The Customer Effect

Why banking’s ‘omnichannel’ dreams haven’t become reality

  • Banks have been giving omnichannel strategy a lot of thought and investment, but few have executed a good strategy
  • Those who nailed the omnichannel idea are having to move on already since AI is changing the "channel" as we know it
Why banking’s ‘omnichannel’ dreams haven’t become reality

For years banks have been talking a lot about executing an “omnichannel strategy,” which is supposed to help them learn more about their customers by giving them a greater view into their needs and behavior through more channels – the mobile device, the tablet, the computer. But that dream hasn’t yet become a reality.

The reasons, as usual, are in the mundane details — and in the difficulties in executing sensible strategies within large, hidebound organizations while keeping up with new complexities that inevitably arise from tech advances.

For instance, an omnichannel strategy requires banks to be able to integrate each of the channels into a single, quality experience. But most haven’t gotten there. According to a report this week by researcher and consultancy Celent, half of the 112 institutions it surveyed haven’t even begun “substantive” efforts on their omnichannel delivery and just one in 10 institutions is actually executing a strategy.

“There’s a huge disconnect,” said Bob Meara, senior analyst at Celent. “Everyone agrees omnichannel is important but they haven’t actively executed.”

One reason is that artificial intelligence is driving a proliferation of new channels – like Alexa or connected cars – that make it impossible to build experiences for individual channels well and in a scalable way. So while many banks still struggle to perfect their mobile strategy, the ones that are nailing the “omnichannel” idea are now having to move along pretty quickly anyway as new technologies and therefore, new experiences, emerge, said Meriah Garrett, chief design officer at USAA.

“Our members just expect us to be there wherever they are,” she said. “That’s not always in this pure mechanism of traditional channels as we once thought of them – mobile, web, voice, physical. Those things are blurring together at such a fast rate.”

To keep up with the constant change, banks need to implement AI into their interactions and services, and that’s how the “channels” expand beyond what people traditionally consider a channel to experiences like a Facebook Messenger conversation or a mortgage profile in Zillow.

“It becomes less and less about any individual’s channel and more about different distributions of experiences that aren’t necessarily owned properties anymore — that’s the part we as an industry have not even reached yet.”

Most financial institutions have invested a significant amount on the front end of their banking portals – the parts that interact with customers. Some might say they’ve over-invested in that experiences when they should be pouring more into the middle- and back-end – the areas that actually connect with other experiences, other parts of the business and improve seemingly boring efficiencies that actually make a world of difference to the customer.

For example, getting approval on a personal loan has traditionally been about a 72-hour process – unheard of for customers living in an on-demand world where you can get a car at the tap of a button. That kind of thinking is what makes digital lending startups like Prosper, Avant or Kabbage so attractive when they advertise decisions in minutes. If banks invested more in this stage of the experience, customers wouldn’t just be happier, they would probably engage more consistently.

It’s how Amazon rose to dominate retail. Jeffrey Brown, global banking and financial services leader at consulting firm Genpact, uses Amazon as an example when advising his bank clients, he said.

“You want to create Amazon Prime in your banking experience for your customers,” he said. “You wouldn’t use Amazon if it took 10 days to turn around a delivery. You get the Best Buy experience when you do your banking.”

Using mobile or online banking as a reference for account balances and activity is more common than ever. But actually executing on more complex things like credit applications is still a sticky spot for banks and their customers. The user interface of complex activity may be enjoyable, but the parts of the experience that follow need to meet the same standard to keep customer satisfaction levels high.

“Just like they shifted from retailers and other people who couldn’t get them the goods they wanted quick enough and thats why amazon took share.

“Being able to actually deliver, execute or fund is going to move market share over the next 12-24 months, Brown said. “People want speed. They shifted from retailers and other people who couldn’t get them the goods they wanted quickly enough and thats why Amazon took share.”

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