Six things I have learnt (so far) at NetFinance 2015

Simon  Mathews

April 28, 2015

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Simon Mathews speaking at NetFinance

For the last couple of days I have been at the NetFinance 2015 conference in Miami. I was privileged to be able to speak on the first morning (the pic above!) on the challenges and opportunities of delivering digital customer experiences in financial services, but wanted to focus this post more on the things I've been hearing from the speakers and in conversations with digital and experience leaders at major banks and financial institutions, including USAA, BBVA, Citi, US Bank, Schwab and many others.

#1: The digital experience is front and center.

I started my presentation with a premise that delivering great digital customer experiences is central for Financial Institutions to thrive, and highlighted that recently banks had been on a buying spree, snapping up digital design firms (Capital one acquired Adaptive Path and BBVA, SpringStudio).

Across all the presentations and discussions these themes came out very strongly. In previous years a lot of the conversation was specifically on certain growth areas, such as mobile, technology integration or customer acquisition strategies. This year, it was really focused on, 'how do we change how we do things to deliver a great customer experience on all devices and channels?' And, repeatedly, speakers were seeing customer experience as a key differentiator for their brand.

Building on this trend, in an interesting case study, Rick Paster from Citi shared how working in a co-creation model with customers had led to a better prioritizing of features and hence design for Citi's card customer experience.

#2 Customer expectations exceed the industry.

Another strong theme that emerged across multiple speakers was that customer expectations were already way-ahead of financial institutions' ability to deliver digital experiences. Customers expect to be able to do most things online. They expect their FI to already know about them. They expect their experiences to be consistent on mobile, desktop, or in-person.  And for the call center to understand all the above.

Alejandro Carriles from BBVA argued that we should be not comparing to competitors, but against where customers spend their time online. So, more Facebook and less CompetitorBank. His question "When was the last time you saw that google.com was 'down for maintenance'"?

#3 Omni-channel barriers are self imposed.

In moving to a seamless experience across devices and channels, speakers highlighted many issues that add friction for users. Why, for example, once you are a bank customer do you need to "enroll" for online banking, or to use the mobile app, when the bank already knows what it needs to know?

Gareth Gaston from US bank shared a number of fascinating omni / cross channel experience customer flows and challenged the audience using an airline example - once you have bought your ticket (online) you don't need to enroll to use the kiosk at the airport.

#4 Compliance is the boogeyman?

The financial industry is highly regulated and internal compliance controls on marketing and product delivery are critical. In the panel discussions it did not take long for internal compliance issues to be raised as a challenge in delivering digital experience innovation.  And, once that issue was raised, many more examples were then shared.  But, a few speakers suggested approaches that had worked for them in addressing this issue. Most of these focused on involving compliance teams in the creation process very early, bringing out their creativity in how to gain compliance, rather than the compliance team being just a final hurdle to jump in the innovation process. And, most speakers seemed to agree that once competitors had done something first, compliance tended to ease!

#5 Branches, maybe less important?

Accenture shared some of the findings from their 2015 North America Consumer banking survey. The full report is available here. One take away for me was that if a consumer's local branch closed, 81% of those surveyed would not change banks. In 2013 that number was 48%.

In survey after survey, despite the fact that most customers rarely step into a branch, having branches is a key decision factor for customers. Hopefully this is the beginning of change in the importance of branches.

#6 Counterpoint, emotions are important in banking!

Jaime Punishill from TIAA-CREF in his presentation offered an interesting counterpoint to many of the discussions during the day - that the emotional element of most financial experience is low or non-existent. His argument was that we, as people, make decisions emotionally as well as rationally, and we should, as much as focusing on tasks and flows, focus on how the experience makes a user feel?

This is compelling. We are all human, and show great complexity in how we experience the world, and as designers we need to reflect this in our experience.

However, I'm not sure I want my bank balance to make me cry!