A Customer-Centric Foundation for Digital Banking

By Kylee Wooten

Most community banks address a spectrum of different customers and banking needs every day. But the days of interacting with all those customers in person, in a physical branch, on a routine basis—and learning first-hand about their problems and goals—are over. Today, 73 percent of all consumer interactions with banks are completed digitally, according to the 2019 FIS Performance Against Customer Expectations report.

These simple facts lead to a complex question: How can today’s banks build a tech culture that’s a catalyst for growth, yet keeps customers at the center of the banking experience?

Start by looking inward

To develop digital banking capabilities that are truly customer-centric, the bank must first look inward. Does your institution support a culture of innovation and an environment that welcomes new technology? As your institution grows and invests in new technology, consider how it impacts the organization as a whole: the institution’s mission, its employees and its customers.

“When you grow, you can’t be all things to all people,” says Brandon McBay, senior credit officer at Southern States Bank. “And when you take on new clients, new markets or add new products, you have to refocus on what it is that you’re doing.” He recently discussed the client focus with a panel of bankers at the 2019 ThinkBIG conference. The mission of the institution plays a significant role in employee satisfaction, as well as customer satisfaction, McBay explains. Southern States Bank has focused on creating a positive employee experience to create a positive customer experience. “Internal culture really does exude back out to how your customers perceive you,” he says.

To further cultivate an innovative mindset at your institution, your bank may look to add new, forward-looking talent—and that means making the bank ready for the next generation of employees. “I’ve found that attracting younger, millennial talent is almost like attracting clients,” says McBay. While young professionals value dynamic, creative work environments, innovation and professional development, banks tend to rank poorly with this demographic in these key areas, according to Deloitte’s Talent in Banking survey. By investing in innovative technologies to transform traditional, process-oriented tasks, financial institutions are able to simultaneously improve the employee experience and attract talent, as well as improve the borrower experience and attract new customers.

“If your employees come to work and they like their job, and they’re more efficient [and]proficient, your clients are going to see that because they’ll get faster turn times,” McBay says.

Balance technology and customer preferences

Having the right people in place—working toward the institution’s goals and supporting clients—is essential for attracting and retaining customers. But these days, it’s technology that takes a customer-centered banking experience to the next level. Technology that was once accessible only to large financial institutions and digital-only banks is now within reach of smaller institutions as well. Today, community banks are increasingly able to level the playing field, for example, by automating the lending process and getting money into customers’ hands sooner.

Recognize that technology, like banking, isn’t “one-size-fits-all.” While some customers love to have a fully digitized banking experience, others prefer banking at a physical branch.

In order to cultivate a truly customer-focused financial institution, you have to consider the variety of diverse needs that customers bring to your bank. This often means finding a balance between traditional services and digital innovation. You can’t ignore an entire group, says panelist Jill Hudson, VP of loan operations at Vision Bank. More than likely, your bank has a mix of borrowers: some might prefer to do everything online, while others may prefer traditional banking.

Vision Bank, for example, is based in Ada, Oklahoma, but also has locations in small towns with regional universities. So while it banks a large college population, the agricultural community also makes up a large portion of its client base. Needless to say, the two demographics—and everything in between—have vastly different needs, preferences and expectations from the bank.

While millennials have been quicker to adapt and embrace new technology, Vision Bank has had a more difficult time getting the same enthusiasm about online banking tools from its farming clients. “It’s important to have this technology available,” Hudson says, “but you also have to have the one-on-one, face-to-face interactions.” In other words, building out strategies to balance the two preferences is key.

“Whether your customer likes digitization and submitting their tax returns electronically or your customer wants to walk into a branch to hand in their pieces of paper, ease of use on either side is important,” McBay says. “Go the extra mile.”

For some clients, it may just be difficult to deal with change. “The big thing anyone asks when there’s a big change is, ‘What’s in it for me?’” says Hudson. She recommends walking customers through the benefits of the technology and the time-savings and efficiency gains that they’ll get back. Some customers worry that technology takes away from the relationship they have with the bank. But Hudson believes that technology helps add to the customer experience as a whole—they just have to see it for themselves. It’s all about education, both for clients and employees.

Digitization isn’t going anywhere. From a time- and cost-savings standpoint, there are many benefits to implementing technology. Most importantly, though, technology can strengthen customer relationships. While some will resist the changes, keep in mind that there are ways to satisfy both sides of the aisle while becoming significantly more efficient. It’s all about creating a better banking experience.

Kylee Wooten is a content marketing manager at Abrigo, which offers two ABA Endorsed Solutions for CECL.