Banks seek ways to create personalized experiences in digital age

Banks are under a lot of pressure these days to go digital and create personalized experiences for customers, but many are still trying to figure out what sort of experience to deliver. And some may be trying a little too hard, according to a few bank execs.

“There are banks spending hundreds of millions of dollars that just are not differentiating themselves all that much from things you can get from a third-party buyers off the shelf,” Shawn O’Brien, consumer banking group executive at Atlantic Union Bank, said on a panel at 2019 Bank Customer Experience Summit in Chicago recently.

Star Trek not the answer

O’Brien believes some banks get carried away in their efforts to appear high tech. As an example, he told the story of one bank branch he visited. Though he didn’t offer the name of the bank, he said the branch design included a comfortable setup with a fireplace in the corner, a couch, newspapers and a concierge desk.

Yet, when you asked the concierge where the teller was, you were pointed to a small room that looked like something out of a 1970s Star Trek episode. You would go in there and pick up a big black phone and speak to a teller who then appeared on large screen. The irony? The teller was only 15-feet away on the other side of that screen.  

“It was like you were in a drive through inside the branch,” O’Brien said, getting a few chuckles from the crowd. The solution wasn’t high tech at all and really didn’t address the needs of the customer. 

Overcoming fear of risk

Chris Ferris, president and CEO at Fidelity Bank, who also sat on the panel, empathized. He said that the shift to digital can be difficult for banks who have a long tradition of doing things a certain way. Fidelity, for instance, was founded in 1909 in North Carolina.

“We are 111-year old institution, so we wanted 100 years of what works best from an operations standpoint,” he said. 

Initially, Ferris said, his bank was sort of blinded to what the community needed and afraid of stepping into the unknown. 

“Breaking down that wall was difficult,” he said. “The message had to come from the top.” 

Ultimately, he said, the bank realized “we are here to service the community, and we can’t do that without keeping up with technology.” 

Ferris believes banks should put technology to use in creating greater efficiencies for customers. People are more productive than they have ever been, working and getting things done at all hours of the day, he said. Likewise, “financial services has to be in the realm of ‘it is convenient for your client.'”

Keeping your ears open

Another panelists, Andrew Winninger, marketing manager at Capital One, agreed. One the top ten largest banks in the U.S. based on holding assets, Capital One is trying to transform the bank branch into a consumer and millennial friendly hangout. Since 2015, it has opened several branch cafes where it offers free “money coaching.”  

Winninger, who supports the Capital One Cafes and their community engagement efforts in South Florida, Richmond and Philadelphia, said the focus of the cafe is tapping into the hearts and minds of the bank’s clients. 

“It really comes down to listening,” he said. “At the end of the day, what are the customers saying?,”

That is where the money coaches come in. They help clients deal with stress.

“However much money you have, people are stressed about it,” Winninger said. “We want to make sure that we are acknowledging that and that our ambassadors are properly equipped to navigate those conversations, and once they find out the cause of stress in that customer’s life, how can we assess that? How can we get them to a better place?”

Capital One Cafes are so tuned into the customer that the branches don’t even have sales goals. 

“There are no sales goals tied to production in the cafe,” Winninger said. “You can walk in the space any given day and take a yoga class or listen to a musician. We look at experience of what people are having in the cafe.” 

Photo: Networld Media Group