5 Strategies for Creating a Seamless AI Experience

The broad adoption of digital channels has been accompanied by hiring challenges for banks that often struggle to adequately staff their service channels and branches. This leads to an urgent drive to adopt virtual assistants and chatbots as a way to provide better and more comprehensive service options to their customers.

This comes at the same time as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau surveys the experience of digital chatbots and virtual assistants at big banks. This is likely due to poor perception the consumers have of chatbot-based service.

Bank executives must balance the need to provide self-service, always available options without alienating consumers with sub-optimal experiences. But there are several simple strategies that can go a long way in achieving the best of both worlds, making AI-boosted customer experience truly seamless.

To start, consider some reasons behind this poor perception. Many virtual assistants and self-service experiences try to replace humans, containing the customer without escalating the conversation to a human service member. This can lead to overly eager assistants persistently asking customers to rephrase their query or choose from a slate of options. In the worst case scenario, virtual assistants emulate humans with the aim of fooling the customer — resulting in greater frustration when this illusion is shattered. Another common source of frustration are virtual assistants that ask a lot of questions before routing the customer to an appropriate human service member, just to have those same questions repeated by the human agent.

All these examples show how a virtual assistant makes it more difficult for customers to accomplish their goal, rather than simplifies it, and increases the customer’s required effort.

The key to improving the customer experience, while getting the benefit of self service, is to make the virtual experience seamless: help the consumer when possible and get out of the way otherwise.

Here are five practical suggestions to make your bank’s virtual assistant experience seamless, leading to happier and more satisfied customers.

  1. Make it clear to your customers when they are interacting with a virtual assistant versus a human. This helps set consumer expectations and helps develop trust in the service. Consumers may choose to use shorter, direct questions, instead of more verbose communication they would normally use with humans.
  2. Always provide an option for customers to bypass the virtual assistant and connect to a human. Customers can typically tell whether their question is something simple that can be answered by a virtual assistant, or something more complex that requires human intervention. Providing an option to engage with a human when customers choose allows them to self-select into an appropriate path and delivers an experience that’s better adopted to their needs.
  3. Where possible, make it clear the limitations of the virtual assistant up front. For example, certain types of disputes and fraud-related questions might not be able to be handled by the virtual assistant; letting the customer know up-front helps them understand any possible limitations.
  4. Remove repetitive questions from the virtual assistant-to-human transfer process. If questions are needed to better route the customer, take care that they don’t overlap with verification and authentication questions that the human would ask after the transfer. Answering the same questions over and over gives the impression that customers aren’t heard; changing the questions leads to a more seamless transfer.
  5. Supplement any off-hour self-service queries with follow-up options. In cases where a virtual assistant is not able to help the customer solve their issue or it requires human intervention, your institution can offer to follow up on their request and leverage the virtual assistant to collect the relevant information rather than force the customer to repeat the process or switch channels. This gives customers an impression that they’re valued and worthy of additional follow-up to solve their issue.

When surveying your customers on their experience in a hybrid customer service journey, it is crucial to consider the entire experience and not just focus on one pathway or channel. Ultimately, great human customer service will not be sufficient to offset an unpleasant experience in a self-service setting or vice versa. Getting a full picture is crucial to understanding consumer pain points for improvements.

Eyes Wide Open: Building Fintech Partnerships That Work

With rising cost of funds and increased operating costs exerting new pressures on banks’ mortgage, consumer and commercial lending businesses, management teams are sharpening their focus on low-cost funding and noninterest revenue streams. These include debit card interchange fees, treasury management services, banking as a service (BaaS) revenue sharing and fees for commercial depository services, such as wire transfers and automated clearinghouse (ACH) transactions. Often, however, the revenue streams of some businesses barely offset the associated costs. Most depository service fees, for example, typically are offered as a modest convenience fee rather than a source of profitability. Moreover, noninterest income can be subject to disruption.

Responding to both competitive pressures and signals of increased regulatory scrutiny, many banks are eliminating or further reducing overdraft and nonsufficient fund (NSF) fees, which in some cases make up a substantial portion of their fee income. While some banks offset the loss of NSF fees with higher monthly service charges or other account maintenance fees, others opt for more customer-friendly alternatives, such as optional overdraft protection using automatic transfers from a linked account.

In rethinking overdraft strategies, a more innovative response might be to replace punitive NSF fees with a more positive buy now, pay later (BNPL) program that allows qualified customers to make purchases that exceed their account balances, using a short-term extended payment option for a nominal fee.

Partnering with a fintech can provide a bank quick access to the technology it needs to implement such a strategy. It also can open up other potential revenue streams. Unfortunately, a deeper dive into the terms of a fintech relationship sometimes reveals that the bank’s reward is not always commensurate with the associated risks.

Risky Business
As the banking industry adapts to new economic and competitive pressures, a growing number of organizations are turning to bank-fintech partnerships and various BaaS offerings to help improve financial performance, access new markets, and offset diminishing returns from traditional deposit and lending activities. In many instances, however, these new relationships are not producing the financial results banks had hoped to achieve.

And as bank leaders develop a better understanding of the opportunities, risks, and nuances of fintech relationships, some discover they are not as well-prepared for the relationship as they thought. This is particularly true for BaaS platforms and targeted online service offerings, in which banks either install fintech-developed software and customer interfaces or allow fintech partners to interact directly with the bank’s customers.

Often, the fintech partner commands a large share of the income stream — or the bank might receive no share in the income at all — despite, as a chartered institution, bearing an inordinate share of the risks in terms of regulatory compliance, security, privacy, and transaction costs. Traditionally, banks have sought to offset this imbalance through earnings on the fintech-related account balances, overlooking the fact that deposits obtained through fintechs are not yet fully equivalent to a bank’s core deposits.

Moreover, when funds from fintech depository accounts appear on the balance sheet, the bank’s growing assets can put stress on its capital ratio. Unless the bank receives adequate income from the relationship, it could find it must raise additional capital, which is often an expensive undertaking.

Such risks do not mean fintech partnerships should be avoided. On the contrary, they can offer many benefits. But as existing fintech contracts come up for renewal and as banks consider future opportunities, they should enter such relationships cautiously, with an eye toward unexpected consequences.

Among other precautions, banks should be wary of exclusivity clauses. Most fintechs understandably want the option to work with multiple banks on various products. Banks should expect comparable rights and should not lock themselves into a one-way arrangement that limits their ability to work with other fintechs or market new services of their own. It also is wise to opt for shorter contract terms that allow the bank to re-evaluate and renegotiate terms early in the relationship. The contract also should clarify the rights each party has to customer relationships and accounts upon contractual termination.

Above all, management should confirm that the bank’s share of future revenue streams will be commensurate with the associated risks and costs to adequately offset the potential capital pressures the relationship might trigger.

The rewards of a fintech collaboration can be substantial, provided everyone enters the relationship with eyes wide open.

How Technology Blends Banking’s Future

After rapidly adjusting operations at the start of the pandemic and accelerating their digital transformation roadmaps, banks are left wondering: What happens next? And what did the acceleration mean for banks’ digital strategy?

Banks need to shift their mindsets from emergency response toward using digital technologies to boost their relevance to their customer’s lives. Blended banking will become the norm. Although Covid-19 will be with us for the foreseeable future, people have returned to shops, restaurants and theatres. Similarly, customers are returning to bank branches, but in lower volumes and for different reasons. The proliferation of digital banking means customers no longer need to visit a branch for a transaction. But many retail and business customers will still visit a branch to receive advice or to buy a financial product. And although most banking journeys start online, many are still completed in branch.

Banks must recognize this and provide a consistent customer experience across channels, with human support for digital interaction and digital tools that augment human interaction. In practice, this means empowering customers with an engaging digital experience that can continue in branch. Many banks already acknowledge this evolution: They are repurposing branches as advice centers, with less emphasis on over-the-counter transactions. In addition, banks can harness modern tech devices, like tablets, to support the in-person experience. But to truly elevate the customer experience and increase engagement, banks must also harness the power of data.

Advanced Analytics
For many banks, data and analytics have great untapped potential to drive the next wave of innovation to increase customer engagement. With a wealth of customer data at their disposal, banks can gain a deep understanding of customers behavior, goals and financial aspirations, and deliver personalized experiences in a way that was never before possible.

In practice, big life events have financial consequences — buying a car, getting married or having children — but the reality is that small transactions and spending habits can also provide valuable clues to a customer’s behavior. Careful use of data and analytics allows banks to help customers align their financial services closely with real-life events. They can also use data to help their customers gain a deeper understanding of their own financial standing, providing recommendations to optimize the use of cash. For example, a customer with surplus funds may be advised to pay down a mortgage or increase pension contributions rather the leave money on deposit.

Banks can also do more for commercial customers to evolve beyond transactional banking to helping them run their business more effectively. Once again, data and integration are key. Providing commercial customers with up-to-the-minute aggregated cash positions and forecasts gives them a deeper understanding of their cash use, liabilities and commitments. As banking becomes more open and connected, commercial banks can become the heart of an ecosystem with many participants. Banks must embrace modern technologies, boost automation and integration and ultimately adopt a fintech approach to finance.

A Fintech-First Approach to Finance
The pandemic has accelerated banking’s shift to a technology business. Banks that ignore this will be left behind. To attract and retain consumers and business customers, banks need to eliminate guesswork by harnessing technology and data and offering customers what they want, when they need it.

Banks have much to learn from big technology: Amazon.com generates around 35% of sales from recommendations, while 75% of what’s streamed on Netflix is because of its suggestion algorithm. In the digital age, consumers welcome recommendations, nudges and insights — and are usually happy for trusted suppliers to use their data to personalize their digital experience. Banks must adopt a more entrepreneurial approach to customer engagement.

Retail banking: For a long time, bankers have designed banking experiences based on customer journeys. Now is the time to support customer life journeys by proactively supporting customers throughout their entire lifecycle — from large, life-changing decisions as well as everyday spending and budgeting.

Commercial banking: Banks must acknowledge that millennials are more digital savvy and entrepreneurial than any previous generation. Many current retail customers will start businesses and become the commercial customers of tomorrow. Many will need financial advice, and all will need banking.

With fintechs and challenger banks growing in scope and number, now is the time for incumbent banks to act. The digital age is here to stay.

Preventing the 3 ROI Killers in Digital Transformation From the Start

Digital transformation at community banks is often a complicated, time-consuming and costly process.

With the right approach, however, community banks can increase the value and return on investment of their digital transformation initiatives. The key to maximizing ROI is to take a systematic approach and avoid common pitfalls that could become barriers to success.

Any technology investment that a bank makes needs to meet — rather than hinder — its business goals. Adopting a customer-centric point of view and proceeding incrementally are essential to ensure a successful outcome. Digital transformation is ultimately about future-proofing the business, so it’s critical to choose technologies that can grow, scale and evolve.

The three most common ROI killers in digital transformation are:

  • Doing too much, too quickly.
  • Failing to connect with the customer.
  • Not selecting a connected and experienced partner.

Doing Too Much Too Quickly
The number and variety of technology solutions for the banking industry to choose from is nothing short of mind-boggling. But successful digital transformation doesn’t happen overnight. Not all features are suitable for every bank’s needs or budget — or their customers.

Resist becoming blinded by the shiny objects some vendors will flash. Buying into all the bells and whistles isn’t always necessary at the outset of a transformation initiative. If the implementation fails, it will kill any ROI and team morale, and risks overloading staff and systems with immature solutions before the bank has confirmed they work.

A better strategy is implementing features and solutions incrementally using process improvement and customer satisfaction to quantify value. Taking smaller steps improves stakeholder buy-in and allows a bank to test-drive new initiatives with customers. Taking smaller steps towards digital transformation: implementing sidecar offerings and managed services instead of ripping out and replacing cores or launching products that the bank can’t fully support. New offerings must enable value without losing quality, security or customer satisfaction. Bank executives should establish clear and measurable key performance indicators to track progress, and only move on to the next step when the first is satisfied. There are few things worse than investing in technology that is too difficult to use or doesn’t achieve promised results.

Failing to Connect with the Customer
Misaligning technology choices with customer preference and digital banking needs sets up almost any initiative for failure before it’s out of the starting gate.

Banks typically cater to a broad demographic, making research and strategic planning critical at the procurement stage. Focusing implementations on tools favored by one specific group but not by others limits an organization’s capabilities and alienating others in the process. Customers groups have their own particular concerns and preferences, and it can be challenging to apply a single strategy that pleases everyone.

To avoid this pitfall, executives need to research, strategize, plan and focus to launch products that their customers truly want and need. Open dialogue with customers is the key to success, as priorities will differ vastly  in every community. It’s not enough to emulate competitors, although that is a helpful benchmark. Ideally, banks should seek customer feedback through surveys, direct market research and speaking with them when they interact with the branch or brand to understand their priorities.

Not Selecting a Connected and Experienced Partner
Finding technology companies to support digital transformation isn’t difficult. It’s estimated that companies in the United States waste up to 40% of their technology spend on poorly-made decisions, like investing in technology based on a pitch from a sales professional that does not understand or have expertise in the institution’s particular needs.

Community banks have unique needs, concerns and customers, and should seek technology providers that speak their language, with solutions and insights to advance their goals. Select providers with experience in your niche — one that understands the particular challenges of community banking in the post-pandemic world. They should be experts that are well-versed in the banking industry, provide all technical documentation, satisfy regulatory and compliance need, and offer technology solutions that create excellent user experiences while being flexible, scalable and within budget.

Creating a Better Business Banking Experience

Banks should be positioning themselves to be trusted partners for entrepreneurs, helping their businesses run smoothy, from account onboarding and beyond.

Too often however, what many business owners experience are complex, inefficient processes that require a litany of repetitive details and data points that can take days — or even weeks — to complete. In many cases, small and medium business owners have been forced to look to other institutions as a result of slow, manual process at their existing bank. The industry has seen how those institutions that invested in automation and better business banking experiences actually grew in terms of customers during the pandemic. But the growing number of banks that recognize the need to offer better experiences through enhanced user interfaces and automation must overcome the main hurdle of how best to implement it.

Today’s business owners expect the same quick and simple banking experiences they receive from their personal accounts from their business accounts. Banks that recognize this need often still fail to close the gaps. A major issue is that most of the process is still driven by paper forms. By automating some of these more manual and tedious steps, banks can speed up and streamline the process. Allowing the customer to directly fill out the necessary information online, all at once, rather than have them complete PDFs that need to be rekeyed by a bank employee later can save vast amounts of time.

Even once the account is live, business banking can still often be a clunky and complicated experience, especially on the back-end where each function lives on a different platform or service hosted by different vendors. Electing these options may take the user out of the bank’s system, with an environment that may look and function very differently than the initial account interface. Banks want systems that are attractive, transparent and user-friendly on the front-end, but still have all the functionality and capabilities users need.

The truth is that there is no single platform currently available that can check every box and solve every issue. However, banks should focus on the full end-to-end experience and look for solutions that can support their most current, important needs and offer the flexibility to adapt as the bank grows. Banks need to build architecture that reflects a more modern, app store that keeps the user in its cultivated experience without an obvious and often jarring transition between functions or screens, creating an overall better experience for the business banking user. Solutions and platforms that are flexible and scalable mean that banks can adjust these looks and functions as both the technologies and user needs shift, changing and controlling the experience to match it.

While some banks would prefer to develop their solutions in house, they may lack the dedicated talent and resources to do so, but “off-the-shelf” solutions may not have the necessary flexibility and scalability. For many community banks, this has increased interested in partnering with fintechs. Banks considering this option must ensure the fintech can meet all their functionality needs, as well as their risk and regulatory requirements — no small feat. A good place to start is by evaluating how a fintech’s level of compatibility with the bank’s existing core system.

Fortunately, there are a growing number of “core agnostic” fintechs that can work effectively with a variety of technology platforms and organizations, offering malleable products that can match the individual rules and procedures of each bank. Banks can then control the user experience and tailor it to their specific client demographic. From a cost-effectiveness standpoint, recent “low-code” or “no-code” solutions from an innovative fintechs give banks the ability to handle these changes in-house, without an extensive IT team. These solutions can bring greater efficiencies for banks that are now able to manage and shape their technology systems to solve complications that once required advanced technology experts.

Building and strengthening the relationships with business account holders is becoming a bigger priority for all banks. Banks that prioritize their needs and expectations by focusing on the end-to-end user experience and offering their business customers a better, faster and seamless experience will be positioned to meet their demands, possibly changing the road map of its technology future.

Building Relationships in the Digital Era


Customer expectations have evolved dramatically over the past decade, and they seek much more from their financial institution, including advice. Unfortunately, banks often aren’t meeting these needs in the digital space. Soren Bested of Agent IQ explains how banks can return to one of their core functions — dispensing financial guidance to their customers.

  • What Consumers Expect
  • Alleviating Customer Pain Points
  • Personalizing the Experience

Three Ways to Break the Mold of Digital Banking


digital-9-9-19.pngCommunity banks should look for ways to make their digital banking experience stand out for consumers in the face of increasingly commoditized offerings.

Most community banks in the United States are focusing on enhancing the digital experience for their customers, making sure they offer most, if not all, of the features that the top five banks offer. However, most community banks are doing the exact same thing, creating digital banking experiences that look and feel eerily similar.

These banks are using the same technology, the same channels and the same process workflows. Outside of the bank’s branding, it can be difficult to tell what differentiates one digital bank from another.

While these similarities help ensure that customers don’t switch banks for one down the street, it’s not preparing institutions to hold their own against new competitors. Challenger banks like N26 and Chime are creating a new, different experience for users — and quickly taking over the market.

Creating a differentiated experience for users takes more than new features or an updated interface. It comes down to banks being able to build for the future with a platform that can be scaled and easily integrated — a platform built on APIs.

APIs, or application programming interfaces, provide the flexibility and customization that is often lacking in banking. APIs allow banks to work with a wider pool of partners to build a more-personalized experience at a fraction of the development cost. APIs have enabled three trends and transformations that allow for differentiated community banking: real-time payments, true any-channel offerings and personalized user experiences.

Real time transactions
JPMorgan Chase & Co. recently launched real-time payments, which allows customers to instantly execute provider payments. This move creates urgency for other large institutions to implement similar offerings. But delivering this real time experience could require some midsize banks to undergo a complete digital transformation and create a technical infrastructure that can support real-time interactions: one built with an API-first architecture.

Any-channel
Any-channel, or omni-channel, means delivering the same services across multiple channels. But true, any-channel technology should focus on a platform that allows institutions to adopt any-channel — regardless of what that looks like in the future — while maintaining a single experience.

With an API-first architecture, multiple channels don’t translate to redundant development work. Instead, banks can focus on iterating on the overarching experience and translating that to each separate channel. Any-channel becomes less of a never-ending goal and more of a strategic vision.

The Ideal User Experience
Consumers not only want the same experience across channels — they want a seamless experience. Banks using an API approach can build workflows and processes that update automatically, so that users who start an application online can finish that process in the branch, on their mobile app or over the phone. APIs allow banks to build an experience around the user, not the channel.

When banks focus on the user experience instead of the channel or feature, the options are endless. Any number of micro-services can be integrated into a custom experience that is specific to the bank’s audience.

Just Holding On, or Thriving?
Most banks do a great job at maintaining their online experiences in their current states: their clients won’t leave because their competitors offer the same digital experience. But when it comes to acquiring new customers, it’s a different story.

New, digital-only banks are quickly taking wallet-share from consumers with sleek and personalized user experiences. Only those banks using APIs will have the ability and agility to keep up with the competition.

Five Insights into the Top 25 Bank Search Terms


customer-6-20-19.pngBanks can use customers’ search queries to create a more efficient, optimized user experience.

Most marketers rely on search engine optimization to drive traffic to their website, missing a crucial opportunity to optimize searching on the site itself. But on-site search optimization is a critical component of search and self-service for customers, and is a way that banks can create a better experience for users.

Search engine optimization, or SEO, focuses on attracting new visitors to a website. On-site search optimization addresses the existing and returning traffic base—a bank’s current customers and prospects. This approach helps them find helpful and relevant content once they are on the site, which is as important as getting them to the website or mobile application in the first place.

A growing percentage of customers use digital channels to interact with banks and require intuitive search and easy-to-find support information. Banks will benefit from delivering superior on-site search functionality with actionable support answers on their websites and mobile apps.

Transforming a bank’s website, mobile or online banking applications into a true digital support center involves more than a simple search bar. Search terms and activity can be used to inform the support content strategy, while monitoring customers search queries ensures a bank is providing the most sought-after answers across its digital and mobile channels. This continuous process directly impacts an institution’s customer experience, service levels and operational efficiency.

The top 25 search terms across banking websites in 2019 included:

1. Routing Number 10. Direct Deposit 19. Mobile Deposit
2. Overdraft Protection 11. Rates 20. Login
3. Order Checks 12. Address Change 21. ACH
4. Skip Payment 13. Loan Rates 22. Stop Payment
5. Online Banking 14. Debit Card 23. ATM
6. Wire Transfers 15. Check Card 24. Mortgage
7. Credit Card 16. IRA 25. Bill Pay
8. Open Account 17. CD Rates  
9. Account Number 18. Hours  

Customers’ search patterns in a bank’s digital and mobile channels differ the terms used in a search engine platform such as Google or Bing, according to data from SilverCloud. Searches on banking websites and apps average 1.4 words per search, compared to four on search engine platforms. On Google, people search for “the best checking account for me;” on a banking website, they use broader terms like “online banking.”

Two factors drive this search behavior. First, banking consumers are already on the desired site, so they use more narrow search terms. Second, financial terminology can be confusing and unfamiliar. As a result, customers who lack knowledge of specific banking terms tend to use broader search terms to home in on exactly what they need.

There are five takeaways for banks that are interested in how top search terms can help them grow more efficiently:

Banks need to deliver a better customer experience. Having a strong on-site search engine allows customers to service themselves in a way that is easy, fast and efficient.

Strong search could reduce call center volume. Having robust content, frequently asked questions and support answers allows customers to get answers without needing to contact call center agents.

Provide support as mobile adoption increases. Customers will have more questions as banks introduce more self-service options, like online account opening, mobile deposit and online bill pay. Banks should anticipate this and have support answers in place to facilitate faster adoption.

Create opportunity and invite action through search. Banks can drive deeper customer engagement into various product offerings by writing actionable support answers. For example, the answer for a search query for “routing number” could include information about what customers can do with a routing number, like set up direct deposit or bill pay. This approach can increase the likelihood they take such actions.

Banks can do more with less. The more that customers use self-service digital and mobile channels and find information that addresses their queries, the fewer employees a bank needs to staff customer service centers. Institutions may find they can grow without adding a commensurate number of employees.

Banks should review their digital channels to ensure they are providing support content that addresses the ways customers seek information. Content around general search terms needs to be robust. Executives will need to keep in mind that most search terms require 10 or more custom answers to address the transactional, informational and navigational forms of customer intent.