As technology continues to advance and digital adoption across generations climbs, there is a critical need for financial institutions to embrace a digital-first approach to banking. Some may mistake “digital-first” as having only an exceptional digital banking experience. While that is incredibly important, digital-first is so much more: it’s digitizing the entire customer journey and incorporating digital elements intelligently into physical touchpoints.

A digital-first approach calls for enhanced personalization, greater synchrony between digital and physical channels and connected experiences. Banks that deploy a digital-first model experience greater customer loyalty and increased wallet share.

Of course, executing this philosophy is easier said than done. To effectively launch a digital-first strategy, banks must start with the data, consider all phases of the customer journey and reimagine all touchpoints.

Let the Data Guide You
The strategic use of data is what directs effective digital-first banking. If a bank harnesses data in the right way, they can uncover critical customer behaviors and channel preferences, transactional patterns and key events in the customer journey. The bank can use these insights to narrowly tailor interactions and improve customer relationships.

However, such efforts are only as effective as the bank’s ability to collect and analyze data. A proper data journey includes standing up the systems and resources the institution needs to accurately leverage data, establishing baseline metrics, identifying trends and tracking growth via profitability studies. It’s critical to take such steps to facilitate a digital-first banking experience that engages customers in the right channels at the right time with the right messages.

Digital-First Tone From the Onset
The customer’s first impression of a bank today comes typically from a bank’s website or online application — something akin to a digital front door. If the sign up and onboarding experience is clunky, slow and full of friction, the risk of customer abandonment skyrockets. An experience like this is typically the result of siloed, legacy technology, which is not only detrimental to customer satisfaction but expensive and cumbersome for the bank to maintain as well.

Executives should place a priority on cross-channel onboarding, managing the onboarding of accounts across the institution through a single platform. The branch remains the touchpoint with the highest sales conversion, but customers and prospects increasingly are interested in at least beginning an application on their mobile device. Giving customers a way to start an application online but complete it in the branch — or vice versa — increases profitability for the bank while delivering a more consistent, seamless experience for customers and prospects. Such functionality is also becoming increasingly important for small businesses and commercial customers.

Don’t Neglect Physical Touchpoints
Bank branches have become an elephant in the boardroom. While the branch will continue to be critical to community and regional banks, the way the bank approaches them must evolve. Implementing in-branch technology that is digitally optimized, cloud-based and more connected allows customers to self-serve when it comes to routine transactions, saving tellers time and resources for higher-value conversations. For example, depositing a check can quickly and easily be done at the ITM, while the teller’s time is reserved for discussing savings account options. Such shifts lower operational costs and optimize branch value.

For digital and physical touchpoints to truly work together, teller systems must be modernized and connected to other engagement points. Merchants and small businesses should have options to order ahead for change orders from their bank using a mobile device and pick up at the teller using a branch fast queue, a mobile teller in-branch or an automated pickup at a smart locker that they can open through a code. Forgoing the silos of legacy teller systems in favor of a common framework of technologies allows banks to blur the channels and reimagine the branch experience.

Plus, such a shift improves the employee experience. With the right tools, training and mindset in place, frontline staff can be transformed into an army of digital-first ambassadors, empowered to serve and support customers more meaningfully and effectively than ever before.

Digital-first banking is an exciting movement that can bring significant value to the customer while enhancing the bank’s bottom line. However, the philosophy must first be understood and properly approached, prioritizing the use of data, the sales and onboarding experience as well as the evolution of physical branch networks.


Douglas Brown

President of Digital Banking

Douglas Brown is the president of digital banking for NCR Voyix. He is an innovative leader in driving business strategy with successful execution via digital and mobile enablement of the customer experience.