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Board Issues : Strategy

How to Make Your Bank Customer-Centric

May 7th, 2013 |

5-7-13_Celent.pngWinning retail banks will provide a different and better offer of value. They will:

  • Be customer-centric (finally) by delivering more than simply plumbing
  • Have a strong digital offering (mobile, tablet and online)
  • Turn zero-sum games into win-win situations

Here’s the cold, hard truth: Retail banking today is a means to an end for customers. Banking lets people accomplish other, more enjoyable things. Banking is not fun; it’s not a destination; and it’s not something that people would choose to do given any reasonable alternative. With the products and services that banks offer today, most often the highest praise that can be given is, “That wasn’t terrible.”

So what can banks do to change the game so that they have a realistic chance of having their customers actively praise them? Three actions, driven by technology and spurred by non-bank competition, can help banks transform customers’ feelings about them.  

First, banks should (finally) become truly customer-centric. The industry has been talking about this for a dozen years, but this time—really—it’s getting serious. Here’s why: Technology has advanced enough to make a host of truly useful solutions feasible, and consumers are demanding to be served differently now.

Exposed to great online experiences from Amazon to Zappos, customers wonder, not unreasonably, why banks can’t do the same?  And when the banks fail to deliver, frustrated financial services consumers begin to look around for someone who can do a better job delivering on their raised expectations.  

Second, banks must have a strong digital offering. This encompasses not just online, but also mobile and tablet devices. Bank of America predicts that in less than two years it will have more customer access accounts via mobile devices than through the online channel. And more than half of millennials now choose their bank based on its mobile experience.  

Third, banks should create win-win situations with the customers. The retail banking business model has been constructed as a zero sum game: Banks win when customers lose, and vice versa. There’s a finite pie that banks and customers have to share, and one group’s piece grows as the other’s shrinks. That’s not the basis for a fruitful relationship.  

Bankers should search for ways to create positive-sum games by aligning the interests of the bank with those of its customers. When the customer does well, the bank benefits. For example, banks can increase assets by helping customers understand (and act on) the need to save for retirement.  

Win-wins can also take the form of partnerships with third parties by delivering value to customers that they wouldn’t be able to get on their own. With some merchant offers, for example, banks can provide value to small business (i.e. new customers) and retail customers (in the form of discounts).

A bank’s internal organization is typically the biggest barrier to delivering a truly customer-centric experience. Banks have gotten away with a lot for a long time because alternatives were few and customers were conditioned not to expect too much. But that paradigm has been irreversibly altered; banks can’t let antiquated organizational silos stand in the way of delivering new value to newly empowered customers.  

Changing will be hard, but guess what? Customers don’t care. They don’t care about legacy systems, or regulatory burdens or organizational structure. They want what they want, and will be delighted when you surprise them with something that they didn’t even know they needed.  

Maxims for a customer-centric bank in the mobile age:

  1. Put the customer first and be in his or her corner
  2. State your offer of value clearly
  3. Save your customers time
  4. Save your customers money
  5. Let them know when they’ve done well
dlatimore

Daniel W. Latimore is the senior vice president of Celent’s Banking group and is based in the firm’s Boston office.  He has held senior management positions in research groups at Deloitte and IBM, has worked at Merrill Lynch and Liberty Mutual, and was a consultant at McKinsey & Co.

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