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Citizens Bank’s Beth Johnson: ‘Personal interaction remains important to customers’

  • What bank clients expect from their institutions is changing, according a new Bank Experience Survey.
  • Citizens Bank CXO Beth Johnson joins us to discuss the findings of the research and how it's impacting banking today and in the future.

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Citizens Bank’s Beth Johnson: ‘Personal interaction remains important to customers’

Consumer behavior was already changing before COVID hit. When you ask financial services executives, many will tell you that COVID is acting to accelerate those trends.

Beth Johnson, chief experience officer at Citizens Bank, is studying those trends. Citizens recently published its inaugural Banking Experience Survey, which polled over 10,000 customers and 252 business leaders across the US on their views around digital banking. Beth joins us on the podcast to talk about the importance of marrying human interaction with technology within banking and how changes made in response to COVID will likely have lasting impact on financial services long after the pandemic is over.

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The following excerpts were edited for clarity.

The CXO role

I am the chief experience officer at Citizens Bank. And what that really means is I think about how we use customer experience to pull together our digital, our marketing, and our customer analytics to offer seamless experiences for our consumer and commercial customers to be ready to meet their needs going forward.

It's a new role for the organization. And I think it's a recognition that consumer needs and behaviors are changing. We want to make sure we're building the capabilities across the organization to better meet those needs and really accelerate our path to being a top performing bank over the next 5,10, and 15 years.


COVID-19 and customer behavior

I think COVID-19 is a real acceleration of some customer behavior changes we were already starting to see. And I think the most obvious of those is around digitization and using digital channels for those everyday banking needs. On the consumer side, it's about day to day transactions, taking that picture of my check, doing what I need to do for my financial life in the digital channels. That was already happening before the pandemic and today, it's even easier to do some of those interactions remotely.

We also see that on our commercial side. We see a business that had very much been a people-led business that needs to have interactions with the bank, either digitally or virtually. I think that we've responded well. We were positioned for some of the changes going into the crisis. But as our survey says, I think some of those changes we'll see will be permanent. 66% of consumers and 73% of commercial clients think they've changed the way they bank and they expect those changes will impact the process long after COVID-19 is through.

What consumers want

Consumers want things to be easy. I think they want it to be highly relevant to them when they have conversations with us. And I think that they want to make sure that we're helping them achieve their goals and objectives.

I think that basic tenet works, whether you're a consumer or a business, and underpinning all of that is also something around trust. So how can I trust you to be there for good times and bad, for that ease and that advice that banks are so crucial for?

Delivering banking through technology

I think technology is dramatically impacting our expectations on a couple of different dimensions. At the end of the day, we're all consumers, whether we're sitting in our business role, or whether we're sitting in our consumer role. And of course, our lives are changing and the way we use technology has changed. Our attention span has changed because of that technology. I'm used to having things in the palm of my hand and getting information immediately. I think banks have to be very responsive to that, just like everybody else.

I think about it in three dimensions. When I think about what our customers need, the first is day to day transactions. I want to look at my balance. I want to be able to do simple things. That to me is all about using technology for speed. How do I make it easy and quick to do the things for our customers that they expect to be easy and quick? That's things like remote deposit capture -- taking a picture of my check to deposit it. There's nothing insightful about that.

I then move on to the next layer, which I tend to refer to as insight. I think insight is easily served through the digital channel and through technology. Can I offer my customers some smart insights that make their lives better? How's my cash flow? Do I have enough money left? Do I get an alert through my mobile phone when I see that I'm running low in my checking account based on what I normally spend in a month, or when I charge something twice to the same to the same merchant? Did that make sense for me? So there's a layer of insight that banks can add, and they can add it in those remote and digital channels through technology that customers find very valuable.

And then on top of that becomes an even deeper insight that our customers want -- whether that's about cash flow insights for a business customer, or about how I think about retirement or buying my first home as a consumer. And that's when we tend to see it really be more and more about a seamless interaction across channels. I may want to start with some questions in one channel. But I often do want to talk to someone about those opportunities at some point in my purchase journey. That's where I think that individuals will continue to play an important role. Even as we move more things virutally, individuals and people will play an important role in our customer offering for a long time to come.

The role of humans in banking

We still see people reach out to humans when they have a critical decision to make in their financial life, and it's one they're not comfortable with, or they're not quite sure about. That could be around retirement. That could also be around buying a first home. I want to be able to go to a person and ask questions and get one-on-one advice.

Now, in order to do that, one thing we've invested in within our branches is something we call a checkup. Our latest version can start digitally. We can find out that you have a need and ask a few simple questions. We can pull some of the data that we know about you and using analytics, have a robust discussion and equip a banker. At the end of the day, the customer feels most comfortable having that personal interaction. And so when we think about advice, we can have a really good smart interaction and help that person to buy their first home -- not just get a mortgage, but really help them with thinking about everything they need around buying that home, and do that through seamlessly using our different channels within the bank.

The banker's role

As we speak, we are testing and learning about how active we want to be with providing advice. We kicked off a stream of work that we're calling our distribution customer interaction model. That work is all about thinking through the colleague's role in that journey. How do we equip our employees to be able to have the deep conversations when they need to and to bring in expertise when appropriate, that might be remote or in person?We are rethinking the traditional role of the banker and making sure that they are equipped with the tools and the training to be able to have those conversations with our customers, as that becomes more important over time.

I think that's so critical, because in a COVID and post-COVID world, where you see branch transaction volume go down about 20% and other channel interaction going up, you're going to have to change the way that banking operates in our brick and mortar branches.

Proactively giving advice

We are doing a couple of things around our reach out. We have used our analytics engine to be the foundation of our knowledge about our customers and we can equip our bankers so we have links into some of our CRM systems to be able to reach out to customers when it seems like they're going to be needing that deep conversation.

For example, my daughter is off to college for the first time this year. It would be the perfect time to talk to me about how to finance that education, particularly in light of COVID. We could use some of that data to say to our bankers, wealth advisors or business advisors that this might be a good time to reach out. We also have that linked in to our mobile and digital channels, so I can surface some really smart content around that topic and give our customers the ability to schedule an appointment with us as well. That allows us to have multiple ways to tap touch points with those customers to be able to have those deep interactions.

Different demographics, different needs

Across all the different wealth segments and age groups, we saw the same need to transition more to digital channels and getting more comfortable with remote. There were a couple of nuances that I think were really important and surprising. Let's talk about age first. Interestingly, I had gone in with the assumption and the hypothesis that the younger you were, the more comfortable you are going to be sharing your data and analytics insights with us. That actually did not prove to be the case. My daughter's age group, 18 to 24, was actually the least comfortable sharing personal information versus those who are 25 to 34. It actually jumped from about 42% (18 to 24) to almost 60% (25 to 34) to over 60% (35 to 44), and then it kind of levels out at that 60% level.

Of course, in a non statistically significant way, I did talk with some of my daughter's friends. I believe they don't know the benefits yet. They don't know what they can get from a bank to help with their financial futures, because they haven't thought about it.

But the more people are comfortable with getting quality insights that help their lives, the more comfortable they are sharing some of their data in a safe, secure and smart way.

Business customers

Commercial customers and clients actually were stronger in the belief that the way they have changed their banking is likely to be permanent. 73% of our commercial clients said that they've changed the way they bank to become more digital and more remote. And they expect these changes to persist long beyond COVID-19. That was really interesting to me.

The other key thing we heard from our business clients was that 90% of them decided that the bank's ability to support their businesses through their lifecycles and through this tough time was going to be critical to their choice of a banking partner going forward. And so I think businesses are being as much, if not more, impacted by the changing dynamic in the marketplace than our consumer customers.

They are very interested in analytics and tools that could help them manage their cash flow better. They are very interested in some of those easy to use digital solutions to manage the day to day needs of their cash management businesses. They are more open to remote advice.

Citizens Bank's products and services

We're absolutely using the results of the survey to further enhance some of the areas where we're making investments. What we are proud about is that we had already started down the path of many of the areas I think were critical for investment coming out of the survey. We're continuing to invest in our digital capabilities -- we've talked a lot about being seamless across channels. We've made some good investments in the foundation of our analytics engine to be able to serve those different channels, for example.

We're investing in a service center to make sure that things that customers want to do quickly and easily through their mobile device they can. We're continuing to expand our ability to offer insights. We're making sure to smartly think about the advice layer across channels, so you can start in one and end in another. I think the survey has helped to refine a lot of the paths we were on and and provided analytic rigor to some of the investments we want to make.

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