Small Business Checking, Repositioned

This is part two of a two-part post diving into the future of small business checking. Read part one, Small Business Checking, Reimagined.

Increasingly, small businesses see digital payment solutions as both a way to get paid faster and to satisfy customers who now prefer to pay that way. Indeed, this capability has become indispensable for most small businesses. And for banks, it is the key to capturing even more small and medium-sized business relationships moving forward.

However, there is one problem: Banks don’t offer a simple solution to help their small business customers meet this fundamental need. As a result, small business owners have had to resort to outside options (four of which we explored in part one). Over time, this reliance on fintech challengers can lead to disintermediation for the bank, as the non-banks begin to replace the financial institution with their own offerings.

At this point you may be wondering: Does my bank already offer this kind of solution, or something that’s similar enough? The answer, most likely, is no — or not yet.

The reality is that the ideal solution for a small business owner is a steep change from the small business accounts of today. Current accounts are built on transactional functionality. The many supporting, and sometimes dizzying, features that go along with it, such as transaction fees, minimum balances and item allowances, may be important to the bank, but miss the mark for a small business.

Simply put, small business owners need bank accounts designed for a very specific reason: to receive digital payments and easily track their critical cash flow in the process.

To be truly relevant, this reimagined small business checking account needs to include the following three crucial components:

  • Digital payment acceptance, including credit cards, and online invoicing, set up and ready for the small business owner to start getting paid faster into the very same account.
  • Manage and track customer payments, ranging from incoming, coming due, and past due, right inside the digital platform that’s comprises their checking account.
  • Expertise and high-touch support that a business owner can expect from a longstanding and trustworthy institution. This is an important differentiator, and one that fintech challengers can’t come close to matching.

This checking account product offers two significant benefits. For a small business owner, it represents exactly what they have been searching for: a complete small business solution that features receivables functionality, offered by the same trusted institution that they’ve come to rely on for so many other needs.

And for banks, this new account allows them to embrace a mindset focused on customer workflows and solving real-world challenges. It could even signal a way forward, and open the door to many more opportunities. Promoting such a markedly different product, however, would require some care. Unlike a typical account, with its mandatory list of bulleted features, a reimagined solution like this one requires positioning that highlights its problem-solving capabilities.

A generic framework for our hypothetical account, organized by customer need first and benefit(s) second, could go:

Get paid, the way they want to pay
Make it easy for paying customers. Accept online payments and credit cards, or send personalized digital invoices. Either way, get paid directly into your bank account for easy access to funds.

Better control of your cash flow
Track and manage it all automatically: incoming, coming due and past due customer payments. Know exactly who has paid and when, and get an up-to-date view of your cash flow.

Do it all, all in one place
More than a checking account. Everything you need for your small business is included with your account. And there’s no need to set up multiple accounts across multiple platforms — one easy enrollment is all you need.

You don’t have to go it alone
Because a great digital experience is only the beginning. Every successful business needs an accessible financial partner — your bank is available and ready to help.

Of course, a reimagined small business checking account needs to be designed and launched with supporting capabilities in mind. Look for partners that can help your institution go to market with a proven solution — inclusive of the product capabilities and go-to-market services — that enable small business owners to get paid, while staying ahead of the competition.

Learn more about Autobooks and download your free small business resources here.

Three Things Bankers Learned During the Pandemic

It’s been well documented how the pandemic lead to the digitization of banking on a grand scale.

But what bankers discovered about themselves and the capabilities of their staff was the real eye-opener. Firms such as RSM, an audit, tax and consulting company that works with banks nationwide, saw how teams came together in a crisis and did their jobs effectively in difficult circumstances. Banks pivoted toward remote working, lobby shut-downs, video conferencing and new security challenges while funneling billions in Paycheck Protection Program loans to customers. The C-suites and boards of financial institutions saw that the pandemic tested their processes but also created an opportunity to learn more about their customers.

Overall, the pandemic changed all of us. From our discussions with the leaders of financial institutions, here are three major things bankers learned about themselves and their customers during the pandemic.

1. Customers Want to Use Technology
Banks learned that customers, no matter their generation, were able to use technology effectively. Banks were able to successfully fulfill the needs of their customers, as more devices and technologies are available to banks at all price points and varying degrees of complexity. Post-pandemic, this practice will continue to help increase not only internal efficiencies but convenience for customers. As banks compete with many of the new digital providers, this helps even the playing field, says Christina Churchill, a principal and national lead for financial institutions at RSM US LLP.

Did you have a telemedicine appointment during the pandemic? Do you want to go back to driving to a doctor and sitting in a waiting room for a short appointment, given a choice? Probably not. Nor will bank customers want to come to a branch for a simple transaction, says Churchill.

The pandemic made that all too clear. Banks had to figure out a way to serve customers remotely and they did. Digital account opening soared. Banks stood up secure video conferencing appointments with their customers. They were successful on many counts.

2. Employees Can Work Remotely
The myth that bankers were all working effectively while in the office was exposed. Instead, some found employees were more effective while not in the office.

Technology helped bridge the gap in the existing skill set: Bankers learned how to use technology to work remotely and used it well, says Brandon Koeser, senior manager at RSM. Senior leaders are finding that getting employees back to the office on a strict 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule may be difficult. “Some bankers have asked me, ‘do we return to the office? Do we not go back?’” says Koeser. “And I think the answer is not full time, because that is the underlying desire of employees.”

After surveying 27,500 Americans for a March 2021 study, university researchers predicted that Covid-19’s mass social experiment in working from home will stick around. They estimate about 20% of full workdays will be supplied from home going forward, leading to a 6% boost in productivity based on optimized working arrangements such as less time commuting.

Still, many senior bank leaders feel the lack of in-person contact. It’s more difficult and time-consuming to coach staff, brainstorm or get to know new employees and customers. It’s likely that a hybrid of remote and in-person meetings will resume.

3. Banks Can Stand Up Digital Quickly
Banks used to spend months or years building systems from scratch. That’s no longer the case, says Churchill. Many banks discovered they can stand up technological improvements within days or weeks. Ancillary tools from third-party providers are available quickly and cost less than they did in the past. “You don’t have to build from scratch,” Koeser says. “The time required is not exponential.”

Recently, RSM helped a bank’s loan review process by building a bot to eliminate an hour of work per loan by simply pulling the documentation to a single location. That was low-value work but needed to be done; the bot increased efficiency and work-life quality for the bank team. A robotic process automation bot can cost less than $10,000 as a one-time expense, Churchill says.

Throughout this year, senior bankers discovered more about their staff and their capabilities than they had imagined. “It really helped people look at the way banks can process things,” Churchill says. “It helped gain efficiencies. The pandemic increased the reach of financial institutions, whom to connect with and how.”

The pandemic, it turned out, had lessons for all of us.

What Banks Can Learn From Retailers to Grow Loans

If success leaves clues, retail has dropped plenty of golden nuggets to help the banking industry refine its credit application process and increase customer loyalty.

While banks have come a long way with online and mobile features, credit and loan application procedures are still stuck in the early 2000s. Often, the process is unnecessarily bogged down by false pre-approvals and lengthy forms; bank processes drive how customer obtain loans, instead of by their individual preferences.

Savvy lenders have already adopted alternatives that curate an express, white-glove approval process that incorporates customer loyalty. It’s more of a catalog of options available any time the consumer wants or needs something. Companies like Amazon.com and Delta Air Lines don’t work to predict consumer’s every desire; instead, they empower the customer to shop whenever and wherever, and proactively offer them options to pay or finance based on their data. Consumers join loyalty programs, earn points and build profiles with companies; they can then apply for credit online, over the phone, in store — wherever it makes the most sense for them. If they provide the correct information, they typically find out whether they are approved for credit in 60 seconds or less — usually no heavy paperwork to complete, just verbal confirmations and an e-signature. Retailers have given consumers a sense of ease and confidence that endears them to a brand and inspires loyalty.

Banks, on the other hand, seem convinced that customers are monolithic and must be instructed in how to shop for loans. But they have much more consumer data and more lending expertise than retailers; they could go even further than retailers when it comes to extending loan offers and services to customers in a variety of formats.

For instance, a bank should never have to deny a customer’s loan application. Instead, they should have enough data to empower the consumer with personalized access to loans across multiple product lines, which can go further than a pre-approved offer. These guaranteed offers can eliminate the application process and wait time. It gives the consumer insight into their personal buying power, and instant access to loans where and when they need them. The process doesn’t require a lengthy applications or branch visit, and removes the fear of rejection.

What Keeps Banks from Offering Customers a Faster Process?
It’s not a completely failed strategy that banks throw multiple offers at a consumer to see which one sticks. Some consumers will open the direct mail piece, complete the forms online and receive approval for the credit line or loan they have been offered. That’s considered a successful conversion.

Other consumers won’t be so lucky. The quickest way to upset a consumer who needs a line of credit or loan for personal reasons is to send them an offer that they were never qualified to receive. It’s cruel, unjust, wastes the consumer’s time and jeopardizes any loyalty the consumer has for your bank. Your bank already has readily available data to ensure that consumers receive qualified loans — there’s no reason to disappoint a customer or prospect.

Additionally, consumers increasingly reward personalization, and the sense that an institution understands them. A survey from Infogroup found that 44% of consumers are willing to switch to brands that better-personalize marketing communications. And a recent survey from NCR finds that 86% of people would prefer their bank have greater access to their personal data, compared to big tech companies like Amazon.com and Alphabet’s Google. This is up 8%, from 78%, in a similar study in 2018.

Personalizing messages and offers is something retail brands do well; consumers are open to and increasingly expect this from their banks. This is a bank’s best strategy to stay ahead of retailers’ loan products: showing customers how well you know them and deepening those relationships with fast, guaranteed offers.

The U.S. economy is expected to expand more rapidly later this year, through 2023, according to the Federal Reserve. This is a far cry from the doom and gloom projected late last year. Banks looking to capitalize on the growth will have to adopt a more on-demand strategy from their retail brethren. The loyalty from customers will be sweet.

The Missing Piece in Customer Engagement Strategies

Usage of appointments in banking has increased significantly since the outbreak of the coronavirus, and is expected to continue in a post-pandemic world.

Appointments increased nearly 50% in the second half of 2020, according to customer usage data, allowing banks to manage limited branch capacity while ensuring the best possible customer service. For example, Middletown, Rhode Island-based BankNewport experienced a month-over-month increase of more than a 466% in appointment volume between March and April of last year, with numbers remaining steady into May 2020. The $2 billion bank noted that these appointments allowed them to prepare for customers, solving their needs efficiently and safely.

Now, nearly a year later, appointment setting is helping banks to meet the transformative and digital-centric needs of their account holders. Online appointments enable any customer or prospective customers to schedule high-value meetings with the right banker who is prepared to speak on a specialized topics. In addition, these appointment holders can choose their preferred meeting channel, such as in-person, phone or virtual. But, how does this translate to customer engagement?

Customer engagement begins when a question or task needs to be done. As the customer or prospect starts searches for an answer on a local bank’s website, banks can use appointment scheduling to ensure that customers have options beyond self-service or automated customer service to connect one-on-one with staff. By optimizing consumer engagement strategies with high-value appointments, banks can increase revenue, boost operational efficiency and improve overall customer satisfaction.

Increase revenue
Today, many branches are faced with the challenge of maximizing revenue opportunities with highly compressed margins. This leads banks to search for more cross-sell opportunities such as opening new accounts, loans or alternative revenue-driving sources.

Appointments help banks maximize these opportunities by connecting customers or prospects with the most knowledgeable service representative to handle sensitive topics, such as account openings or wealth management inquiries. Banks should take full advantage of these crucial meetings because engaged customers are more apt to expand their relationship with an institution when provided with the right resources at a time they’ve scheduled. In fact, TimeTrade SilverCloud data shows that appointment scheduling increases the likelihood that a person will move forward with a loan or deposit by 25% to 40%; customers and employees are better equipped for the meeting’s purpose and have stronger intent to transact.

Boost operational efficiency
Proper branch and contact center staffing levels allows banks to be more efficient without adding to the overall headcount. In the absence of appointment scheduling, employees can be burdened by prolonged rescheduling of meetings and correcting inconsistent information, stemming from unproductive customer interactions and resulting in wasted time.

Appointment scheduling allows employees to prioritize their time to address complicated issues and ensure their full potential is being used during business hours.

This can be further optimized with customer self-service. As more account holders reach a resolution without staff interaction, employees can spend more time with complex customer inquiries. Bank of Oak Ridge saw technology-related questions decrease by 64% after implementating a consumer self-service solution, allowing employees at the Oak Ridge, North Carolina-based bank to expand existing relationships and focus on more critical tasks.

Improve customer satisfaction
Like employees, customers’ time is valuable and their money is personal. When their time is wasted by a low-value interaction, this can greatly impact the overall customer experience. Negative comments about unprepared or ill-informed staff can be detrimental to an institutions’ reputation and consumer trust.

It is paramount that banks route customers to the employee best suited to meet their financial needs and questions. Banks that cultivate a comprehensive customer engagement experience, using online appointment scheduling, will be well equipped to meet customer needs and provide a great experience.

Banking by appointment is a powerful tool in today’s new business environment. Banking competition is increasingly prominent, and going the extra mile to make financial transactions and consultations as easy as possible will be an essential differentiator among institutions. Enabling customers to connect with the right person at their right time, and capturing pertinent customer information at the time of scheduling, allows banks to provide the right answer, resulting in more satisfied customers, better served employees and a healthier bottom line.

E-signatures Move from Nice to New Normal

The coronavirus pandemic has been a pivotal catalyst within the financial services industry, as banks of all sizes adopt and launch digital tools and services at an unprecedented pace. While not a new initiative, e-signatures suddenly became a top priority for banks, as customer sought ways to complete their financial transactions and certify documents remotely. According to BAI’s August Banking Outlook research on digital banking trends during Covid-19, half of consumers use digital products more since the pandemic, and 87% indicate they plan to continue after the pandemic. Banks now realize they must implement a digital transformation strategy in order to navigate these challenging times and new consumer expectations.

However, some financial institutions still view e-signatures as a luxury — a solution that holds benefit and value but is not at the top of their list of digital priorities. To defend their market share and ensure future success, banks must embrace digital transformation and provide customers with a more personalized, engaging experience. The crucial link is e-signatures.

The coronavirus means banking customers need to be able to conduct banking business, open new accounts, obtain new loans or modify or extend existing loans while avoiding traditional in-person contact and interaction with bank staff. It has never been more important to transmute traditional, paper-based processes to the digital realm. Declines in branch visits and ATM transactions, an increased focus on touchless interactions and payments and the rapid operational migration to remote operations moved e-signatures from a nice-to-have, convenient solution to a critical tool every bank must offer to empower their customers to process daily transactions.

Adoption rates for e-signatures were on the rise prior to the pandemic, but have now taken on an even larger and more significant role, enabling banks to move transactions forward in an era of social distancing. E-signatures allow the continuation of normal banking activities in a secure environment while protecting the safety of both the customer as well as the bank employee. It’s apparent that other unexpected conditions could arise in the future that would force the same technological need. They’ve moved from a convenience offering to a banking infrastructure necessity.

Basic banking services like opening an account, arranging a line of credit and applying for a mortgage all require an exchange of documents. In the age of Covid-19, the ability to do that electronically has become mandatory. The most frequent use for of e-signatures has been with new account opening and new loan origination and closing processes. The Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program also drove a dramatic rise in e-signature requirements. Banks are leveraging e-signatures to enable daily account service and maintenance transactions such as address changes, name changes, stop payment requests, wire transfer requests and credit card disputes. E-signatures provide service convenience to customers as they move through the stages of the lending process or digital account opening.

Financial institutions are experiencing a boom in digital-first relationships with new and existing customers. Customers are requesting new account openings and loan applications online, and perhaps modifying or extending existing loans. It all must be done electronically. Additionally, the day-to-day demand of account service and maintenance transactions have only increased, and require a new solution to those daily operational activities. E-signatures are one way to place electronically fillable forms on an bank’s website or online banking center so allow customers can complete and sign the appropriate documents and submit directly to the bank. Now more than ever, e-signatures and digital transaction management are critical technologies for financial institutions.

New Research Finds 4 Ways to Improve the Appraisal Experience

Accelerating appraisals has become increasingly important as lenders strive to improve efficiency in today’s high-volume environment.

Appraisals are essential for safe mortgage originations. Covid-19 underlined the potential impact of modernizing appraisal practices, and increased the adoption of digitally enabled appraisal techniques, appraisal and inspection waivers, and collateral analytics.

Banks have numerous opportunities to improve and modernize their appraisal process and provide a better consumer experience, according to recent research sponsored by ServiceLink and its EXOS Technologies division and independently produced by Javelin Strategy & Research. The research highlights several actions that lenders can take to improve their valuation processes, based on the feedback of 1,500 single-family homeowners in March who obtained either a purchase mortgage, refinance mortgage, home equity loan/line of credit for their single-family home, or who sold a single-family home, on or after January 2018.

1. Implement digital mortgage strategies that streamline appraisal workflows. One of the most-compelling opportunities to make appraisals more efficient is at the very onset of the process: scheduling the appointment. Scheduling can be complicated by the number of parties involved in an on-site inspection, including a lender, appraiser, AMC, borrower and real estate agent. Today, two-thirds of consumers schedule their appointments over the phone. This process is inefficient, especially for large lenders and their service providers, and lacks the consistency of digital alternatives.

Lenders that offer digital appraisal scheduling capabilities provide a more-predictable and consistent service experience, and reduce the back-and-forth required to coordinate schedules among appraisers, borrowers, real estate agents and home sellers. Given younger consumers’ tendency to eschew phone calls in favor of digital interactions, it’s essential that the industry embraces multiple channels to communicate, so borrowers can interact with lenders and AMCs on their own terms.

2. Increase transparency in the appraisal process. Even after an appointment is scheduled, consumers typically receive limited details about the appraiser, what to expect during the appointment and how the appraisal factors into the overall mortgage process. For example, 61% of consumers received the appraiser’s contact information before the appointment; while only 20% were provided with the appraiser’s photo and 9% were told what type of car they will drive. Providing borrowers with more information about the appraisal appointment bolsters their confidence; information gaps can contribute to a less-satisfying experience. Nearly 20% of consumers said they were not confident or only somewhat confident about their appointment, while over 30% said the same about the names of the appraiser and AMC.

3. Focus on efficiency. Overall, 38% of consumers said the duration of the overall appraisal process contributed to a longer mortgage origination process; delays among purchase mortgage and home equity borrowers were even higher.

For example, about two-thirds of appraisal appointments required the consumer to wait for the appraiser to arrive within an hours­long window or even an entire day, as opposed to giving the consumer an exact time when the appointment will take place. Given this challenge, lenders and appraisal professionals that offer more-precise appointment scheduling can improve the consumer experiences and streamline the origination process.

4. Implement processes and technology that support innovative approaches to property inspections and valuations. Covid-19 highlighted the opportunity banks have to adopt valuation products that sit between fully automated valuations and traditional appraisals, such as valuation methods that combine third-party market data and consumer-provided photos and video of subject properties. This approach still relies on a human appraiser to analyze market data and subject-property

This concept is gaining traction in the mortgage industry. In the future, it’s conceivable the approach could be expanded with the use of artificial intelligence and virtual reality technologies.

No matter the method an appraiser uses to determine a property’s value, the collateral valuations process is fundamentally an exercise in collecting and analyzing data. Partnering with an innovative AMC allows lenders to take advantage of new techniques for completing this critical market function. You can view the full white paper here.

Why Nailing the Customer Experience Comes Down to Empathy

While this pandemic has brought many challenges to the financial industry, it’s also brought the opportunity of accelerating customer adoption of your digital banking services.

But it’s also presented an opening for your bank to build genuine customer loyalty and turbocharge your net promoter score.

Difficult times bring out the best and the worst in both people and companies. It’s easy to offer amazing service when things are going well, but it’s how you treat your customers during tough times that builds, or breaks, loyalty. American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Right now is your opportunity to make your customer feel valued, supported and secure. To do that, you need to be empathetic to your customers and your staff.

Consider your customers. They’re stressed.

This is a stressful time for them. Many are financially strained and need advice on the new programs and policies put in place to help them. They’re socially isolated and trying to avoid public places in an effort to stay safe. So, naturally, they’re increasingly banking through your digital channels — but that’s stressful too. How do I use mobile banking? Is it secure? How do I make sure I don’t send money to the wrong person?

To navigate these tricky waters, your customers need access to knowledgeable people who can guide them through your technology, and help them understand how to use your products and services.

Your frontline is your bank. It’s through your frontline that your customers experience your bank. And these are difficult times for frontline staff, too. Many are working from home, and have had to switch roles to handle the increased volume of remote support requests.

At the same time, they don’t have the in-person support of their colleagues, and they don’t have the same toolsets at their disposal. And new programs and policies are being rolled out faster than ever. All this at a time when many of them are experiencing personal difficulties.

You need to provide them with the knowledge, skills, and tools to deliver an exceptional customer experience. For the knowledge and skills part, they need practical training, which has been made more difficult by the pandemic. Instructor-led trainings are off the table, your learning management system could be better. You need an engaging and effective way to train remote staff so they can offer the right solution at the right time for your customers.

One of the biggest holes you need to plug is the lack of employee knowledge and familiarity with your digital products — the very ones you customers need to rely on right now. Many of your staff don’t bank with you, so they’ve never experienced your digital tools. If they’re not familiar with your tech, how can they be expected to promote and support it? To empower them, you need to train them on your tech and give them tools to help customers navigate transactions.

It all works together. The goal during this pandemic is to deliver an exceptional customer experience, to make customers feel secure and valued during a difficult time. Banks that can pull this off will build coveted long lasting customer loyalty. My contention is that empathy is the key to success.

Your customer experience is curated by your frontline employees. If you can remove stress from their jobs with training and support tools, they’ll be in a better position to help your customers. Investing in your frontline and showing them that you care about them will make them feel valued and help you build staff loyalty.

A well-trained, supported and secure frontline will do a much better job of helping your customers get through these tough times. Armed with the knowledge, skills and tools they need, frontline staff will be able make prescient recommendations that promote your products while making the customer feel confident and secure with their banking situation.

In the long run your customers won’t remember the details of each transaction and how it was handled. They’ll remember whether their bank added to their stress, or gave them one less thing to worry about during a trying time.

A Costly Problem Facing Banks

Bill pay is a central tool in digital banking suites — but most customers aren’t actively using it.

It’s counterintuitive: Banks play a central role in our financial lives, yet most consumers opt to pay billers directly, according to “How Americans Pay Their Bills: Sizing Bill Pay Channels and Methods,” a survey conducted by Aite Group. The online survey of more than 3,000 U.S. consumers was commissioned by the bill-pay platform BillGO.

Almost 60% of bills are paid online, according to the survey, which finds that the percentage of online bill payments paid directly via a biller’s website — already accounting for the vast majority — increased by 14 points since 2010. In that same time period, banks’ share declined by 16 points as third-party entrants entered the space.

The result is chaos for consumers seeking to pay their bills on time and a missed opportunity for their banks.

[For] many financial institutions, bill pay has been a fairly strategic component of the consumer relationship,” says David Albertazzi, Aite’s research director in the retail banking and payments practice. Along with automated loan payments and direct deposits, bill pay is viewed as a core element of the primary financial relationship.

There’s also the real cost associated with this problem: One bank recently shared with Bank Director that it built a bot just to deregister inactive bill-pay users sitting on its core system.

Bank Director’s 2020 Technology Survey finds that improving the customer experience is a top technology objective. Albertazzi says that bill pay should be part of that strategic consideration — and the experience needs to improve. Dramatically.

“The actual model and the experience have not changed for many years,” he says. “Today, it’s pretty prone to friction.” Payees must be added manually by the customer, and there’s a risk of mis-keying that information. Customers can’t choose how to pay, beyond their primary checking account. They aren’t notified by the bank when the bill is due. The payments lack information and context, and they don’t occur in real time.

These barriers limit the experience, driving more than three-quarters of the Americans who pay bills online to just go directly to their biller’s website.

Financial institutions need to shift from a transactional to a customer-centric mindset, says Albertazzi. “Once financial institutions do that, then there’s a great opportunity to recapture market share,” he says.

Banks should also consider how they can change customer behavior. Just a third of bills are scheduled to be paid on a recurring basis, according to survey respondents, which points to another gap where banks lose a bill-pay user, according to Albertazzi. Encouraging customers to enroll in automatic payments means they’re more likely to keep using their bank’s bill-pay capabilities.

Most customers trust their bank, but poor experiences have driven consumers to a decentralized model that benefits no one. With the massive adoption of digital channels that accompanied Covid-19, banks have a chance to change consumer behaviors.

“Providing that convenience to the consumer, the transparency in the process and addressing efficiencies to the entire consumer bill-pay experience will help drive change in consumer bill payment behavior over time,” says Albertazzi.

Eliminate Customer Friction to Unlock Your Bank’s Growth

Why don’t your target customers want to join your bank? Because they’re not impressed.

Banks often sabotage their own attempts at success through their siloed, disjointed, out-of-touch and unimpressive approaches to doing business that leave small-to-medium businesses, private wealth clients, upwardly mobile millennials and even commercial customers underwhelmed by their service delivery.

Eliminating customer friction must be your guiding policy
For 10 years, the rallying cry of the C-Suite has been “invest in technology to stay relevant.” The next 10 years must be defined by a singular, focused, and undeviating devotion to eliminating the friction of doing business with your institution.

Fixing customer friction will be challenging and expensive, but it will also offer the best return for your shareholders. Your bank must organize teams around this mission. Executives need to evaluate resource and budget requests against a simple criterion: How much friction will this reduce, compared to the cost of funding it? Every budget request should be accompanied by a detailed user story, a list of friction points, and a proposed solution that describes the customer experience. Every touchpoint is an opportunity to reinforce your brand as customer-friendly or customer-hostile. Your bank should move quickly through these three steps:

  1. Get aligned. Your bank needs support from your board, your C-suite and even your investors to pivot to this focus. Once you have the buy-in and mission statements crafted, it’s time to designate the priority projects.
  2. “Shovel-ready” projects come first. Rescore projects that were previously denied funding or resources because they were too difficult to execute or didn’t cross a financial hurdle on a simple 2×2 matrix that evaluates improvement in customer experience and reduced friction vs. cost and complexity to implement. The projects in the top-right corner should be your initial list of funded initiatives.
  3. Deliver quick wins and results that measurably drive customer engagement. This will define success for the next 10 years. Re-engineer how you extend customer offers and execute pricing for standard and relationship clients. Your investment in tech will pay off if you accelerate this function.

For a fast return on investment, examine how your bank prices on base versus relationship status and rewards customer behaviors. Segmenting customers into single-service households, small to medium-size businesses, commercial, or mass-market and tying rewards or pricing adjustments to their categories can mean the difference between retaining or losing target customers. One-size-fits-all pricing, or even pricing by geography, will leave customers feeling like they do today: you don’t understand them or price according to their life stage or needs.

Aim for high-frequency iterations so you can test and learn everything before you scale it. Imagine being able to execute 100 or more micro-campaigns and evergreen trigger-based offers annually, with multivariant testing. Drill down to specific customer personas, identify specific trigger events, and act on intelligence that demonstrates to your customers that your bank understands them.

Get in the habit of defining a user story, designing a process and executing an offer or pricing schema in a sprint. I was astounded how quickly banks moved on preparing their infrastructure to administer Paycheck Protection Program loans. Imagine being able to consistently move at that speed — without the associated late nights and headaches.

Lastly, installing an agile middleware layer will unshackle your bank from the months-long cycles required to code and test customer offers and fulfillment. High-speed, cloud-based offer management that crosses business lines and delivers omni-channel offer redemption will be a game changer for your institution.

Installing a high-speed offer and pricing engine may seem like science fiction for your bank, but it’s not. It will require investments of time and money, coordinated efforts and lots of caffeine. But the results will allow your financial institution to prove success, build a model and inspire your teams to get serious about bulldozing customer friction.

The financial rewards of executing better offers, engaging more customers and delivering relevant, optimized pricing will give your bank the financial resources to remain independent while your competitors shop for merger partners.

Exploring Customer Service in the Pandemic Age

Banks across the country are grappling with the right approach to branch banking as the Covid-19 pandemic lingers.

Management concerns surrounding logistics and safety must give way to longer-term considerations aimed squarely at the bottom line. Executives need to contemplate the future of their branch operations and  business model, incorporating the guidance that large-scale pandemics may persist in some shape or form in the future. Read on to explore key considerations relating to the long-term implication of pandemics on customer service delivery.

Will customers ever come back into our branches? How will that impact our bank?
Branch visits have irrevocably changed. A recent study asked consumers to rank their preference of seven different banking channels, before, during and post-pandemic. Six months after the start of the pandemic, branch banking has settled into sixth place. The study predicts “a rapid decrease in the importance of the physical branch as customers become more habituated to the use of digital, which is a behavior that will linger long term.”

Jimmy Ton, senior vice president and director of digital channels at Irvine, California-based First Foundation Bank, agrees. “For those who adopted digital services during this time, they’ll probably stick with them. It takes 60 days to form a habit and people have been reconditioned during the pandemic. There’s no reason to believe they will abandon these services,” said Ton.

Novantas highlights another concern. “The branch network’s competitive advantage for sales has been eliminated overnight, possibly forever. Although sales were already shifting away from branches, they will now need to be even more digital.”

Banks must prepare for a permanent, significant reduction of branch visits. They should discuss this impact on their business models and what changes, internally and customer-facing, will need to occur.

Highly personalized service is our hallmark. How can we possibly digitize that?
Many banks have long leveraged high-touch customer service as a differentiator when competing with national banks. This was often delivered through branch networks and sales teams — until now.

Bankers have witnessed pandemic-induced migration to digital channels. But this is no time to celebrate;  J. D. Power shows overall satisfaction has declined as customers transition from branch to digital channels. That’s because banks have so far been unable to replicate the personalized nature of in-branch experiences digitally.

But it can be done.

Think of it this way: branch staff can glance at a screen filled with information about the customer sitting in front of them to personalize the conversation. That same data can be used to craft a personalized conversation, delivered via email or text message instead. Both methods communicate to the customer that you know who they are, and can offer ways to help them.

Digital engagement platforms offering deep personalization delivered via individualized websites, text messages, video and online chats exist today. They deliver a positive, digital experience with minimal effort, even for data-challenged banks.

A significant chunk of interactions can move to digital. A great parallel is what we saw happen with telehealth, moving routine physical in-person appointments to virtual ones,” said John Philpott, a partner at FINTOP Capital. “It’s a great example of how professional conversations can be digital; banks can absolutely do the same.”

Banks should plan to shift all or a significant portion of sales and service delivery away from their branch networks and to digital engagement and sales platforms that are ideally powered by insightful data to hyper-personalize the experience.

Strategically speaking, what else should we consider?
With branch-based account opening limited and most banks flush with cash, the pressure for new deposits has lessened. Now is an opportune time to focus on the existing customer base to minimize attrition and boost profitability of those relationships.

Ted Brown, CEO of Digital Onboarding, founded the company based on the idea that opening a new account does not mean you’ve established a relationship.

“[The ] number of new checking accounts is the wrong metric to obsess over,” Brown said. “Are your customers fully utilizing the products and services they’ve signed up for? Are they turning to your bank to satisfy additional needs? Starting with Day One, successful onboarding — and continuous engagement thereafter — increases product usage, cross-sell success and ultimately drives profits.”

Zeroing in on customer engagement and retention, instead of new customer growth, may be a smart, strategic and profitable move in the current environment. Responsible bank leadership must contemplate what changes and investments they will need to make to stay relevant with customers post-COVID 19.