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Beyond the Device — What Digital Really Means

By Carrie Nelson

Banks continue to prioritize digital when planning and creating budgets for the future. While almost all banks are now putting serious consideration into digital, the most successful institutions are realizing that digital is not just an experience on a device but rather a strategy that must be promoted and adopted across the organization.

As digital becomes the primary litmus test against which customers judge their banks, institutions must reevaluate and adjust their approach to digital to align departments, responsibilities and priorities. Just as banks have branch managers, there is now a need for banks to have a digital executive, someone with decision making power that can manage and take command of the institution’s digital strategy.

Establishing a digital strategy across the organization

Too often, banks approach digital as a tactic instead of a strategy. If digital is defined and executed differently in various areas of the bank, potentially damaging inconsistencies are created. Separate technology platforms, branding and hierarchy for each division is costly and complex for the bank, and often causes confusion to the customer.

Digital should instead be unified across all divisions, including consumer, business, treasury, lending, etc. When all bank employees across the organization are on the same page about what the overarching digital strategy is, how it impacts customer service and what that means for organizational structure, the institution is more likely to excel. The same technology platform should be leveraged to ensure the customer and employee experiences are consistent and intuitive. Such an approach establishes familiarity and a unified brand while even creating economies of scale.

For example, a regional bank recently found success by aligning nearly 20 different operational departments into a singular digital team to encourage wider collaboration. The number of employees involved in the bank’s digital effort was increased ten-fold — much of which was not incremental headcount but redeploying existing expertise and talent to focus on the initiative. The bank also deployed a new co-located, open concept workplace environment to ensure more open communication among employees and customers and found a digital banking platform provider that could support its digital transformation and provide an enhanced customer experience. Since aligning and unifying digital, the bank has experienced a substantial increase in peak digital banking volume usage, e-bill subscribers and number of accounts opened through digital channels.

Assigning a digital executive

While this unification sounds great in theory, there needs to be someone responsible for ensuring all of this actually happens. Promoting digital across the bank is most successful when the institution designates a senior-level employee with decision making power to take ultimate ownership of a bank’s digital strategy. Too often, digital is lumped into the responsibilities of a chief technology officer or chief information officer, roles that already have a long list of competing priorities to manage. Digital must have its own advocate, or banks risk letting this paramount aspect of their business fall to the back burner.

The digital executive is responsible for considering the customers’ voice and determining how to mine and actionably leverage the large amounts of data financial institutions have access to. The executive must think about the current state of digital, as well as plan for what the next five, 10 years hold. All products across the branch, not just mobile and online banking, must be evaluated on how they fit into future consumer expectations and preferences.

Think of brands like Facebook, Google and Starbucks that do digital really well — they don’t just view digital in the context of a device, but they incorporate the concepts into retail spaces, employee experiences and all interactions. They have leaders who rally employees around the idea of digital, and properly plan for the digital future.

Shattering the illusion

A common misconception is that digital is as simple as an app on a phone, and once a digital platform is selected and implemented, the work ends. This is only a fraction of the overall picture. A bank’s digital strategy must be viewed holistically across all divisions and departments, and then continuously evaluated and tweaked.

Competition in the financial industry will only become more intense as more banks realize the importance of fully committing to a digital transformation and designating leaders to lead this effort. By creating a workplace environment that prioritizes digital and incorporates an established strategy across the organization, banks will be better positioned to succeed in the digital future.

Carrie Nelson is senior vice president support and services, D3 Banking Technology.

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