digital banking

There are few things that I hate more than waiting in line. And if there is one place where you are guaranteed to have to wait in line that is your bank. Surprisingly, I may add, after so many years of online banking and the widespread availability of mobile banking apps for our mobile devices. And yet, we still do wait in line at the bank -heck, we even do when we have an account in an online-only bank (I’m not kidding, that has happened to me). So, what gives?

The answer probably lies in that

digital engagement does not eliminate the need for great human interactions, especially for more complex banking solutions.”

In other words, when we want to do something especially relevant (like applying for a loan, making an investment or taking any other important financial decision) we still want to have a meaningful interaction with a professional that will answer all our questions, clear all our doubts and help us make an informed decision.

But it is not only customers who want personalized, conversational service. Banks (and other financial institutions, for that matter) also understand that conversations between people are critical to building trust, confidence, and relationships. Given that people tend to be cautious with their finances, it is only natural that banks pay heed to these interactions.

Then, is this compatible with digital banking, in general, and mobile banking, in particular? Oh, yes, perfectly compatible: in fact, many banks are incorporating a “personal advisor” that is available to customers on the web or on their smartphones -ready to engage in conversation anytime/anywhere (within reasonable limits) so that the customer can make decisions without the wait and without the hassle associated with a visit to the bank.

And this is very, very important (especially for the banks), because while most of us (customers) are comfortable with automated services for checking balances or transferring money, we still lean towards conversations (on the phone or in person) for more complex and high-value transactions: when it comes to complicated issues, such as evaluating a loan, costumers still prefer talking on the phone with a human representative.

Or do we? With the rise of voice-controlled devices and intelligent assistants such as Alexa and Siri, it’s now fairly normal to talk to a digital device, ranging from a phone, to a voice activated assistant to a device in a car. This changes the norms for how people interact not just with information, but with businesses and institutions.

That is, do we really want/need to talk to a person before making a decision or are we happy talking to a robot that can provide us with the same information? Would we trust a digital assistant to help us make relevant decisions when it comes to our finances? Would the convenience of 24/7/365 assistance help us forget that we are not talking to a human but to a machine?

These questions have profound implications for the future of many businesses and institutions (not just banking), but if you think that we have time to find the right answers, think again: according to a recent study, 89% of U.S. consumers already prefer to get quick information by talking with a virtual assistant rather than search a web page or mobile app -and, consequently, a number of banks are responding to this trend by adding voice features to their mobile services:

  • Capital One connects with Amazon’s Alexa, so customers can use voice commands to make payments and check their account balances.
  • Bank of America created its own artificially intelligent bot, called Erica, which provides services such as savings recommendations via text and voice.
  • Barclays is using voice recognition as a way for customers to authenticate their identity over the phone instead of reading out their account number and answering security questions.

So, is this the future of digital banking? Uh, no, this is the present of digital banking. The future should bridge the online-offline gap by combining online services with call intelligence and enhanced interactions with customers. Hopefully that will be the end of lines at the bank. Hopefully.

Additional reading: What is the future of digital banking?