The Importance of Levelling the Playing Field whilst Retaining Traditional Services


Bhupender Singh, CEO of Intelenet® Global Services, explores the competitive challenges that banks face from FinTech players.

The finance and banking sectors have experienced a radical shift, driven by mobile technology, Artificial Intelligence (AI), automation, and the emergence of new FinTech players entering the market. Traditional banks are now facing the challenge of high customer expectations, outdated technology, the pressure of regulation stemming from the financial crisis, and cultural resistance from those who are apprehensive or unable to utilise digital services.

With high street bank branches closing down, elderly people and those who do their banking in person, are at risk of making costly financial mistakes. In addition, a high proportion of customers maintain the desire for face-to-face interaction, particularly in the case of making major financial decisions, such as applying for a mortgage. Even in the case of common customer needs, such as the need to discuss overdrafts or the replacement of a bank card, face-to-face interaction is better equipped than a machine to efficiently handle the process from start to finish.

A major bank reported that 90% of customer contacts were through digital channels in 2016, an increase of 10% from the previous year. It is this shift in consumer behaviour that can be attributed to the increasing number of bank branches closing.[1]  In order to ensure customer satisfaction, banks will need to keep up to date with the latest technological advances, whilst also maintaining and providing new channels of communication to ensure that their customers are kept happy.

With the number of FinTech players and challenger banks slowly increasing, the need for banks to ensure their customers remain loyal has never been more important. Whilst the new breed of banks provide a mostly digital banking experience that can offer features such as real-time balance information, deep-dive spending data, biometric security, and instantaneous money transfers, the issue of trust still remains. Customers like to know that they can speak to another person when they need more information about a product or require help fixing a concern. In today’s automated economy, modern companies are conducting more and more business online, and so it has become increasingly important to not underestimate the importance of having a ‘face’ for your business. Relationships are built by people and based on these interactions and the level of customer service, customers will be more inclined to return.

Despite having the upper hand, in terms of a well-established customer base, the scale and speed of the digital revolution has left major players in the financial services sector struggling to keep up. Challenger banks actively seek to be different, and so to even the playing field, traditional banks must embrace technology innovations and employ next-generation tools. The technological revolution in finance is not a new phenomenon, yet, embracing this new landscape remains a challenge for most established financial institutions. Recent PwC research found that only 20% of finance executives feel their organisation is structurally ready to embrace a digital future[2].

In order to compete, traditional banks need to start offering a seamless blend of online and in-person banking which complement traditional services.  An effective omnichannel experience is one that will allow customers to benefit from the advantages of a physical bank branch, with the speed and agility available through a digital offering. Next-generation technology is heading in a direction where it will be possible to combine both the full benefits of online banking and face-to-face customer services. The future of branch banking, as we see it, could result in banks moving towards a mobile branch model.

One option could be a mobile advisor workforce, where customers can manage their services through a mobile app, and maximise the effectiveness of customer facing staff. By implementing this, banks could allocate mobile teams to nearby appointments. The next-generation technology available also has the potential to enable banks to connect roaming advisers to nearby customers, at any location and at any time.

One of the main advantages of a technology such as this, is that the high proportion of customers that prefer face-to-face interaction, will still be able to interact with banking staff – a service that banks are currently able to provide via the use of ‘micro-branches’. With market pressures to cut costs, and many providers being forced to reduce their front-end outlay, tools that allow banking staff to be mobile, are a step closer to modernising banks.

In the face of mounting competition against new players that are able to implement technological innovations quickly and effectively, it is essential for banks to overhaul their existing IT systems. Well established financial institutions tend to operate using outdated technology. These legacy technology stacks make it extremely challenging for them to compete with their more nimble competitors, as the aging technology obstructs the movement of data between silos, preventing the 360-degree view of the customer that is required to provide personalised services to customers anytime, anywhere. For this reason, we are witnessing a real desire from companies to work with experienced IT solutions partners, in order to adopt the latest technology and modernise their information security frameworks.

Legacy systems are one of the biggest barriers in keeping banks from imitating the digital experiences provided by the likes of the latest FinTech players. These companies deliver personalised services faster than banks can and are not hindered by aging systems. In order to start levelling the playing field, banks must first invest in the right partnerships. Banks must then look to provide a far more seamless omnichannel approach that embraces new technologies and will bridge the gap between their brick and mortar operations and their digital offerings.