Digital Onboarding Done Right

By Monica C. Meinert

As the old adage goes: you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

That holds true for banks, especially when it comes to customer onboarding. A less-than-satisfactory account opening process can mean a rough start to the banking relationship for a new customer, or a negative experience for a long-term customer applying for a new product.

Bankers often hear that they must model themselves after the Googles, Amazons and Facebooks of the world—that these tech giants are fundamentally reshaping the customer experience and customer expectations. But where does the rubber really hit the road for a community bank? How can an institution with a limited technology budget and staff really deliver a true, digital onboarding experience?

For digital transformation to really take hold within a bank, it has to be viewed as more than just the successful implementation of a solution, says Tracey Dunlap, chief experience officer at Zenmonics (which ABA endorses for its digital account opening solution). Rather, it’s a cultural change. “Digital transformation has to impact the entire organization, and onboarding really is the center of that.”

In a recent survey, banking software firm Temenos found that looking worldwide, 76 percent of banks now have truly digital onboarding experiences—up from just 31 percent in 2016. “Banks have woken up and said, ‘we can’t keep asking people to come into branches to open accounts and apply for loans or get credit cards,’” says Temenos Chief Experience Officer Derek Corcoran, a long-time observer of what he refers to as the “great migration” to digital banking.

But even as banks are making their way toward the “digital promised land,” he says, many still struggle with getting the digital onboarding experience right. Applications are often lengthy, causing prospective customers to abandon them when they reach a question they can’t answer. In other cases, the application is not truly digitized—an additional trip to a physical branch location may be required to provide documents.

As banks work to take their digital onboarding strategies to the next level, Corcoran and Dunlap offer several tips for success.

1. Build for mobile first.

When designing a digital onboarding experience, mobile-first is a must.

“All of our [bank]customers today that are using our solution see about 60 percent of their traffic coming in on mobile devices, and that’s just going to keep growing.” Dunlap says. That alone is enough of a case for a mobile-first approach, but there are other benefits, too.

When banks start with mobile, they’re forced to “cut the clutter,” stripping down their application to the bare minimum so that it can be easily read on a small screen. “You want to simplify and collect what you need to open the account quickly and efficiently,” adds Corcoran. That means scrutinizing the application and determining the essential elements required to conduct a compliant account opening—and asking for those in a clear, concise way.

Importantly, banks should ensure that the compliance department has a seat at the table from day one. “You can’t get away from compliance. You have to cross the t’s and dot the i’s,” notes Dunlap. “But there’s a way you can do it that’s conversational, so that from a customer experience standpoint, we’re not seeing abandonment.”

2. Prioritize the important questions.

According to Corcoran, there are three types of information customers are asked to provide on an application. First, there’s the information they know off the top of their head, like their name, address and phone number. Then, there’s the information they may not know off the top of their head, but can easily get, such as a driver’s license number. Finally, there’s the information they have to find—the balance on a current mortgage, for example.

“If you ask tough questions too early in the application flow, you will cause abandonment,” he explains. “Get me to enter my name, my email, my phone number, all of that stuff I know off the top of my head—now I’m invested. Then ask me: go get your driver’s license, fill in the expiry date. If you categorize and ask the tough questions last, you will see higher completion rates.”

Dunlap adds that advancements in technology are drastically reducing the number of burdensome fields that customers may be required to manually fill in. In some of Zenmonics’ offerings, she notes, customers can simply take a photo of their ID and have the information automatically populated into the application form, “and we can also start validating [them].”

3. Generate and nurture leads.

Getting the application flow right isn’t just about decreasing abandonment—it’s about collecting enough information to allow someone from the bank to follow up.

“Nurture leads, because life gets in the way,” Corcoran advises. He describes a previous client that followed up on abandoned digital loan applications with phone calls, noting that “they converted 40 percent of the people they phoned into borrowers.”

Another valuable thing banks can do is allow customers to save their application and return to it later. And often, when a customer saves the application, the bank sends an email immediately with a link that they can use to access their application later. But that might not be the best strategy, Corcoran adds. “When they save, it’s because they don’t have time to deal with it right now. And then you send them an email, but they don’t have time to deal with that either. Then all of this other junk piles into their inbox and pushes your email down, and they forget about it.”

With that in mind, simply building in a schedule of periodic email reminders can go a long way to nudge a prospective customer to go back and finish their application.

4. Identify the pain points.

Once the bank has their digital onboarding systems up and running, they should be monitored daily Dunlap says. Most digital onboarding solutions provide bankers with detailed analytics that can help them identify trouble spots. “If you’re seeing a pattern, if you’re seeing applications falling out, look at that,” she says. “And then you need to start thinking about: do we need to adjust the strategy?”

In some cases, banks may find that it’s a specific question that’s tripping customers up and causing them to abandon the application. Corcoran notes that in customers’ minds, the application is like a test— “people feel like they have to get it right, because if they don’t, you might deny them the account or the loan and that might ding their credit score. They will abandon rather than get something wrong.”

Ultimately, digital onboarding success comes down to a simple principle, he adds: “If you make it easy, they’ll finish the application and you will get more customers.”


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