As fintechs and the UK’s ‘challenger banks’ have experienced accelerating growth over recent years, one of the notable trends we’ve seen in the financial services industry is personalization.
Unencumbered by legacy systems and powered by new, agile technologies, smaller providers have been able to focus on delivering bespoke, tailored services that are all about the customer.
One example is the UK’s Atom Bank, an app-based provider which had its full launch in October 2016 and registered more than £110 million in deposits by the end of the year. Atom is placing a big emphasis on delivering a service that is uniquely suited to each individual customer. This is driven by its customizable app, which allows users to name their account and choose their own logo and color scheme. The app also lets customers choose how they log in and features no marketing or sales material.
As the banking industry becomes increasingly dynamic and diverse, this focus on personalization is something we could see more of in the years to come.
Tailored and contextual
Speaking to Banking.com, Stewart Bromley, chief operating officer at Atom Bank, discussed some of the key driving forces that shaped the firm’s operating model.
He said one of the provider’s key principles is that banking should be helpful – helping customers to either get more for their money or to pay less – and should deliver a relevant, contextual banking experience that reflects how each individual wants to manage their money.
As a purely digital provider, Atom faced the challenge of delivering this personalized experience entirely through an app. This was something that had a big influence on how the firm developed and designed its technology.
“We didn’t want customers having to wade through all sorts of menus and navigation to get to relevant information,” Mr Bromley said. “We wanted to bring all the relevant information to the customer in their homescreen. But what might be relevant to you might be different to what’s relevant to me, and therefore you have to have a level of personalization through the technology in order to deliver that level of experience.”
The little things matter
Discussing Atom’s approach of allowing customers to choose their own logo and color scheme within the app, Mr Bromley said this was significant on more than an aesthetic level. He said it was a representation of Atom’s philosophy that banks should be all about the customer, not about the provider’s efforts to build a brand or sell more products.
Mr Bromley stressed that small changes such as allowing people to dictate the look of their app might not make a big difference in isolation, but they can be hugely significant if they are part of the bank’s wider philosophy and approach to customer service.
“It’s about creating a proposition that is completely unique and tailored to the individual,” he stressed. “The little things really do matter, if you follow it through.”
Can banks be personal without branches?
The future of the branch is one of the big question marks hanging over the retail banking sector at the moment. With more and more people banking online and self-service functionality on the rise, many banks are finding it hard to justify the cost of an extensive branch network.
However, the fact remains that there are a number of situations in which customers still need and expect face-to-face engagement and personal advice from their bank.
Atom, which has no physical footprint, has taken the approach of using independent financial advisers to provide information and guidance for its customers, eliminating the need for a branch network.
Mr Bromley pointed out that the most common pattern of behavior among today’s customers is using digital for everyday banking, using telephone when they need help with a problem, and going into a branch for advice. He said the branch still has a role to play in the banking industry for precisely this purpose – for providing advice, not necessarily delivering a personalized service.
Over the coming years we will learn more about the evolving role of the branch and the banking industry in general. One thing that seems clear is that, with the emergence of alternative providers and increasing personalization through apps and digital banking, a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach is no longer enough to achieve a high standard of customer experience.