How the financial services industry is bridging the digital gap

It’s a rare business that hasn’t found itself undergoing a digital transformation these days, and the financial services industry is no exception. Banks and other financial institutions have found themselves designing smartphone apps, building digital platforms, and standing up data science and machine learning teams as they adapt to new customer preferences and needs.

Both Jud Linville, a senior advisor for General Atlantic, and Dan Pavlick, the executive vice president of strategic services and enterprise architecture at PNC Bank, have overseen digital transformation at the highest levels of large financial institutions over the last few decades. They joined Pendo CEO Todd Olson in our recent webinar, “Bridging the Digital Gap in Financial Services,” to discuss some of the digital trends that have changed and will continue to change the financial services industry.

Linville and Pavlick agreed that there’s a much more intense focus on improving the customer’s journey through the product than on customer acquisition or adding functionality to the product itself these days, since users expect a banking or financial services product to operate with similar levels of ease and intuitiveness as other technologies they interact with daily.

“Expectations are shaped by others outside of the financial services industry that have been on this journey for quite some time,” Pavlick said. “It’s changing the way we work, the way we look at our skills or new techniques like design thinking and look at the customer journey not just through the lens of products and services.”

Linville said the rise of financial technology platforms, or fintechs, with their focus on a very narrow subset of services designed in intuitive and elegant ways, have forced larger financial institutions to rethink how the customer journey plays out across their own products.

“Over the last several years, there’s been an intense focus on not just how do you bring a customer in digitally, but how do you actually get them engaged in your app and how do you track their behavior to understand what’s working and what’s not,” said Linville. 

Establishing trust from the outset

Creating a customer journey that builds trust in your app and institution begins with an effective onboarding process, Linville said. Getting that right gets users to the functionality that they came to the app for as quickly as possible, right after they open their account. That’s a critical moment and process for establishing trust, which will make it easier to guide them to additional functionality later on.

Linville said having a good tool for collecting and analyzing usage data and net promoter scores is a powerful way to understand where users are seeing success and where they’re getting stuck, then refine the customer journey based on that. “It’s just such a better instrument to be able to build engagement and understand what’s working, and what’s not so that you can quickly then begin to pull out some of those services, modify some of those services, or amplify some of them.”

Pavlick said product development at PNC was centered on three themes: ease, innovation, and trust. The customer journey needed to be welcoming and easy for each persona that would experience it, while technologies like artificial intelligence and intelligent automation made it an innovative one. A deep focus on security, authentication, and data protection from end to end helped build the trust that keeps customers loyal to the institution.

Continuity is key

In an age where people are interacting with applications not just on traditional desktop computers and web browsers but also on smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices, continuity between your product’s different applications is key. “The richness and power of real time data is … being able to integrate those experiences so there’s one relationship, not a whole series of handoffs that seem like a Frankenstein kind of bolted together interaction,” Linville said. 

Part of achieving that continuity, they said, involves rethinking how your teams and personnel operate and adopting an agile mindset, even down to reorganizing physical spaces to make them more conducive to cross-functional collaboration, Pavlick said.

“This hasn’t just been about the transformation of a product,” he said. “It’s been about the transformation of the way one works, the capabilities they use and the automation they can avail themselves of.”

New technologies mean changes to the traditional roles you’re used to having on your team to include disciplines like machine learning and data science. The banking industry has traditionally outsourced much of that work, but Linville said the best approach to building those skill sets is bring it in-house, taking your existing talent and giving them continuous learning opportunities to grow into those roles, while augmenting them with external support where needed.

Combining quantitative and qualitative data 

The shift to digital also means banks are not interacting physically with their customers in the way they used to, and the process of gathering qualitative data has taken on a new form. Pavlick said using tools like NPS surveying has allowed PNC to obtain insight into how different segments of customers are using their technology and paired it with quantitative usage data to guide performance improvements or platform refinements.

For Linville, usage data combined with NPS is “the best data you’ve got.” “When you do survey work beyond NPS, consumers are really good at telling you what they intend to do. They’re not as skilled at telling you what they do,” he said. The financial planning tools many banks built based on qualitative research alone stand as a good example of this, he noted: Not many people use them once they’ve been built, despite the interest they expressed early on.

Balance your metrics to stay on target

When it comes to measuring the success of your features and products, Pavlick said, be sure you’re using a balanced set of metrics that are all complementary and supportive of your north star metric, so that your attention isn’t diverted away from your ultimate goal by one or two individual metrics. Linville said measures of cost, quality, and speed are some of the most important to focus on for financial services companies.

Pavlick said it’s important to consider not just the profitability of particular features when designing your product, but also the relationship between your ecosystem of features and how, taken together, they affect your total profitability. “I don’t think you look at it through the lens of a specific capability or a specific sub-segmented service. You have to look at the total relationship and measure it against the total return,” he said.

Staying mission-driven

Through it all, the ability to remain focused on customer satisfaction at the highest levels as a core mission separates best organizations from the rest of the pack, Linville said. 

“You take care of the customer first. That becomes the operating principle. You can rest assured that employee satisfaction and shareholder results will follow,” he said. “That takes an immense amount of leadership conviction to get everyone focused on that north star.”