Management Strategies

05:08 PM
Jamie Armistead, Bank of the West
Jamie Armistead, Bank of the West

Banks Are Not the Yardstick for Digital Customer Experience

If Google were a bank, what would their experience be like?

It’s a fascinating time to be in financial services with the current pace of digital adoption, even though banks are struggling with regulatory change and embedded costs. And as we think about digital adoption, it’s easy to measure ourselves against our competitors in financial services. But when it comes to digital, other banks are not the yardstick we should be using.

We need to challenge ourselves to deliver digital experiences that are on par with the best apps and sites in the world, not just the best sites in financial services. Sure, banks have made strides with their websites and mobile applications, but if we want to measure ourselves against customers’ real expectations, we need to look at the experiences they love: Uber, Pinterest, Google Maps.

[For More on Innovation in Banking: Banks Falling Behind Pace of Innovation in Mobile Apps]

We also have to consider the financial service technology startups that have put pressure on banks. Who wasn’t caught flatfooted by Square? When Intuit acquired Mint, it left a lot of bankers wondering, how should we respond?

Jamie Armistead, Bank of the West
Jamie Armistead, Bank of the West

Yet here we are four and a half years later, and there is hardly any demonstrable movement toward integrating personal financial management capabilities into online and mobile banking experiences.

Check (formerly PageOnce) just passed 10 million users. Paying bills directly on biller sites is on the rise while bill payment through bank sites is relatively flat. As part of a regional bank trying to move the needle on digital adoption, those are some of the things that keep me up at night.

The question is: Are banks missing the mark on user experience?

Having spent nearly 20 years entrenched in Web and mobile for banks, I understand the legal and compliance hurdles and antiquated backend systems that make delivery particularly difficult. As a result, we tend to have a culture of: “Design it once and we’re done.”

Contrast that with Google’s relentless focus on its suite of mobile apps. (I consider maps, mail and browser to be the trifecta of the mobile app suite.) They are well ahead of Apple’s equivalent apps, even on iOS devices.

While many would agree that those apps were quite good when they first came out, Google continues to hone the experience, the degree of integration and the data sharing across the applications.

Search on restaurants and Chrome uses your location in the results. Google Maps is a tap away at the top and carries your search results into the map.

Now, let’s look at money movement at most banks.

If I want to schedule some bill payments, schedule a transfer to savings and then schedule a P2P payment to my sister, there is no one place to initiate all these transaction or see the scheduled activity. If I want to know how much money l have left, I have to do the math myself, and then keep track of all the dates when the money will move.

If Google were a bank, do you think they’d have that experience figured out?

There are at least two lessons one can draw from this example. The first lesson is on the platform side. I’m certainly not an expert on Google’s platforms, but it seems like they continually architect their solutions to support data sharing and integration. While you may not know precisely how you’re going to evolve your customer experience over time, having solutions architected in a way that supports data sharing and integration makes evolving the customer experience that much easier.

The second lesson is on customer experience. Banks need to get comfortable with the idea of small incremental improvements. Part of the challenge in taking this approach is traditional corporate culture. Reporting to your boss that you tweaked six things this year may not turn any heads, yet those six things may be the enhancements that customers love the most. If the culture is one that rewards the next big thing, regardless of whether anyone uses it, you have an uphill battle. It takes a belief and commitment to customer experience to be willing to prioritize the small enhancements that make experiences great.

So the question really becomes, do we want to be regarded like just another bank or do we want to be regarded like Google?

Jamie Armistead is senior vice president, digital channels, at Bank of the West.

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