1 July 2019

Banks need to become more personal to stay relevant in the digital age

The size and scale of technological change and innovation is driving the increase in customer expectations for speed, convenience and control. Blending the best technology with the power of its people will ensure banks stay personal and relevant.

It’s no secret that technology has made our lives easier and more convenient. Making a restaurant reservation now just requires a few clicks on your mobile phone. Topshop stores are implementing virtual fitting rooms so you can see how outfits look against your body1.

Beauty brand Sephora even has a Virtual Artist app that uses augmented reality to “map” makeup onto your face so you can virtually try on different looks. It will even let you know where to find the product in the store so you don’t have to wander around2. It is undeniable that the Internet of Things is growing rapidly and has permeated almost every aspect of our lives.

But what exactly is the Internet of Things (IoT)? Simply put, it is the network of physical devices – from watches, to vehicles and even home appliances – embedded with electronics, software and sensors to enable them to connect and exchange data3 4.

This creates greater integration between the physical world and computer-based systems, which can result in increased efficiency, economic benefits, and reduced human exertions. Think a thermostat powered by Microsoft that is able track if you’re at home and adjust its settings to ensure energy efficiency5, or the Fitbit that has detailed sleep tracking, supports music playback and can even make mobile payments6.

The swift development of IoT is also changing consumer behavior. People now expect faster yet more personalised service, greater efficiency but more streamlined processes. They want to be able to shop, pay and bank on their smartphones as they’re on the go.

However, this doesn’t mean that brick-and-mortar stores are becoming obsolete. Even online retail giants like Amazon and Alibaba are opening physical stores to reach out to a wider audience. After all, stores do provide certain benefits and a computerised system cannot replace human intelligence.

What businesses – and banks – need to be doing is to integrate technology into their work models to improve a customer’s experience. Moving towards a “bricks and clicks” model and seamlessly merging digitalisation with in-person interactions is what we should all strive towards.    

One way that many companies are doing so is by implementing mobile tools for their frontline employees. Many telecom and banks have introduced the use of tablets to their frontline teams. As a result, they are now able to offer a friendlier and more intimate experience. It also lets you capitalise on existing data in the system and eliminates the need of multiple forms for greater efficiency.   

Today’s customers also expect greater personalisation, and technology can help with this. AI and machine learning can improve customer experience by using data intelligence to help us better understand their preferences and tailor recommendations based on their history and online behaviour. Banks should leverage this to stay personal and deepen our engagement with customers.

In the digital age, staying connected is also key to reaching out to clients. Businesses need to shift from a transactional mindset to a lifestyle perspective by incorporating social engagement at the core of their customers’ digital experience7.

HSBC’s PayMe app is an example of intersecting social and banking. Currently available in Hong Kong, it is a popular social payment app that lets you log in with your Facebook account, transfer money seamlessly and share events and moments with friends on your feed. It is currently ranked #1 in the finance category of Hong Kong’s App store. 

However, while using the right digital tools is important, a mindset change is also essential. Banks need to create an environment that encourages staff to view everything through a digital lens and build a culture of innovation that emphasises agile working methodologies and constant learning.

We need to commit to investing in upskilling existing workforce so they can better harness new technologies and support cross functional collaboration by being familiar in disciplines beyond their own8. The good news is – most banks, including HSBC, have started to do so. This ensures we have a workforce that has the necessary understanding and expertise that can practically apply new technologies to improve customer experience and processes.

Millennials and the next generation of consumers are digital natives. They will expect even faster, more intuitive yet still personal services. Businesses of the future can’t just bank on technology to help them meet these needs. Instead, they should use technology to make customer experience more personal, easy and engaging. The digital world is meant to enhance the physical, and not replace it.

A contribution piece by Anurag Mathur, Head of Retail Banking & Wealth Management, HSBC Bank (Singapore). A version of this piece was first published in The Asset on 12th March 2019.

1 https://www.shopify.com/retail/how-these-retailers-are-using-augmented-reality-to-enhance-the-customer-experience
2 https://digiday.com/marketing/sephora-merged-digital-physical-retail-teams-one-department/
3 Internet of Things Global Standards Initiative, https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-T/gsi/iot/Pages/default.aspx
4 What is the Internet of Things?, http://www.wired.co.uk/article/internet-of-things-what-is-explained-iot
5 Johnson Controls’ Cortana-powered thermostat is up for re-order in March, https://www.zdnet.com/article/johnson-controls-cortana-powered-thermostat-is-up-for-preorder-in-march/
6 Fitbit Ionic Review: Tops the Apply Watch with fitness focus, long battery life, detailed sleep tracking, https://www.zdnet.com/product/fitbit-ionic/
7 https://www.pwccn.com/en/retail-and-consumer/publications/total-retail-2017-china/total-retail-survey-2017-china-cut.pdf
8 https://www.pwccn.com/en/retail-and-consumer/publications/total-retail-2017-china/total-retail-survey-2017-china-cut.pdf