These are worrying times for people across Europe as the euro lurches towards another crisis, with leaders talking openly about the possibility of Greece leaving the euro and reports of customers starting to withdraw deposits from banks in Greece and Bankia in Spain.
It's easy to feel powerless in the face of such powerful forces, but fundamentally the repeated euro crises are about two things: debt and confidence. Lots of individuals, small companies, banks and governments across Europe have a large amount of debt, and lenders -- depositors, investors and other banks -- aren't completely confident that all of them will be able to pay it back. It's critical to avoid a vicious spiral of declining confidence that will harm Europe's economic prospects and the livelihoods of its peoples.
What can bank eBusiness executives do about it? Remember that you control two of your bank's critical communication channels: the website and email. Use them to reassure customers. How?
Help customers understand what the crisis is about. Banks aren't just about products. Your purpose is to help customers manage their money. Help your customers understand the causes of the crisis and the reality of the hard choices facing Europe. Nobody likes realizing that they are poorer than they thought they were. Without getting political, help customers understand the situation and what it means to them.
Spell out why your firm is safe. My bank emailed me on Thursday to remind me that it's covered by the British government's Financial Services Compenstation Scheme, covering up to £85,000. Put a similar message on your home page and onto the secure site, where online banking customers are most likely to see it.
I attended Finovatethis week to get a preview of new financial services digital technology vendors. I say preview because if you have ever been to Finovate, you know it’s a little like speed dating, where 63 vendors have 7 minutes each to show you their best moves. The themes at Finovate this year were not much different as previous years with the focus being on mobile banking, personal financial management, and payments. However, this year, a few new topics emerged: rewards, coupons, and mobile banking services for Pre-Paid Visas customers. Apparently, Pre-Paid Visas are the new black.
While there was plenty of interesting and innovative demonstrations, Forrester attended the conference to identify trends and solutions relevant for our retail digital financial services clients. Specifically, we looked at innovative solutions for our clients related to mobile banking, personal financial management, and payments. The following vendors stood out as innovative solutions for mobile banking, personal financial management, and payments:
DWOLLAis a next-generation social, mobile and online payment network. Its financial service product, FiSynch, integrates its technology into financial institutions.
IP Commercesolves the development challenge of multi-payer acceptance and multi-payee disbursement
iQuantifiprovides users with automated and personalized financial advice online
Money Desktopoffers the next generation of personal financial management. Its slick design makes excellent use of the native app features.
The past five years have been awful for most European retail banks. The financial crisis, and the resulting recessions in most of Europe's economies, nearly destroyed some banks and crushed the profitability of many of the remainder. Worse than that, it was a problem that was partly or largely of (some) banks' own making. Banks are being forced to shrink their balance sheets, sell off non-core businesses and cut costs (i.e. fire employees) just to survive. And Europe's ongoing financial crises are far from over as banks' fortunes are closely entwined with those of their indebted governments.
There's one small silver lining among these dark clouds. Over the past 15 years, eBusiness has evolved from providing an electronic brochure to become a fundamental strategic function within retail banks. One of the effects of the financial crisis has been to force most European banks to focus on how to generate profits in their core retail banking operations by serving customers efficiently. Digital banking is a big part of the answer. So, despite the bleak economic outlook, most retail banking boards know that they must continue investing in digital channels. Digital strategy is an increasingly important component in overall strategy.
I'm still surprised when I find heads of eBusiness who remain marginalized within their firms, reporting into IT or marketing rather than a centralized distribution channels function alongside branches. The leading banks no longer make that mistake. That has greatly increased the power and influence of digital banking executives, but also their responsibility for the overall success of their businesses.
Here's our view of the top five priorities for eBusiness and channel strategy executives at European retail banks:
There are a number of firms that we watch closely at Forrester because they stand out for sustained innovation. Behind the technology giants like Google and Apple, there are a number of established firms that are using technology to adapt rapidly and successfully to changing customer behaviour and needs. One of them is Commonwealth Bank of Australia. Over the past four to five years CommBank has introduced a series of digital innovations to serve its customers better including:
Finest Online. In the course of its "Finest Online" project from 2007 to 2009, CommonwealthBank of Australia redesigned its NetBank Internet banking service with the objectives of building an excellent customer experience and driving online sales. The bank implemented new content and functionality to support the customer journey and integrated new secure site sales processes with in-person channels and the bank's multichannel customer relationship management (CRM) system. The two-year, cross-organizational project boosted online sales, increased customer satisfaction, and improved the bank's image. (Forrester clients can read our case study.)
At our Marketing & Strategy Forum last November, Sean Gilchrist, head of digital banking at Barclays Bank, talked passionately about the importance of customer experience to the work being done by his team at Barclays. It's good to see some of the results of that focus on customers in two innovations introduced by Barclays in the past few weeks:
Firstly, Barclays has started rolling out a new online banking interface. While I'm sure that not every customer will like the change, the point is that Barclays is taking a modular (or widget-like) approach to displaying content and functionality in anticipation of having to serve customers on a rapidly growing range of digital devices. We think that approach is going to become increasingly common as eBusiness teams adjust to the fragmentation brought by the Splinternet.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Finovate, it’s a fast-paced format with seven-minute live demos and pitches from 35 financial technology vendors. It’s produced by Online Financial Innovations, the people behind the excellent NetBanker blog.
I was lucky enough to go along to the show in London today. Unlike last year, when four or five themes dominated the day, this year’s exhibitors were more diverse. Among them were:
I love video as a communication media. The combination of sound and moving pictures so much more engaging and more memorable than text.
We wrote in our research last year about how we're starting to see video being used more and more by eBusiness teams as an efficient and effective way to educate customers about products, encourage sales and deliver customer service.
With the Academy Awards coming up, we thought it would be both fun and helpful to highlight some of the best examples we've seen of online video in retail financial services in the past year. With the help of the rest of team, I've drawn up a list of our favourites in five categories:
Customer advocacy is the perception among customers that a firm does what’s right for them, not just what’s best for its own bottom line. Customer advocacy matters because in every country we survey in our Consumer Technographics® research, we’ve found that customers who view their main bank as a customer advocate have more accounts at their main bank, are more likely to consider their bank for their next financial purchase, and are more likely to recommend it to others.
Without naming names, I’m struck by the sharply different perspectives these executives have. Simplistically, their view of mobile banking falls into two camps:
Mobile is just another channel. These executives see mobile banking as a way of letting customers do old things, like checking their account balance, in new ways.
Mobile will revolutionize retail banking. These executives believe that mobility could turn the retail banking industry upside down, by enabling customers to do entirely new things like scanning bills to make payments, responding to location-based offers, and receiving rewards at the point of sale.
[With apologies to all those of you who had already read this, I'm re-publishing this as the Forrester gremlins ate my previous post.]
For the past few years, many eBusiness and channel strategy executives in financial services have had a nagging sense that today's websites would be rendered obsolete as new technologies emerged or younger consumers developed radically different behaviour patterns. We think that time if fast coming upon us.
For the past six months we've been working on our vision of the Next Generation of Digital Financial Services, led by my colleague Alexander Hesse and inspired by the work of leading eBusiness teams worldwide. Although our vision is not an exact description of how all digital financial services will evolve, given the wide variety of markets that eBusiness executives operate in and the different strategies of their firms, we think the next generation of digital financial services will be characterized by five things:
Simplicity. Making it easy for customers to achieve their goals.
Ubiquity. Interacting with customers wherever they want.
Personalization. Making the entire experience relevant to individual needs.
Empowerment. Enabling customers to take action by themselves.
Reassurance. Providing human help whenever it adds value.