Show Me the Omni: Assessing the Financial Industry's True Level of Omnichannel Integration

Leading financial firms may speak about their omnichannel advances with great confidence, but few have yet to successfully streamline the multichannel experience to create the ideal single customer view.
Customer Experience

For the financial services sector, omnichannel integration has become imperative as the encroaching competition continues to threaten customer loyalty. But, while many may perceive this industry to be one of innovation, few firms have yet to put their money where their mouths are in an effort to bring their multichannel strategies full circle.

While most institutions have spent the preceding years establishing their presence across networks, firms must now transition from multichannel-existing on each platform-to omnichannel-delivering seamless, consistent experiences no matter the touchpoint based upon the information generated by each platform. However, the struggle to unify consumer data and deliver the ideal single customer view may be more difficult for the financial industry, as banks and firms must adhere to federal regulations.

Though today's consumers now have more control as to where, when, and how they interact with their banks, financial institutions have fewer freedoms, for they cannot operate outside their jurisdictions. Rob Heiser, president and CEO of Segmint, highlights that, while the whole marketplace has yet to deliver, collectively, the industry remains innovative. It's the financial sector's requisite long adoption periods that distort perception. "Being innovative in an industry that's highly regulated means there's not much of an opportunity to get there faster," he adds.

Financial institutions continue to actively embrace emerging technologies, implementing Web, social, and mobile strategies in order to expand customer engagement and extend brand reach. However, regulations aside, many firms do still lag behind when it comes to integrating the systems necessary to achieve their omnichannel goals.

Consumers, as expected, rarely follow one predictable path on their journey toward decision-making. Yet, while banks understand these new, varied habits, most still capture and store data within silos due to their fragmented approaches to implementation, thereby preventing marketers from establishing a holistic view of each client. Firms, therefore, suffer the effects of siloed service, as they fail to connect individual channels in their effort to created seamless, integrated experience.

Big Data and segmentation may hold the key to omnichannel success, however, as brands need only tap into the wealth of data that already exists within the walls of their institutions. By analyzing behavioral data, financial institutions can assess how consumers currently interact with their firms and the sentiment driving said actions.

"To meet customer demand, messaging must be accurate and effective," Heiser says. "The window to make decisions continues to shorten, as customers are consumed by information. Therefore, they must have the right message on the right channel, as well as consistent messaging across channels."

With this information, banks can then identify customer needs, tailor products accordingly, and deliver service that creates competitive differentiation. The power to do so lies at the heart of omnichannel, for such strategies allow banks to blend customer data across channels, bringing everything together in one profile as they work to create consistency and reliability. Most may still have yet to reach this level of integration, but all must be aware that, with the right foundational tools, all firms have access to the data necessary to fuel their omnichannel fire.

Meeting Digital Demands

In the past, financial institutions have primarily focused upon developing operational efficiency as they work to maintain security and meet regulations. But, as banks come to recognize the need to differentiate themselves from their competitors, priorities now reside with the overall customer relationship and the ability to build strong, loyal bonds with their client base, as well. Unfortunately, however, many have found that increasingly effective engagement doesn't always come easily or immediately.

For instance, when it comes to social, few financial institutions have yet to harness the power of this emerging channel and gauge its impact on customer experience and the bottom line. While most recognize this channel's persistent penetration within the industry, banks find themselves limited to listening to customers and monitoring complaints, leading social to become the mouthpiece for disgruntled or confused clients. To truly bring social into the omnichannel loop, financial institutions must continuously generate dialogue by tapping into social's conversational nature in ways that preserve data security while also extending the traditional customer relationship. Banks will also need to link social conversations with the customer's personal profile on the back end to ensure that all conversations remain consistent and true to the brand's mission.

Similarly, video capabilities also allow financial firms to expand their reach, as institutions like Citi and Chase have already created YouTube channels that move beyond transactions. Each video enables these brands to share information on subjects related to banking, thereby building the institution's reputation for expertise and advice. From travel tips and money-saving information, to small business assistance and customer testimonials, both brands continue to develop content that relates to the industry as it applies to consumers' everyday lives, making the bank a trusted source for all things financial.

Mobile promises to dominate the financial industry, as well, as this channel has already garnered much attention throughout the space. Juniper Research estimates that global mobile banking users will exceed one billion by 2017. Institutions understand that consumers wish to conduct basic transactions and check balances on the go, hence why the average bank has taken it upon itself to create a dedicated application that enables smartphone users to pay bills and transfer funds in the palm of their hand. Yet, while mobile has undeniably altered the way financial institutions approach the customer experience, banks cannot neglect nor forget the one touchpoint that continues to retain its significance-the branch.

Branching Out

While today's newfangled technologies certainly have their place within the financial sector, consumers still value intimacy and trust that comes along with face-to-face interactions, particularly when dealing with more complex or high-value products and services. The U.S. Federal Reserve Board notes that the most common way in which consumers interact with financial institutions remains in-person at the branch, with 82 percent of customers reporting that they've visited their bank's physical location and spoken with the teller frequently in the past 12 months. ATMs account for the second most common means of access at 75 percent, while online banking comes in third at 72 percent. Though mobile banking continues to gain momentum, as previously stated, only 30 percent of consumers used this method within the last year.

One Cisco study echoes these findings, as one-third of consumers continue to visit their bank's branch frequently despite their use of alternative channels. In fact, 22 percent of those polled would switch banks if their institution of choice decided to close all branches and transition to virtual-only services. Of this subset, 82 percent actively use the available virtual banking channels, thereby underlining the belief that, while digital channels offer increased convenience, the branch still holds great value within the context of the customer relationship.

When it comes to establishing new banking accounts or expanding upon existing relationships, consumers often prefer to initiate such connections in-person via the physical branch location. Online and mobile banking provides convenience and offers new opportunities for increased engagement, but machines still have yet to replace the personalized care and concern that comes along with speaking to the bank teller or financial adviser directly. Thus, while many speculate that the branch will soon fade, this touchpoint continues to hold its own as an integral element within the omnichannel strategies of financial institutions throughout the space. How consumers interact with the branch may continue to evolve, as technology tackles basic transactions to make room for more specialized attention face-to-face. But, regardless of what changes with respect to omnichannel strategy, the need for human interaction will remain.