously enjoyed relative isolation in well-defined localities.
To be clear, these challenges aren’t all specific to credit unions. Financial services are increasingly becoming a game a sufficient scale, and community institutions of all size are feeling the pinch. Yet credit unions, given are the average institution size and business models, are disproportionately affected. With the complexity and demands of financial services putting more pressure on the bottom line, will this difference adversely affect credit unions’ (and community institutions) ability to stay competitive?

Thoughts from American Banker Retail Banking Conference 2015

Thoughts from American Banker Retail Banking Conference 2015
This last week the American Banker Retail Banking Conference 2015 was going on in Austin, TX. As expected, it was a great way to read the temperature of the banking industry. The conference was well attended, with broad representation from all institution sizes and markets. There were a couple of overarching themes throughout the event. Competitive pressures on smaller institutions were top of many bankers´ minds. The conference was full of community bankers discussing evolving business models and the pressures its placing on their ability to gather deposits. Customer centricity is forcing a convergence of traditionally segregated value propositions. Large banks are now trying to compete on serving the customer and they´re positioning themselves to look and feel like a community experience. New entrants and delivery models are also opening up the competitive landscape. Consumers are no longer limited by geography when choosing a bank, and they have a growing number of alternative financial options from which to choose. Smaller institutions are finding it hard to overcome some of the barriers of resources and marketing that arise as the competitive landscape broadens. Many presenters discussed developing non-traditional revenue streams. With interest rates low and new regulations following the financial crisis, banks are running incredibly thin margins, and traditional revenue sources are no longer viable. Presentations focused on targeted marketing for “moneyhawks”, new P2P models (e.g. P2P lending), and new payment schemes. A few thoughts on some of the talking points:
  • Breaking down omnichannel applications for financial services: Omnichannel within banking was a popular talking point between attendees and among presenters, and it´s obvious there´s still more than enough ambiguity around its application in the context of banking. One of the presentations used non-FI examples to look at how banks can approach integrating omnichannel into customer interactions. Home Depot was an interesting case study. The retailer combines the in-store and app experience to enhance the customer buying process. Customers can browse the app and make a list of the materials they need. The app shows only what´s in stock at the nearest physical location, and each item is given a corresponding aisle number for easy location on arrival. While in the store, customers can scan QR codes on each product to bring up specific measurements and statistics. This is the essence of an omnichannel experience. It´s not about doing everything from every channel—it´s about optimizing the customer experience across the variety of methods used to interact with the retailer (or bank).
  • Community banks differentiating from large institutions: This was a common thread running throughout the presentations. How do community banks grow deposits in a climate of shrinking deposit share? Presenters proposed some solutions. One spoke of the need to market correctly. A recent study found that despite problems with megabank perception, 73% of those asked said a recognizable brand was important in choosing a financial institution. A regional bank poll of millennials found that not one could name a community institution in their area. These institutions find it hard to inform consumers about the value they provide, and often lacking the resources and experience to do so. A few small institutions spoke about shifting towards serving small businesses. Despite only having 20% of deposits, community banks are responsible for 60% of small business loans. Focusing on small businesses could be a way for small institutions to remain viable, without having to drastically alter their businesses.
  • eCommerce and Merchant Funded Rewards (MFR) through mobile banking to help consumers save:  During one of the sessions, a banker made a good point: consumers don´t need help spending, they need help saving.  The comment reflected a number of discussions about the role financial institutions can play in helping consumers save money, but was echoed across a handful of presentations on digital commerce. US Bank discussed Peri, its eCommerce app developed in cooperation with Monitise, while other presenters spoke about card-linked and MFR propositions.  These initiatives are definitely innovative, but is conflating the ideas of saving and driving commerce shaping the conversation around a fundamentally misaligned approach?  First, will a bank´s eCommerce app be able to compete with the likes of Amazon and Google?  Banks often do not have the customers, data, or pricing competitiveness to match big online retailers, and they seldom win on brand favourability. Second, even when these initiatives are successful, do they really help people save?  For many, the data isn´t targeted enough for banks to offer deals on purchases a consumer was going to make anyway.  For example, based on one bank´s demo, a customer would go to make a purchase at a retailer and the bank app would push out a geo-located card-linked offer for a nearby restaurant. This requires additional spending.  Without the right data, these programs are mostly playing off impulse purchasing, not saving.
Do these themes resonate with your experience? Feel free to leave comments about how your institution is tackling these challenges.

Asian Vendors Looking to Pivot

Asian Vendors Looking to Pivot
I’ve just returned from a two-week swing through Asia, with stops and roundtables in Tokyo, Singapore, Melbourne and Sydney. Along with my colleague Neil Katkov I was fortunate to meet a large number of clients and market participants, both banks and their ecosystem partners, in a series of more than two dozen meetings. In each country Celent hosted a half-day session on digital innovation. Attendance was good and discussion spirited; digital and omnichannel is a topic that every bank across the region wrestles with. Their service providers, too, are keenly interested in the topic. What struck me as particularly noteworthy, however, was that a large number of providers are trying to reposition themselves in the marketplace. Their (legacy) brands are extraordinarily strong, which is a blessing and a curse. Brand strength is great, but when it’s associated with a technology that’s in decline, and not yet associated with new areas of investment, then vendors are put in a difficult position because they don’t get the calls associated with that new fintech. A common question for us was, “how do I get the message out about this new solution I’ve developed?” There’s no one answer, but I’d suggest to banks that they cast a wide net when looking to address their new technology problems; many of their historical partners are learning (or at least trying to learn) new tricks. That their marketing (broadly defined) has yet to catch up shouldn’t dissuade banks from seeing what new solutions they have to offer.

Oracle’s three modes of Progressive Transformation

Oracle’s three modes of Progressive Transformation
I was able to attend Oracle’s Open World at the end of September, and although it conflicted with Sibos, it was an extravaganza. While there I sat down with some of the folks involved with core systems; they outlined the interesting way they’re thinking about progressive transformation (briefly, how to migrate core systems gradually; the opposite of a “big bang” approach). Oracle agrees with the consensus that a big bang for any sizable bank is going to be problematic. What interested me was that they outlined three different approaches for progressive transformation:
  1. Replace a vertical slice
  2. Replace a horizontal slice
  3. Create a new target state architecture off to the side
Without going into great detail, I’ll describe how Oracle has at least started the journey in three different banks around the world.
  1. Vertical Slice. Suncorp in Australia has started the process of moving off its Hogan core by focusing on unsecured lending; its next stop will be secured lending.
  2. Horizontal slice. KeyBank, based in Cleveland, announced at Open World that it intends to use non-core systems components of Oracle Banking Platform (“OBP”) to enhance and modernize its mobile and online channels. To be clear, KeyBank has not committed to a core transformation. The project is in its very early stages; it’s one we’ll watch with interest
  3. Target architecture. National Australia Bank’s new entity, UBank, is a digital-only bank that NAB created as part of its bank transformation using OBP. Its goal is to change the customer experience, and uptake has surpassed initial expectations.
Celent’s perspective is that progressive transformation (or whatever various name different vendors use for the same basic concept) is a way to purchase a real option as banks think about how to modernize their systems and accommodate the increased demands that digital access place on their technology. It lets banks begin a journey without committing them to course of action that might not be appropriate down the road as the world changes. Time will, of course, tell how successful each of these projects will be, but thinking about the different ways to approach a phased core transformation is useful for any bank with core on its strategic agenda (which should be…almost any bank).

Spending a day with IBM’s Watson

Spending a day with IBM’s Watson
As an IBM alumnus (but no longer a stockholder) I’ve gotten pretty used to seeing the company do things a certain way. And then I attended a day-long “Watson at Scale (aka Ecosystem 2.0)” event on October 7 and had a lot of my old notions upended. Watson, of course, came to prominence when it won Jeopardy in 2011. Immediately after that IBM began experimenting with a select number of industries (Healthcare, Travel and Retail) to demonstrate proofs of concept and learn what works and what doesn’t. Beginning in January of 2014, Watson expanded dramatically and is now covering 26 industries. IBM proclaims that Watson is the harbinger of a new era of computing, what they call “Cognitive Computing.” There’s just too much information being created today for any single person to digest; Watson aims to “amplify” experts’ capabilities. Doctors, salespeople, and wealth managers are but a few examples. IBM says there are four key attributes to understand:
  • Watson understands natural language (computational linguistics).
  • Watson is a voracious reader
  • Watson provides recommendations with confidence levels
  • You don’t program Watson, you teach it
Mike Rhodin, the IBM SVP who leads Watson (under an unusual board-governed structure), described the key insight about Watson: it’s not that Watson gives answers, but rather that it generates hypotheses, gives confidence intervals around those hypotheses, and provides evidence trails. It does this by ingesting enormous amounts of data, being taught by humans with a series of questions and answers, and then learning on its own as it proceeds. The more data it has, the better it performs. Watson does a better job providing recommendations for people when it knows something about them. A salesperson will sell differently to an introvert than an extrovert, as a simplified example. Watson can generate a personality profile on the basis of a person’s twitter feed or blog posts – I’m not sure how accurate it is, but the concept alone is pretty startling. Terry Jones, an entrepreneur previously associated with Travelocity and Kayak, introduced a new company called WayBlazer that uses Watson’s technology. It aims to be able to answer queries like, “I want to go on a golf trip with my buddies in October,” or, “Give me an itinerary for Costa Rica in May with my two kids.” Watson might ask clarifying questions, and then would come back with recommendations. The prototype is currently in place for Austin, but a service like this highlighted clearly what Watson has the potential to do, if implemented successfully. Another lightbulb for me was Terry’s description of Watson as a liberal arts major, not a math geek. It could do airline pricing optimization, but that’s not what you’d buy it for. WayBlazer is but one example of the ecosystem that Watson is building. Realizing there’s a shortage of skills in Cognitive Computing, IBM has teamed with ten universities to offer courses on the subject; this fall all of the classes were oversubscribed. From a standing start in January, IBM has about 100 partners and expects that to continue to grow. Watson had 1 API in January; it now has 8, with more than a dozen in development. IBM may have finally figured out how to execute at startup speed under the umbrella of Big Blue. Watson’s interest in financial services is currently very focused. Insurance is one key space, particularly around underwriting. Wealth Management is the other key area, with risk and compliance being a third. You may disagree with Watson’s prioritization, but their intentional focus is spot-on – they’ve got to demonstrate some tangible successes before they begin to branch out. Based on different discussions, Watson’s revenue will come from four sources:
  1. Consulting to investigate and establish what Watson will do for the firm
  2. Priced products (e.g., oncology)
  3. SAAS revenues from running Watson for individual projects
  4. A cut of the revenue that partners earn from Watson projects
What’s ultimately different this time? In this new IBM (a place the company has been forced to by intense competition), Watson:
  • Is playing the role of an ecosystem platform
  • Is using partners to reach consumers, realizing that IBM’s strength is as a B2B company
  • Has built a new physical space, reversing a trend of selling real estate and having employees work remotely
  • Is not trying to do this on the cheap
  • Is focused on just a few areas
What does this mean for banks and financial services firms? The IBM take is, of course, that you’ve got to be exploring Watson or you’ll be hopelessly behind. That’s overly broad, but I recommend that firms at least get up to speed on the potential of the technology and see whether it can apply to them. We’ll have to watch to see if Watson carries through on its promise, but efforts like this are a necessary (if not sufficient) first step in the right direction for IBM.  

Technology and Service Providers: Different Beats, Same Tune

Technology and Service Providers: Different Beats, Same Tune
It’s been a whirlwind week for service provider analyst days and client conferences: Friday with Genpact, Tuesday and Wednesday with FIS, and Thursday with IGATE. Each firm is trying to differentiate itself amidst all the market noise; like banks, they’re constantly resisting the grind of commoditization. And while interaction was unique and fascinating, four common themes struck me as being indicative of the massive changes going on today in banking technology. Not coincidentally, they’re all consistent with what Celent has been saying about the evolution of the banking ecosystem.
  1. Focus
  2. Realignment
  3. Security
  4. Partnership
Focus takes on different meanings for different firms, but both Genpact and iGate were very clear about where they were going to spend time and energy, and where they weren’t (banking makes the cut for both of them). FIS may seem oxymoronic because of its product and service breadth and depth, but the company appears to be making steady progress towards rationalizing a variety of disparate products obtained through acquisition. Realignment follows focus. FIS is for the first time dividing itself into three groups: North America, International, and Global Institutions (roughly the top 30 international banks). Genpact and IGATE are both focusing on nine verticals (the specific nine vary), with IGATE putting P&L responsibility with the verticals for the first time. They will both have, however, certain horizontal practices that continue to run across their verticals. Security is a key value-add for these companies; with a broader base across which to spread costs, they tend to impose attention and discipline that many smaller banks can’t hope to match. While specifics vary, all made it a point to mention their approach to security. As the issue continues to increase in importance, we think this element of their value proposition will become ever more significant. Partnership is perhaps the ultimate defense against commoditization. Each of the three firms mentioned in their first breath the desire to work with their clients as Partners. Celent has written extensively on the transition from a vendor/customer to partner/client relationship in banking, and while talking about it doesn’t guarantee execution today, it’s a necessary first step for it to be tomorrow’s reality. What will be particularly interesting is the ongoing tension between providers’ professed desire to do the right thing and regulators’ apparent wish that contracts spell out in gory detail what will be required (including who bears responsibilities for mistakes). For more, see an interesting American Banker article here: http://bit.ly/1sAAE7j. For providers, guaranteeing that they can pass regulatory muster with minimum fuss will be a key requirement as they seek to win more business. As the year continues we’ll be watching keenly to see whether other providers’ actions echo these trends, and what banks’ reactions are. As a footnote, two of the firms have taglines, one brand new, the other a bit older: IGATE: Speed. Agility. Imagination. Genpact: GENerating imPACT FIS may have an opportunity here to help define itself; right now it’s self-admittedly one of the biggest companies that no one’s ever heard of. What do you see in the marketplace? Has my quick synthesis missed a key trend? I welcome your thoughts.

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.