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By Andrew Warren, Head of Banking & Financial Services, UK&I at Cognizant

There has long been a paradox at the heart of the financial sector – customer loyalty remains high despite overall trust in the banking system being very low. In any other sector, low trust would lead customers looking for services elsewhere. Generally, however, the major banks have been able to retain their clients despite, rather than because of, trust.

This customer loyalty does not always pay, with research suggesting consumers could be overpaying by £2.9bn in areas such as mobile, broadband, home insurance, as well as, notably, mortgages and savings. Whether the result of customer lethargy, lack of awareness of the possible cost savings or low expectations of the service banks provide, this has encouraged complacency in the banking sector.

This could, however, change as our post-pandemic reality begins to bite. People may have used the extra time from the lack of a commute to do some research and shop around for better alternatives, as well as harbouring frustrations over a perceived lack of support in recent months. Coupled with the possibility of a period of negative interest rates, we could soon be heading towards a perfect storm, where both retail giants and small local businesses start to question the value their banks actually provide.

Switching has never been easier

One viable reason for the supposed loyalty consumers have towards the major banks has been the lack of real alternatives. With all of the traditional high street institutions offering services that were largely interchangeable, switching services seemed more effort than was really worth it when perceived benefits were so minimal. However, this changed with the arrival in recent years of challenger banks such as Monzo, Starling and Revolut, which continue to grow in popularity due to ease of use and better customer experience from sign-up through to their intuitive apps.

The primary advantage of the big banks is their liquidity, historical reputations and longstanding customer base. However, the agility and user-friendliness of the challengers is shifting the landscape, and the continued reliance on legacy systems leaves the traditional players struggling to surpass, or in most cases match, the innovative services and products fintechs are able to bring to the market.

Modernising to meet new customer expectations

As personalisation and smooth technological integration in other sectors, such as retail, raises expectations of similar offerings across all service industries, this could soon become a key battleground for banks.

Andrew Warren

Andrew Warren

With the challengers currently looking better equipped to respond to these consumer needs, here are some of the steps banks can take to modernise their offerings and retain customers’ loyalty:

  • Understanding people, not just the data – the financial sector has long favoured data science in its behavioural analysis. Almost anyone can understand basic data; it is how semiotic algorithms can be used alongside this that will reveal real insights that can be used simply to help understand people better, their fears, their hopes and their aspirations.
  • Bringing the customer journey into 2021 – the lockdown has, by necessity, modified and in some cases accelerated, many of the established habits of both individuals and businesses. These range from an increased adoption of cashless payments, to remote working, the propensity for saving vs investing, attitudes towards fraud and risk appetite, and loyalty. As a result, some customer journeys, which had become the cornerstone of banks’ or lenders’ strategies, will now need to be adapted. For example, products, pricing and customer treatment strategies will need to be updated, and the entire value-chain of customer touchpoints should be digitally enabled. Financial institutions will now need to ensure speed and quality of their response to this change.
  • Embracing innovation – the systemic advantage the big banks have over more agile challengers is in liquidity access. It is an advantage that potentially will be scrutinised in the COVID-19 enquiries we can expect to see in the near future, particularly around the provision of the various governmental support schemes and loans for which these big banks initially had responsibility. As that advantage then reduces, the need for real innovation grows. This means building business models and deploying technology that can deliver value and differentiation. For example, the major banks have more channels than their digital-only counterparts and, therefore, more data to draw on. The result is a better focus on customer journeys, with modern cloud-based data management platforms central to this. The quantity and detail of data can play in banks’ favour, allowing constant ongoing improvements to customer communications and simplifying self-service options in an increasingly remote world. It is important that banks continue to ensure they are thinking outside the box and keeping pace with other industries that are innovating in their response to the pandemic.
  • Getting personal – technology is already helping to speed up processes and improve self-service banking operations, particularly with predictive and smart decision-making through AI and ML. The advanced use of chatbots is an example, along with increasing tailored content and interfaces in apps and on digital platforms. However, the end goal is personalisation across the whole customer journey, not only through technology but also call centre operatives who still form a critical role in trouble shooting and need an up-to-date view of the customer in order to be able to do their job. Technology can also help analyse how these human interactions can then become more personalised.

The major banks retain a crucial position in UK society for the support and confidence they offer their customers. However, as in so many other sectors, the coronavirus pandemic could come to be seen as a watershed moment in their evolution. With the challengers continuing to gain momentum, banks certainly cannot afford to stand still. It is the ability to have a data- and technology-driven approach, as outlined here, that can help them retain their dominance and justify customer loyalty now lockdown is beginning to lift. Should they fail to do so, we may find ourselves in a very different landscape than we do today. By focusing on the steps above, banks will start to level out the playing field.

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