Digital transformation isn’t a “one and done” scenario but a perpetual program that evolves with the ever-changing terrain of the banking industry. Competition is everywhere; to stay in the game, bank executives need to develop a strategy that is based, in large part, on what everyone else is doing.
According to a What’s Going On In Banking 2022 study by Cornerstone Advisors, credit unions got a digital transformation head start on banks: 16% launched a strategy in 2018 or earlier, versus just 9% of banks that had launched a strategy the same year. But it’s not only credit unions and traditional big banks that community financial institutions need to be watching. Disruptors like Apple and Amazon.com pose a threat as they roll out new innovations. Fintech players like PayPal Holding’s Venmo and Chime are setting the pace for convenient customer payments. And equally menacing are mortgage lenders like Quicken’s Rocket Mortgage and AmeriSave, which approve home loans in a snap.
An essential consideration in a successful digital transformation is having key policy and decision-makers on the same page about the bank’s technology platforms. If it’s in the bank’s best interest to scrap outdated legacy systems that no longer contribute to its long-term business goals, the CEO, board of directors and top executives need to unanimously embrace this position in support of the bank’s strategy.
Digital transformation is forcing a core system decision at many institutions. Bank executives are asking: Should we double down on digital with our existing core vendor or go with a new, digital platform? Increasingly, financial institutions are choosing to go with digital platforms because they believe the core vendors can’t keep up with best-in-class innovation, user experience and integration. Many are now opting for next-generation, digital-first cores to run their digital platform, with an eye towards eventually converting their legacy bank over to these next-gen cores.
Digital transformation touches every aspect of the business, from front line workers to back-end systems, and it’s important to determine how to separate what’s vital from what’s not. Where should banks begin their digital transformation journey? With a coordinated effort and a clear path to achieving measurable short- and long-term goals.
Here are some organization-wide initiatives for banks to consider as they dive into new digital transformation initiatives or enhance their current ones.
1. Set measurable, achievable transformation goals. This can include aspirations like improving customer acquisition and retention by upgrading customer digital touchpoints like the website or mobile app.
2. Prioritize systems that can produce immediate returns. Systems that automate repetitive tasks or flag incomplete applications create cost-efficient and optimal outcomes for institutions.
3. Invest in a discipline to instill a changed mindset. A bank that upgrades a system but doesn’t alter its people’s way of thinking about everything from customer interaction to internal processes will not experience the true transformational benefit of the change.
4. Conduct a thorough evaluation of all sales and service channels. This will enable the bank to determine not only how to impact the maximum number of customers, but also impart the greatest value to them through product assessment and innovation.
5. Get employees on board with “digital” readiness. Form small training groups that build on employees’ specialized knowledge and skills, rather than adopting a one-size-fits-all model. Employees that are well-trained in systems, processes and technology are invaluable assets in your institution’s digital transformation journey.
Banks must foster their unique cultures and hard-earned reputations to remain competitive in this ever-changing financial services landscape. As they build out digital strategies, they must continue fine-tuning the problem-solving skills that will keep them relevant in the face of evolving customers, markets and opportunities. Most importantly, banks must embrace a lasting commitment to an ongoing transformation strategy, across the organization and in all their day-to-day activities. For this long-term initiative, it’s as much about the journey as it is the destination.