By Steve Dowden
During the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers have embraced the virtual experience to maintain their social interactions, purchase household items or engage with their trusted institutions for financial continuity.
The “new normal” is here to stay. Even after the initial phase of the pandemic, social distancing is likely to continue as policy makers are already discussing ways to limit the virus’s spread. It is a good bet that nearly all in-person retail foot traffic will not reach levels seen prior to COVID-19, including banking interactions.
Financial institutions will need to adapt their business model to meet the consumer in new virtual environments that have become more widely accepted during this pandemic. One clear area of opportunity is the financial service platform. The days of one adviser serving a limited number of customers in one or many branches has been eclipsed by technology-enabled, scalable advice. Centrally located advice teams that can engage clients virtually on the client’s terms will be the new normal expectation in the future.
The amplified need for virtual
Even prior to the outbreak, there were a variety of other compelling reasons why banks should consider integrating this type of technology into their services offerings.
An obvious trend had emerged of fewer people accessing physical bank branches for traditional services, preferring instead to bank online when possible and use credit or debit cards for purchases rather than obtaining cash from ATMs or tellers. This trend has only become amplified as our entire society adjusts to the new normal and further limits their interpersonal interactions.
Likewise, it has become more common for customers to seek access to financial advice on their terms, when they want to have the conversations and from the convenient location of their choice. If a customer would still rather go to a branch, they could certainly do that once the crisis has abated. But given a choice, many people prefer to consult a financial adviser from their home or office, or even while commuting to work or traveling on business.
Such untethered access not only provides customers with great convenience but reflects what people are increasingly coming to expect from product and service relations experiences in all aspects of their lives.
Virtual solutions have gone from “nice to have” to “need to have”
Banks will need to implement a new model to meet their clients’ new expectations. Virtual investment advice, especially those supported with a centralized, proven approach, will arm banks with a much–needed platform to reach clients during the times they’re unable to visit their branch or if they prefer to engage their adviser from the comfort of their home.
This approach has many advantages including the ability to serve more clients. The new normal experience is on the clients’ terms, on-demand advice through a team of advisers that leverage technology and data to provide timely information and advice.
The virtual team advice also provides consistency to the entire sales and service process, which results in a more reliable and superior customer service experience and stronger compliance. In a time when banks have the potential to lose touch with their customers, the ability to stay in contact by using technology and a high degree of personal interaction with a dependable service experience is critical.
Overall, a virtual advice platform provides banks the opportunity to deliver a more consistent, higher level of customer service and touch more people on the bank’s behalf.
Appealing to advisers
Another benefit of tech-enabled remote access pertains to advisers. A typical bank adviser these days might be covering two to five branches, with frequent travel between offices to accommodate client appointments. Think of all the time an adviser must spend in transit every week just to conduct what might only be a couple of appointments at each branch, while hoping all the clients arrive on time and none have to cancel. Given this scenario, it’s clear many advisers could impact far more clients and greatly increase their efficiency by leveraging a tech-enabled remote platform.
From a recruitment standpoint, offering this type of technology would also make a community bank more appealing to advisers as a potential employer. I believe banks will be attracting the right advisers for the future if they adopt forward-looking tech tools like virtual access to clients, full digital account opening, data-driven sales and services processes and comprehensive online portals.
Providing peace of mind
Utilizing technology to bridge previous requirements for proximity and physical interaction has become key for community banks, especially in what will likely become the new normal as the pandemic subsides. When banks employ a fully digital platform for sales and service to engage with clients, then any kind of social distancing, travel bans or other disruptions to traditional lifestyles will certainly not impact their business greatly, if at all.
The ability to engage personally with an adviser on-demand in the current coronavirus-induced environment, as well as the ability to access accounts, can help provide peace of mind to customers. That’s especially true if they’re isolated at home or, even worse, have been laid off or furloughed.
Banks can’t control the negative emotions their customers might be feeling related to market volatility, job loss or instability. But by offering convenient remote access to financial advisers, banks can educate those clients about what’s happening and their available options, while helping them make the best possible decisions in a stressful and uncertain situation.
Alternatively, consider how much more difficult the scenario might be right now for clients if they don’t have tech-enabled remote access, their branch is closed and they’re competing with hundreds of other clients to reach an adviser by phone.
In times like these, it’s never been clearer that access to advice when customers need it, on their terms, is now a critical consideration for banks all over the country.
Steve Dowden is the chief distribution officer of Nest Egg, a technology-based investing platform for community banks and credit unions that is headquartered in Philadelphia.