We live in an age increasingly defined by technological know-how and by widening expectations of the services which digital platforms can afford. The exponential growth in online banking apps, digital service models and mobile payments (such as PayPal) over the past few years have facilitated a revolutionary shift in the ways that consumers choose to bank and to manage their financial affairs, eradicating the need to visit branches or to access mini statements via cash machines and raising levels of efficiency throughout the sector to meet the requirements of a society which continues to prioritise convenience, speed and simplicity of use over just about any other consideration (barring cost of course!).
According to data supplied by UK Finance, for example, 5.5 billion log-ins to banking apps were reported over the course of 2017, representing a substantial 13% increase on figures for the previous year and emphasising the growing appeal that they signify to customers. Yet, as the range and capacity of financial apps, ‘chatbot’ facilities and other tech-based wonders has continued to evolve and grow, so too has a sense that these developments constitute little more than a first step in the ‘quest’ to better serve financial customers; an attitude that is particularly prevalent amongst the generation identified by demographers and sociologists as the ‘Millennials’.
This generation, which represents the first group of people to have received a notable exposure to sophisticated levels of technology (such as mobile phones, laptops, games consoles and tablets) from an early or formative stage, are considered by many experts as digital-natives and also the critical barometer by which all financial products and applications will need to be measured in the future; the arbiters (as it were) for a new set of banking protocols.
This means that financial institutions that wish to grow their market share or to stimulate sales in the years to come will need to devise an increasingly ‘holistic’ approach to technology in order to cater to and engage with this tech-savvy outlook; an outlook which considers 24/7 speed of service as a bare minimum, is increasingly aware of what constitutes good value for money, is driven by the need for innovation and incentive and is determined to manage its own financial requirements through a greater involvement with and control of the banking process. But, what form will this approach need to take?
Well, first things first, it will need to provide a comprehensive, multi-channel experience that is personalised, compelling and easy to use, while also offering complementary amenities which are specifically tailored to meet the needs of customers (by mirroring the types of algorithms used by social media or consumer websites for example). This means that banks will need to apply increasingly sophisticated forms of analytics with which to ‘localise’ and identify consumer behaviour patterns and to provide a keener focus for those consumers who want to assume a better control of their affairs by directing them towards decisions which are best suited to their needs; decisions which allow users to ‘help themselves’ without feeling that they need to ask for help. In addition, applications will need to ‘stand out from the crowd’ by offering unique or innovative designs that emphasise a sense of inclusivity, individuality and the tantalising prospect of ‘fun’, while avoiding the pitfalls of overly complicated or difficult to use sites – no one wants to have their time-wasted by having to work out a product or procedure.
The transfer of data via application programming interfaces as well as the explosion in peer-to-peer payments offered by social media companies have provided a template for the kind of innovation which could feasibly be described as ‘contemporary’ or even ‘chic’. But lenders will also need to recognise that the pace of change which these tools embody may ultimately outstrip their ability to react. Nevertheless, as an essential component for continued viability and profitability, an onus on interactivity and responsiveness must be regarded as the ‘new normal’. It’s time to embrace the future.