The Future for Banking Isn’t Online: Emphasizing the Digital Customer Experience

As banking becomes more commoditized, there’s less incentive for customers to stay with a bank that isn’t meeting their expectations of service and convenience. For the most part, the days when branch managers knew customers by name are long gone. Without those personal relationships to foster loyalty, banks have to find a way to digitize that feeling of being known and understood — if they want to have any hope of maintaining customer satisfaction.

The future of digital banking isn’t online, however; it’s on the smartphone — and that’s where banks need to sink their digital resources right now. While banking apps are still relatively novel and are seen as risky by some cautious consumers, the move to mobile banking is gaining momentum as people begin to understand the technology and security behind these apps. And once customers discover the ease and efficiency of mobile banking, it’s hard to go back to anything else. That means it’s up to banks to create a holistic and agile mobile banking experience that gives customers all the tools they need to manage their money on the go.

At an absolute minimum, a mobile component has to augment — seamlessly — a bank’s website and in-branch offerings. Anything that can be done online should also feature on the app. Customers are beginning to insist on apps that go beyond simply displaying a balance and allow them to make the same kinds of transactions they would online or in a branch. Similarly, they want a seamless, omnichannel banking experience: a customer using her smartphone app should be able to find and complete the same loan application she started online.

Speed is also key; the point of an app is to allow busy people to do their banking on the move. But bank apps are often clunky and slow. Aberdeen Group research from 2014 suggests that even a one-second delay in online load time can decrease customer satisfaction by 16%. Banks can’t expect their mobile customers to grant them much more lenience.

Despite wanting to do more with their phones, customers need an app that won’t bombard them with useless information and features they don’t actually use. The primary challenge for banks, then, is to think about efficiency and usability when building their mobile apps: what features do their customers actually want? Fortunately, user needs aren’t a mystery: in reality, people interact with banking apps in a fairly predictable way.

Thus, a strong focus on a straightforward, intelligent, user-centered interface should be a top priority. A personalized element is a small but excellent touch that allows customers to feel like more than just an account number. But many banks struggle to find the talent needed to design an easy-to-use interface and build the architecture to support it. For other banks, there’s a disconnect between what’s happening in the engineering department and at the designer’s desk, and much of the time, there’s no one involved the process who can advocate for the user. What’s required is a marriage of design and architecture — graphic designers and engineers working closely together, preferably in the same office. Many small, integrated design teams can offer this kind of working relationship.

The bottom line is that banks have to prioritize their mobile apps going forward. This is not an area in which to skimp: a great digital experience is a key brand differentiator and an excellent way to inspire customer loyalty. In a day and age when we usually only hear about a bank when it’s done something to upset its customers, the banks that will gain and retain customers are those that focus on adding value to their digital services and helping people spend less time and energy on their banking.

Written by Kishan Patel