Embracing New Technology ̶ “Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way”

July 27, 2022

By: Bill Elliott, CRCM, Director of Compliance Education

I have been teaching for Young and Associates for over 20 years. Twenty years ago, when I asked about “the percentage of customers that enter your lobby in any given month,” the answers I got from attendees were usually around 80%. Twenty years later, the answers are almost always under 25%. Just recently a banker in a seminar told me that they have a branch that has almost no foot traffic.

The reason for this change is obvious ̶ why go to the bank or credit union when you can do it electronically? And the generations of customers coming up are more than willing to figure out how to do it on their smartphone. Since banking via your smartphone is readily available to anyone who has a decent cell signal, it is hard to argue with that position.

The problem for financial institutions is the constant struggle with technology and finding ways to leverage it better and faster. And the last two years of COVID have exacerbated the problem greatly, as customers were either reluctant to leave their homes, or institutions were unable to service customers except through perhaps the drive-through window. The result of all this is that some financial institutions have lost customers due to the lack of technology, while others have done very well because they had the technology available and could enable it to serve their customers.

Another question I ask in seminars is, “How many of you believe that you will get to retirement before your institution is opening accounts online?” If I have a 60-something person in the crowd, maybe I will get a hand raised. For everyone else, they can see it is either here or coming soon.

Embracing Change
Management sometimes is reluctant to embrace change, which is understandable, as few enjoy it. But not changing may come at a cost that your organization is not willing to pay. To remain independent, financial institutions must step out of the comfort zone of, “We have always done it this way” and embrace the technology necessary for their survival and for their consumers’ needs. Pretending that it simply isn’t going to happen will not work ̶ it has already happened.

One of our clients is situated in an area where cows outnumber people three to one. Around 90% of their mortgage applications come in electronically and the bank encourages applicants to do it electronically, as that speeds the process up. A loan that closes faster means that the organization makes more money earlier, certainly a worthwhile goal.

On the deposit side, watch any football game, and major financial institutions tout the abilities that are available to the customer using their smartphone. One bank indicates that you can open a checking account online in five minutes. I’ve never tried it, but since the average customer takes more than five minutes to choose their check style, I’m not sure it is 100% accurate. But it is the wave of the future, or perhaps I should say the wave of the present.

Tips to Consider
After you decide why your organization wants to invest and leverage new technology (gain more customer insight, improve customer experience, penetrate new markets, etc.), here are some basics that you need to consider:

  • First, what systems are available that interface easily with your core processing system? If you cannot interface, you probably ought not be interested. The goal is to make everything flow from space to space to space with a minimum of human intervention, with high-quality information at each step to support why you are making this investment. While admittedly that means your staff must pay attention to get everything correct early in the process, once you do that, completing the transaction should be fairly simple. If your core processing system supports very little that would be useful to you in this new electronic banking world, it is possible that you may need to consider replacing it with something a little more flexible.
  • Second, you need to have the ability internally to manage the new processes and technologies. And you need to ensure that you have the training available to your staff so that they understand their role and responsibilities necessary to support your customer base.

There is no question that all this costs money ̶ but not doing anything also carries costs. Some of the cost of new technology may be offset by closing branches that are not necessary as these new delivery systems grow and mature. Closing a branch has its own real dollar costs, and management must assure that the closure will not impact the organization’s Community Reinvestment Act or fair lending positions. All this needs to be considered – and maybe discussed with regulators – before closing a branch. And even if you do not close a branch, some savings is possible with a reduction in your overall staffing levels.

I personally have a checking account that I really don’t need anymore, but I have several bills paid out of that checking account directly. Since the account is free, I’ve never bothered to do anything other than adequately fund the account, because moving all those transactions to my “main” checking account seems just too cumbersome. So, the technology keeps me a customer.

Once customers begin to intertwine bill pay, budget models and other products, they may think long and hard before unpacking all these services to move the account and business somewhere else. The digital experience is just as impactful to the overall customer experience as face-to-face contacts. And an integrated digital platform may help retain customers that may not be thrilled with your organization; however, the digital experience becomes so difficult to “unpack” that they accept their pain points and continue to remain customers. This retention provides you the time to address their pain points and transform them into advocate customers speaking highly of your quality of services to others.

“Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way”
Years ago, I heard the phrase, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” That certainly is our world today. Your best possible position is to be a leader. If you choose to follow, you may do just fine. But if you try to simply get out of the way, you may find yourself in a difficult position. So, you must consider your options here, and frankly do it very quickly.

Many in the industry are talking about Banking as a Platform (BaaP), Digital Transformation, and Banking as a Service (BaaS). These are all different concepts, yet all very relevant and available. It is our hope you make the choice to “lead” or “follow” closely and have your customers or new markets choose you for banking services. Please do not “get out of the way,” as it will be more challenging for you and your organization in the long run. Given how quickly technology and related issues advance, the “long run” is now measured in shorter and shorter time frames.

For more information on this article and how Young & Associates can assist your organization to position your organization to leverage technology to better serve your customers, contact us at [email protected] or 330.422.3482.

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