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At banking conferences and in boardrooms across the country, a common question is asked: should banks partner with fintech companies or fear them? With the constant threat of margin compression across product lines and customers segments, the answer is never dull. However, the consequences could be impactful. As traditional financial institutions wrestle with the possible outcomes of that question and the overall effect of technology developments, it is worthwhile to take a step back and think about what the added competitive pressure has already done to —and for— the industry.
"Customers want options, and they want to move seamlessly between the digital and physical worlds"
Customer experience is key
In some ways, the automation and efficiency of digital interaction is at odds with the personal relationship between a customer and banker. There is a delicate balance between providing the ease and simplicity of digital tools that customers have come to expect, and the hands-on, consultative, personal touch that is the hallmark of the hometown bank that customers know and love. Customers want options, and they want to move seamlessly between the digital and physical worlds. In many ways, banks have become mainly technology service companies, adding significant customer convenience and efficient transactional engagements. However, we, as bankers, cannot lose sight of our role as financial consultants for the more complex and meaningful decisions in the lives of our clients. From the inception of the relationship and throughout the customer lifecycle, the experience must be both convenient and personal.
How are banks evolving
Fintech companies have, in large part, driven the banking industry to make strides in improving every aspect of the customer experience through digital solutions. It is easy to see the positive influence that technology advancements have had on customer engagement with their banks. Retail customers and business owners are no longer limited by a traditional 9-5 schedule when they want to make a payment, move money, see reporting on their monthly spend, or even apply for credit. They don’t have to sit down and log in or print cumbersome paperwork. So much of what may have been a time-consuming distraction is now in the palm of their hand, on-demand, for whenever they have five minutes to step away. Banks have been able to retain their position as a bastion of security and privacy while delivering the convenience and reliability that is now table-stakes in the services industry.
Removing the labor burden of largely transactional, low value-add tasks has allowed bankers to focus on the needs of customers. If bankers haven’t already, they will evolve away from being simple order-takers to financial consultants. The complex and meaningful transactions that our customers make require a human touch. It is not just about coming up with the right answer —which is necessary — but includes sharing best practices, time-tested experience, and empathy to customers.
This is a win-win situation for banking customers and bankers. Customers get simple solutions to simple problems while receiving personalized advice for the most important financial decisions they will make. Bankers get to do the most fulfilling part of their job more often, and in the process, restore the reputation of their industry by being trusted consultants.
The human side of banking will always be the foundation of successful banking relationships. It will also be the differentiating factor in the future of banking