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Digitising your businesses DNA

Fraser Collins, Group Head of Commercial Finance, International Personal Finance (IPF)

Fraser Collins, Group Head of Commercial Finance, International Personal Finance (IPF)

In an increasingly digital world, tech developments are transforming the way in which customers behave and the Covid-19 pandemic has further accelerated their journey online to shop and pay for goods and services. But what does this mean for more traditional organisations, where face-to[1]face contact with customers is at the heart of the business model? In the financial sector, homecredit companies such as IPF, financial advisors and non-financial sector businesses such as Avon,rely on the personal relationships developed by their networks of customer representatives to serve customers in their homes. Their customers choose a home service because it is convenient and they like and trust a personal touch, but their needs and the way in which they wish to interact are also evolving.

Across the lending sector, we have seen a growing number of consumers looking to access credit products and services digitally. They want fast decisions and smooth, frictionless interactions, yet often their credit risk precludes a fully-remote service. Far from creating a more remote customer experience as is occurring in retail and banking, tech adoption and digital transformation strategies in more traditional organisations are enabling them to replace outdated and inefficient practices in favour of digital solutions. These strategies focus on supporting the unique personal touch on which these businesses succeed.

When investing in transformational change, being mindful of the business’ DNA – its core business practices – and being receptive to changing customer needs is vital to achieving success. Failure to consider each of these can lead to an erosion of what makes a business effective and, ultimately,its profitability. At IPF, we have evolved to remain relevant to those who use our services through investing in hybrid, digital acquisition channels and technology to enhance the working practices of our customer representatives and, in turn, the customer experience. Critically, investments have been aimed at protecting and enhancing our core competence – the personal service provided to customers in their homes.

Traditionally, home-serviced customers are served by representatives that live in the communities in which they work, meaning word of mouth referral has often been the primary acquisition channel for new customers. As target customer segments have evolved and,in order to reach predominantly younger and more tech savvy customers who prefer to use the internet,commercial enterprises have developed hybrid acquisition channels to provide an online decision-in-principle or introductory meeting.

This meets the needs of these customers by providing an initial digital experience, but which can be subsequently augmented by a personal visit which sits at the heart of any home-service organisation. Creating a digital beginning to the journey followed by a seamless transition to a home-serviced model is critical to leverage the core competence of this type of business. Creating a bond between a customer and their representative is important so customers feel supported and ultimately their experience drives retention and increased customer lifetime value. A hybrid semi-digital fulfilment model also protects customers and the organisation in the specialist lending sector, deploying customer representatives and a personal service to help guide and assist less financially-literate customers where needed.

“The delivery of a digitisation strategy isn’t always centred on removing cost from the business, but redeploying expenditure into tech to modernise the business model and enable growth”

Developments in technology can also improve working practices and the customer experience through digitising the processes of home-service operations. Smartphones and bespoke sales, collections and communication apps can be developed and deployed to customer representatives driving a range of benefits. Customer leads can be passed to representatives through a digital ecosystem which, as well as improving data security for customers, will speed up the time it takes for them to be served and reduce admin time. These efficiencies may allow customer representatives to devote more time to assessing their customers’ needs, while digitisation can also facilitate a wider product offering to meet these. Other benefits include improvements in the speed and accuracy of data collection for performance management purposes; cost savings; and a reduction in paper therefore improving the environmental impact.

Key to the successful delivery of large-scale tech investments is a phased ‘Agile’ approach and constant engagement with customer-facing teams. A relentless focus on achieving an original business case spec and cost profile may result in delivery, but also misses opportunities to learn as tech is deployed and tested. Likewise, constant scope creep should also be avoided.

The delivery of a digitization strategy isn’t always centred on removing cost from the business, but redeploying expenditure into tech to modernise the business model and enable growth. At IPF, we developed, tested and deployed new tech over time, market by market with constant input from our customer representatives in order to get it right. This type of approach provided data and analytics along the way to drive a more successful outcome. The apps used by customer representatives track performance via usage and GPS data, allowing IPF to better manage performance and refine incentive schemes. In addition, electronic delivery of products and services allows a much nimbler response when it comes to product and pricing changes versus paper-based methods. This improves the speed of deployment and renders it easier to offer additional value-added products and services to customers.

Knowing your customer needs and your core competence as a business is key to success. Customers must remain at the heart of any enterprise. There are many examples where,in search of improved margins, lenders and financial institutions have used tech to digitize their product offering, automating fulfillment and delivery to customers. In many cases this has resulted in a loss of customer closeness and accommodation of financial services products. Where being truly close to a customer through home service is a competitive advantage, to protect and improve profitability, businesses can use tech to enhance their core principles and support customer retention and growth as opposed to reducing customer facing costs. It also ensures these more traditional models, which have been serving customers at home for more than 100 years, remain relevant to future generations.

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