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By Doug Gross, CEO at NGDATA

It’s been an exciting year in the banking sector. Along with innovation being pushed along by the industry, there has also been the added pressure of regulatory change, such as the introduction of 2FA this September. In the past few years, much has been made of the potential for technologies such as blockchain, IoT and cryptocurrencies to revolutionise the industry. However, adoption and progress seem to have been slower than analyst estimates – with Accenture announcing we were close to AI critical mass back in September 2018. But could the moment finally be upon us? It seems like an ideal time to look to the future and imagine what the retail bank of the future may look like. Here are my predictions for the trends we’ll see emerging or continuing in 2020…

  1. F*ck features – innovation must equal experience

As a range of industries increasingly move towards the ‘freemium’ model, banking is no exception. 2019 was certainly another year full of exclusive premium features. From metal banking cards released by N26 and Revolut, to a high street bank releasing a fingerprint biometric card. The challenge for the financial services sector in 2020 will be to see beyond their often-gimmicky appearance and branding, to truly understand underlying customer desires. What do consumers need and how can the bank fulfill that need? This could lead to an exciting new suite of services for customers, where the bank acts as a facilitator for a range of activities outside of hardcore banking. Think of the way you currently buy tickets for public transport or find offers for specific events – banks could make these interactions less painful and more enjoyable for customers. The key will be to move from a superficial to a deeper understanding of customers in order to build the services which will hit the right note with audiences.

  1. Conversational fluency: time for bank brands to get chatty?

While marketing teams have been preoccupied with becoming omnichannel for several years now, the truth is that the consumer world is already miles ahead – becoming ‘channel neutral’. But there is nothing more jarring for the consumer than disjointed communications across channels, which belie banks’ compartmentalised approach to dealing with customers. In 2020, banks will bring down walls between the siloes of data generated by different channels and platforms. This will allow them to make the customer interactions seamless across branch, online, mobile and more. Going forward, the power to choose the channel of communication will be that of the consumer, not the bank – and they will be able to expect the same level of customer service whichever channel they choose.

  1. The financial ecosystem: banks become data vaults

As customers, we’re becoming increasingly aware of the need to protect our data. Banks are the perfect candidates to become our ‘data vaults’, becoming the central guardian of our personal data and acting as a platform to manage it and handle data transactions. Data has been called the new currency, but in the new future we can expect banks to position themselves as a trusted advisor over data as they did traditional cash and credit. This will mean a significant rethink of their business models in order to capitalise on these opportunities.  So far, open banking legislation has led to the emergence of apps like Cake which run on this premise. But with the rising adoption of technologies like machine learning and AI, in the near future banks and other financial services providers will collaborate more on building new, relevant services and democratising the availability of on-demand expert financial advice and communications. This will be part of a wider trend in which your bank will now be able to offer you goal-oriented help, rather than just new products.

  1. Profit v purpose

What marketers need to learn in 2020 is that there is indeed a business case for brand purpose in the financial services industry. Building brand loyalty in 2020 will have a foundation of authenticity and deep understanding of customers, where the customers and brands are telling stories together.

Research from Kantar Consulting has shown that consumers expect companies to exercise their influence over the world responsibly – and that when it becomes the foundation of everything a company does, that company will be more financially successful. Yes, banks offer practical services that are necessities of modern living, but likewise they need to have authentic motives in order to gain the trust of audiences who are now looking for brands across verticals to align with their own priorities and social interests.

The message to banks is clear: evolve or die. With an ever-growing number of competitors emerging from a variety of industries, from fintech to big tech, in 2020 the financial services sector will be challenged to truly show its worth to the customer by letting go of their traditional inflexible approach and focusing instead on growing their position as a trusted advisor to customers – irrespective of platform, channel, or industry.

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