Digital-First: Meeting Customers Where They Are

By Tina Giorgio

We live in an age where almost
nine in 10 U.S. households own a smartphone, making it the second-most owned technology device after television sets. 

When it comes to financial services, almost 63 percent of the U.S. population uses digital banking. So, as a community bank, if you are not employing — or at least considering — a digital-first strategy for your customers, you should be.

What Constitutes Digital First

A digital-first banking strategy is a robust and comprehensive effort to digitize the customer experience. It starts with thinking of the digital experience as the primary way to interact with your customers; the in-person or phone customer service experience comes secondary.

A digital-first strategy is a shift away from solely focusing on traditional channels for banking interactions, such as in-branch services. Research predicts that by 2022, 88 percent of all banking interactions will be mobile. These shifts constitute a need for a corresponding transition in our thinking.

But it’s also about innovation. Consumers are clamoring for more innovative products and services. To that point, research shows that “better online/mobile banking services” is one of the top three reasons consumers would actually switch banks. Enter digital innovation, which can help position your community bank as the preferred institution for consumers’ financial services’ needs.

Ultimately, customer experience reigns supreme when considering a digital-first approach. In an era where recommendations are made based on purchase trends, there’s a new level of expectation of what technology enables.

In fact, 40 percent of banking customers listed more personalized service as a reason to switch financial institutions. By leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning, community banks can learn about customer behaviors and create the experiences they desire.

Digital First, Not Digital Only

While consumers are moving towards an environment dominated by digital, they still value face-to-face interactions—particularly in complex situations. In fact, 79 percent of consumers prefer to visit the branch for major transactions, such as a home loan, and 60 percent want to visit their branch when they have a banking problem. So, it’s not about abandoning traditional channels, but enhancing them in a more digital way.

For instance, allowing consumers to book appointments in advance via a mobile device supports the digital-first nature of today’s consumers, enhances the customer experience by decreasing wait times, all while preserving their desire to have face-to-face interactions with branch staff on important financial topics.

With a high-tech, high-touch philosophy firmly in place, community banks already address many of today’s digital needs. By adopting a digital-first strategy, community banks speak to three audiences: today’s digital adopters, tomorrow’s growing digital users, and those customers who prefer that in-person or phone-centric experience. In short, thinking digital first is a win-win-win across all audiences for community banks.

For help getting started with a digital-first approach, be sure to check out ICBA Bancard’s Digital Payments Strategy Tool and GuideTM.

 Tina Giorgio Tinas Take

Tina Giorgio is president and CEO of ICBA Bancard.
[email protected]  • @tnagiorgio