Georg Ludviksson, CEO & co-founder of digital banking solutions provider Meniga, tells Finance Monthly why banks’ most important innovation focus must be to help customers build ‘financial fitness’.
People across the globe are experiencing new and uncertain circumstances for their personal finances, whether through unemployment, business closures or the sheer impact of the economic recession. One thing is certain, however: that healthy financial habits have a new pertinence in our society and for many, their first port of call to achieve this will be their bank.
We have entered a critical point for the banking industry, where it is now absolutely crucial for banks to step up their innovation game to support their customers in a personalised and engaging manner through digital channels.
It is impossible to predict exactly what the financial ramifications of COVID-19 will be. However, we shouldn’t expect this pandemic to be a short-distance sprint but rather a marathon, and for this, banks need to be there for their customers to ensure that they are financially fit – or they will start training with somebody else.
Banks need to stay ahead of the curve by turning to digital channels and preserving the financial wellbeing of their customers
The personal finance landscape, specifically the way in which people make sense of their finances, has evolved tremendously over the past decade. In particular, there has been a shift in consumer behaviour whereby the demand for personalised services has increased dramatically, and people have become more critical of the banks that fail to help them lead healthier financial lives.
The personal finance landscape, specifically the way in which people make sense of their finances, has evolved tremendously over the past decade.
People no longer view banking as a purely transactional and one-dimensional functionality, but rather as a full-service experience helping them take control of their finances and achieve financial wellbeing. This shift in consumer behaviour and the increasing association of good financial habits with positive health and wellbeing also explains why the notion of ‘financial fitness’ has gained recognition within the personal finance landscape over the past few years as a term describing one’s increasing desire to feel good and confident about one’s financial situation.
The last few years have seen an increased prevalence of digital banking and a plethora of more personalised tools which suit the shifting needs and wants of consumers. The rate of digital banking adoption has also been significantly accelerated by the pandemic.
Research by deVere Group found that the use of fintech apps in Europe rose by 72% in March 2020, whilst a McKinsey study found that the pandemic has accelerated the shift to digital banking by two years. In particular, the latter study found that online bank use rose in most European countries, from a 7% increase in Italy to 19% in Portugal, and that more than 20% of customers in Spain and the UK tried online banking for the first time during lockdown.
As both digital banking and financial health have gained increasing significance in 2020, it highlights the urgent need for banks to view their digital channels as a strategic asset and start re-prioritising their resources to focus on developing personal finance management (PFM) services and the financial self-help tools their customers need. If not, they risk losing significant market share to the challenger banks, who already excel in user experience and have digital leadership in their DNA.
The last few years have seen an increased prevalence of digital banking and a plethora of more personalised tools which suit the shifting needs and wants of consumers.
Becoming your customer’s financial personal trainer and drawing upon the health and fitness world when developing PFM services
In a global financial crisis, a bank’s underlying mission statement should be focused around helping their customers lead healthy financial lives. By instilling financial fitness into the organisation’s mission, banks will be able to truly prioritise developing PFM services, and thus provide their customers with the support they need to take ownership of their financial health.
In fact, when developing PFM services, banks should consider studying what makes health and fitness apps so addictive. The popular fitness app Strava uses all kinds of features and gamification to keep users engaged and to encourage them to take control of their own health, from social activity feeds, to weekly targets and personalised nudges.
In a way, physical health is very similar to financial health, it’s about building the right habits to positively impact your fitness and wellbeing. Banks should analyse what makes fitness apps successful and replicate some of their gamified features and elements of their design to develop user-friendly banking apps which can be comparable to personal finance coaches and which focus on helping customers achieve goals and build healthier habits.
Ultimately, the main functionalities of a digital banking app must on one hand be to ensure it delivers the right information to customers through features like spending reports and automated budgeting, and on the other, enable customers to build better habits and stay in control of their finances. The latter can be achieved through financial gamification like savings challenges, or other features including personalised nudges and notifications, social media-like activity feeds, cash-flow assistants and personalised cashback rewards.
One bank that has done particularly well to create personalised banking solutions for their customers is Portugal’s Crédito Agrícola. Like many other European banks, Crédito Agrícola has been facing rapidly growing competition from challenger banks like Revolut and N26, but by bringing their own digital innovations to market they have been successful in maintaining their position as one of one of Portugal’s most reputable banking groups.
In September 2019, Crédito Agrícola collaborated with Meniga to launch one of Portugal’s most popular digital banking apps, “moey!”. The moey! app relies on Meniga’s technology as an engine for categorisation and enrichment, to provide customers with a more immersive and interactive experience. The app enabled Crédito Agrícola customers to, firstly, stay on top of their finances through a number of informative features, such as insights, reports, budgeting and financial planning; and secondly, be encouraged and motivated to build and maintain healthy financial habits through a feature that is, in many ways, the foundation of all fitness apps: the ‘Activity Feed’. The activity feed is a functionality that enables banks to engage with their customers through personalised messages such as insights, advice, fun facts, targeted rewards and product recommendations.
The results were almost instantaneous, with over 130,000 app installs in the first 6 months after launch. Crucially, the app enabled Crédito Agrícola to increase its user engagement, with 90% of transactions being made via the app and more than 50% of moey! customers now active users.
By drawing upon the health and fitness world and understanding what functionalities engage users and encourage them to take control of their own health, banks will be able to develop banking solutions which provide much-needed support during this pandemic and help them build good financial habits.
The dependency of people on their banks has never been stronger, and banks now have a real opportunity to maintain the loyalty of their customers and stave off competition from the challengers. To succeed, they need to recognise the importance of shifting their value proposition and core product offering to focus on elements of digital banking, financial fitness and personal finance management.