How are fintechs helping financial institutions make successful digital transformations? What is required in order for financial institutions to maximize the opportunities available from increasingly ubiquitous enabling technologies to better engage and serve their customers and members? What lessons can we draw from those banks, credit unions, and other financial services providers that have prioritized digital transformation over the past several months?
We checked in with Mithu Bhargava, Senior Vice President and General Manager for NCR’s Global Professional Services Organization to talk about the current pace of digitization in financial services, and what financial institutions are doing to meet their customers’ growing expectations for shared, seamless experiences.
What are the most significant changes NCR has seen in the banking landscape over the past year?
Mithu Bhargava: The pandemic served as an impetus for banks to digitally transform. While the industry has been talking about digital-first banking for years, Covid-19 firmly accelerated this transformation. At NCR, we were prepared to manage the shift; we have been evolving toward a digital-first and self-directed banking approach for years. As a result, we were able to help banks and credit unions continue to serve their customers and keep operations running even while social distancing. Moving forward, we believe digital-first banking will be the route institutions must take to survive.
Over the past year, we’ve also noticed a growing customer demand for cryptocurrency, which is why NCR recently announced that we’ve entered into a definitive agreement to acquire LibertyX, a leading cryptocurrency software provider. We plan to offer the LibertyX capabilities as part of our solutions for banks, retailers and restaurants across both physical and digital touchpoints. This will ultimately provide a complete digital currency solution for our customers.
It’s time for financial institutions to leverage flexible, modern digital technologies to navigate changing business needs and demands. At NCR, we firmly believe that digital-first banking doesn’t just mean adopting new digital banking tools, a common misconception. Rather, digital-first banking is a shift in mindset; it requires re-imagining an institution’s holistic digital strategy to evolve alongside customer expectations, digitizing all aspects of the financial journey and connecting digital and physical experiences. Financial institutions that focus on creating these shared, seamless experiences are able to differentiate their brand and expand existing customer relationships while attracting new ones.
Obviously digital experienced a significant uptick because of the pandemic – is that here to stay? What role will branches play in the future?
Bhargava: Yes, we believe that this trend in digital channels will not be reversed; consumers that traditionally shied away from digital (for example, older generations) have now seen how easy and convenient it is. While the branch will always remain a critical touchpoint, the pandemic has forced the traditional branch model to evolve. Branches are elevating in terms of functionality and services offered. Expect to see more banks and credit unions approach the branch from an advisory perspective, serving as a place for customers and members to go for personal financial advice and complex services—not routine transactions.
We also anticipate the rise of digital bank branches that leverage self-directed technologies like ITMs and ATMs. Such technologies provide convenience and speed to customers while creating efficiencies for the institutions, enabling them to cost effectively extend service hours. More banks and credit unions are expanding the ITM functionality offered, incorporating more video teller capabilities to maintain the human connection. There will be a shift in how institutions manage these machines, as well; more will transfer the burden of machine maintenance and updates to a trusted partner via the cloud. Such a hosting option makes the self-directed banking channel simpler by offering a better, digital-first customer experience while reducing the total cost and onus of ownership. Branches are evolving to build profitable relationships and long-term loyalty.
What trends should bankers watch out for here in the second half of the year?
Bhargava: Customers expect a fast and frictionless experience at every touchpoint, and they’ve proven they’re not afraid to walk away when those expectations aren’t met. Looking forward, there will be a continued (and accelerated) convergence of digital and physical channels. What have traditionally been channel-specific experiences are being made ubiquitous across the bank through software that can connect those experiences.
Self-directed banking will also continue to take off. This approach puts the customer in the driver’s seat, allowing them to decide how they would like to engage with their bank or credit union across all channels and touchpoints. The need for a customer to ever have to work in silos is eliminated, creating a seamless, connected experience. Self-directed banking empowers the customer with flexibility and choice and those banks who embrace the shift will be well positioned for success heading into 2022 and beyond.
Everyone talks about digital transformation, but many still struggle to get it right. What are some key tips and strategies to make it work?
Bhargava: I have three thoughts on this. First, too often, we see bankers jump on emerging technology trends versus really evaluating their current gaps and needs. The first key to digital transformation is to focus on your bank’s overall approach; don’t just pick a technology but pick a specific problem area to focus on. Those that leverage rationalization to determine which processes are ready to be digitized right now and which need to be reimagined entirely before digitizing will be best positioned to navigate digital transformation. Digitizing a flawed process typically just makes a cumbersome process faster.
Second, once your bank has the right mindset for digital transformation, it’s time to focus on the people. Engaging the right leadership team with the relevant skillsets will be a huge asset. Digital transformation should be something that’s embraced organization-wide, not just at the leadership level. Make sure to secure buy-in from stakeholders across the institution. In addition to leveraging appropriate people from within the organization, most banks and credit unions find significant value in partnering with technology providers where appropriate to extend reach and come to market better and faster.
Setting goals and clearly defining a realistic digital transformation roadmap from the onset will allow the institution to evaluate progress. Technology should be used to help effectively monitor and measure performance against goals to help keep everyone on track. User feedback should also be evaluated throughout when applicable, not just at the very end. Finally, it’s important to remember to keep it simple. Complexity on the institution’s end can result in friction for customers.
The competitive landscape continues to intensify and grow more complicated – how can community and regional FIs protect their market share?
Bhargava: The embrace of digital-first banking quickly and completely will position banks and credit unions for success. Why? Digital-first banking creates new and exciting opportunities for traditional institutions who now find themselves up against a slew of emerging fintech companies adept at swiftly closing the widening gaps between yesterday’s and tomorrow’s consumer banking needs. And the world has changed. We will never be the same as we were before March 2020, at least when it comes to how consumers interact and connect with their service providers.
Personalization will also be critical moving forward. Those that continue to leverage marketing campaigns to the masses will quickly turn off customers. Instead, outreach should be intentional and tailored. Institutions have a wealth of data available to them, and it’s time to use it for insights to guide customers in making the smartest financial decisions.
Digital-first banking is all about merging digital and physical experiences to meet customers’ timely financial needs and making it simple to serve the customer across all channels and touchpoints—without breaking the back office. Those that can do this while leveraging their data to personalize engagements will be well equipped to protect their market share and relevance.