Completing the Conversion

By Julie Knudson

More consumers today are digital natives, employing technology in nearly every aspect of their lives and increasingly expecting their banks to do the same. One area that’s ripe for a tech boost is the customer onboarding process. Whether it’s setting up automatic deposits or verifying a new account holder’s identity, technology is helping to streamline what has historically been a very manual set of steps. But successfully implementing digital solutions on top of an established process requires some insight into what the bank hopes to accomplish, along with a plan to maximize customers’ adoption of the new tools.

Digitizing the customer onboarding process

Banks seeking to enhance their processes with technology should begin by thinking about the customer and their journey holistically. “Things like setting up online banking and mobile banking, to assisting clients with direct deposit, bill pay, automatic payments—those are all avenues that need to be addressed during the onboarding process,” says Kyle Baker, VP and retail banking manager at Community Bank and Trust in Waterloo, Iowa. To help smooth out the bumps often encountered when switching direct deposits and automatic payments, Baker’s bank partnered with ClickSwitch. The company provides routing and account numbers to new customers’ employers, vendors and other organizations to make the move as simple as possible. “They can help a client switch all of those automatic payments and direct deposits to their new account with Community Bank and Trust,” Baker says.

Mobile account opening could be one of the most important things a bank focuses on right now, according to Edward Gross, senior director for payments and operations on the ABA Endorsed Solutions team. Consumers, whether they’re part of the younger generation or just strong adopters of technology, now expect a digital way of doing almost everything. “They’re not inclined to go through the old-school paper steps or even online on a browser for account opening,” Gross says. But as banks look for solutions to address issues such as identity verification, they must often find ways to deploy new technology on top of legacy infrastructure. Gross believes these integration issues can stand in the way of innovation and hamper efforts to make onboarding less time intensive. “Integration into existing core banking systems is a big impediment,” he says.

Customers, banks both winners with the right onboarding tech

Technology is most useful when it goes beyond simply enabling a new customer to open an account from the comfort of their couch. Tracey Dunlap is the chief experience officer at Zenmonics, a company that helps banks optimize the account opening process through its channelUnited technology platform, which the American Bankers Association endorses for digital account opening. When it comes to identity verification, for example, Dunlap says that giving people a way to take a picture of their ID is convenient for the customer but it also serves the bank’s needs as well. “When a customer does it on their phone it pre-fills the form, so there’s less to enter and it’s less time consuming,” she says. The bank also benefits because they can begin fraud screening on that identification immediately, which builds toward stronger fraud prevention and authentication practices.

Based in Plano, Texas, Marquis is a software and consulting firm that assists banks with technology tools and related professional services. (ABA endorses Marquis’ marketing analytics software.) Tony Rizzo, Marquis’ chief marketing officer, says that when both sides of the technology equation—the customer-facing portions and the parts that feed the institution’s back-end processes—are in sync, the ability to deliver an excellent personal experience is the real winner. “It supports the customer interaction but in equal measure it also supports the mortgage underwriting process,” he offers as an example. In this way, technology moves the customer through their journey, supporting the business and making it easier for bankers to put aside the mechanical parts of the process and get to banking’s human elements.

Deployment drivers include convenience and competition

Several factors are behind the rising number of technology deployments in the customer onboarding process. Competition is often high on the list. “Most of what’s prompting this technology revolution at the community bank level is the need to keep up with some of the bigger banks,” Gross says. “They don’t want to be losing market share to those banks, so they need to provide a different way for the customers, or kids of the customers, to get in and establish a banking relationship.” Younger generations are reaching the age where they’re ready to set up bank accounts, and the right technology can give one bank the edge over another.

For many consumers, the convenience of technology is no longer a nice to have and the tolerance for friction at any point in the process is lower than it has ever been. “One of the most unfortunate pieces is that when someone hits the bank’s site and it’s not responsive, they’re gone and they’re not coming back,” Dunlap says. She adds that instant gratification is much too compelling for many consumers, and it increasingly pushes them to choose ease and immediacy over other factors that would otherwise be in the bank’s favor.

It’s nearly impossible to consider what customers want in a digital onboarding experience without thinking about Amazon. The online giant has redefined what consumers expect from a vendor and that phenomenon can’t be ignored. “Everything in our daily life is digitized,” says Al Goldstein, chairman and CEO of two separate fintech firms: Amount and Avant, both based in Chicago. Amount offers AmountVerify, a cloud-based technology that facilitates digital account opening verifications. He says that customers today don’t want to send documents back and forth and then wait days or weeks for word that their new account is open and ready for use. “The first pain point is to eliminate the need for that face-to-face interaction and make the experience work in real time,” Goldstein says.

Successful technology implementations often spring from a need to solve a specific problem. Community Bank and Trust’s desire to address the hurdles in the onboarding process led Baker’s team to ClickSwitch. “Think about the most challenging part of moving your banking relationship,” Baker says. “It’s the hassle of switching your automatic payments and your direct deposits.” His group wanted to solve that problem and they turned to technology for help. “We found a partner to remove that headache and make the onboarding process a little easier.”

Make your onboarding tech rollout a success

Rizzo encourages banks to view technology through the eyes of the customer. Few people want to work all day long, only to come home and work some more at managing their money. “What we need to do as bankers is explain the convenience factor that technology brings,” Rizzo says. Outreach and education are key, and knowing which benefits are most relevant to the institution’s customer base should drive those efforts. “The technology selection choice needs to be end to end, from onboarding to exit, to support the total customer journey,” Rizzo says.

Goldstein emphasizes that it’s important to give customers a consistent experience across all of the bank’s products. “Whether it’s a loan, a credit card, a point-of-sale transaction or the deposit account opening process, that’s where the banks will struggle,” he says. Most banks manage their products through disparate systems, some of which don’t talk to each other. “How can they unify that experience?” Goldstein asks. The bank should develop an approach to technology that’s consistent from one interaction to the next, so that every deployment helps build a customer experience that looks familiar and reflects the bank’s philosophy.

The marketing officer at Community Bank and Trust leverages social media platforms to help spread the word about the bank’s digitization plans. “When we’re rolling out new technology, she’s creating posts and buzz about it through social media,” Baker says. Comments or questions posted by other users within those channels are reviewed and the team connects with those people when appropriate. “We reach out and try to find these people and talk in more detail about some of the technology we use,” Baker says. Follow-up efforts that originate from a branch help to drive engagement with the technology and also offer bankers opportunities to interact with new potential customers.

Baker cautions that the deployment of technology can’t be a one-time effort. Along with marketing it to potential customers, it’s also important to work with the existing clientele on ways to continue improving the experience. “Bankers have to ask the right questions to understand how a client likes to bank, then with that feedback from clients, teach them how to use the appropriate tools,” he says.


About Author

A freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest, Julie Knudson is a frequent contributor to the ABA Banking Journal.