The longer we spend researching mobile banking, the more convinced I become that mobile banking is the most important innovation, or cluster of innovations, in retail banking in years, arguably in a century. Here’s why I think mobile banking is a much bigger deal than cash machines (ATMs), credit cards or home-based online banking:
In developing economies that lack a dense infrastructure of branches, ATMs and fixed-line telecoms, mobile banking and payments are bringing millions of people into the formal banking system for the first time.
In developed economies mobile banking will become the primary way many, perhaps most, customers interact with their banks. Banks need mobile banking to provide a platform for mobile payments and to protect their retail payments businesses from digital disruption as mobile payments start to replace card payments in shops.
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:
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.
One of the findings that struck me most during our research was the growing popularity of PayPal. That PayPal is used by many online shoppers across Europe is well known, and partly explained by the success of eBay. What struck me as new is how many big European online merchants now accept PayPal, among them leading fashion retailers and airlines. Perhaps I didn't spot that sooner because the British merchants have been much slower to adopt than those in Italy, Germany, France and Spain.
The growing acceptance of PayPal raises questions for two groups of eBusiness executives:
If you work at a retailer or other merchant, is it time you accepted PayPal payments online?
If you work at a bank or card issuer, what does the growing use of PayPal mean for your relationships with your customers?
For both groups, what payment methods are customers likely to want as they start buying from tablets and mobile phones?
What do you think?
If you are a Forrester client, you can read the full report here.
Customer advocacy is the perception among customers that the bank does what’s right for them, not just what’s right for its own bottom line. 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.