Digital banking technologies and payment tools are now mainstream in the financial industry.
More than three-quarters of U.S. consumers used mobile banking applications to check their account balances in 2019, and 47.8 percent of millennial consumers have considered switching to digital-only banks.
The trend in consumers heading to online and mobile financial tools amid COVID-19-related stay-at-home orders follows a well-established pattern, but the pandemic appears to have boosted growth. Sixty-three percent of Americans report being more likely to try digital banking products right now, for example, and banks have seen rushes in online account sign-ups.
The crisis has not so much created a need for digital transformation as enhanced its necessity, Lisa Brubaker, executive vice president and chief technology officer for Delaware-based community bank WSFS Bank, told PYMNTS in a recent interview. The bank operates branches in Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and she said she was not surprised that customers switched to digital tools during the pandemic.
“[COVID-19] certainly has also expanded people’s awareness that we need to continually be vigilant and look for other opportunities to make additional investments where they are warranted,” Brubaker said. “It has given us a broader perspective on making sure we continue to look around [and] see what is happening out in the world, out in our industry.”
This digital banking focus has prodded financial institutions (FIs) to look closely at how customers are responding to digital financial and payment solutions, she added. Innovative digital tools have become critical to keeping financial entities competitive over the past several years, with many turning to partnerships with FinTechs or outside payment partners to create more personalized solutions. Exploring such technologies and how consumers are leveraging them will be critical during the pandemic as well as in its aftermath.
Highlighting Mobile’s Importance
Innovating for the future requires that FIs analyze how consumers are using their products and consider what should be done to upgrade them if and when users’ behaviors highlight their weak points. WSFS Bank is focused on helping customers conduct both routine and complex financial tasks without interacting with ATMs, which could harbor lingering germs, or speaking face-to-face with bankers during the pandemic, Brubaker said. The FI is relying on quick response (QR) codes to protect customers from COVID-19 exposure while still enabling seamless service. The feature allows users to tap a section of WSFS Bank’s mobile app to bring up QR codes that can be scanned at ATMs, preventing them from having to touch the terminals to enter their PINs.
“[The tool] does not require that [customers] use a card or actually have much contact with the ATM itself,” she said. “[Customers] snap the QR codes, the machine dispenses the money and off [they] go. We had seen a pretty good adoption of that service from our customers prior to the pandemic because it does offer additional convenience and security, but in this era, where people are hesitant to be in physical contact with things, it has certainly seen an increase.”
WSFS Bank’s myWSFS mobile messaging offering has seen similar uptake, she said. It allows customers to select bankers based on their profiles and chat with them via the app. Its QR code and chat functions use customers’ smartphones as their first points of contact — which is especially beneficial while branches remain closed during the pandemic — and draws on the knowledge that more consumers now bank across channels and still expect seamless services in each.
“Most of our customers are multichannel users,” Brubaker noted. “It is really [about] the channel of preference or convenience at the time that they are doing their transactions. I would say mobile … continues to gain more traction over online [tools] because everyone has their devices with them.”
Digital and mobile tool adoption will likely continue after the pandemic, she added, but FIs considering their future innovation plans must keep in mind that consumers tend to use multiple banking channels — including branches.
Branches’ Changing Role
WSFS Bank’s brick-and-mortar locations have seen steady use during the COVID-19 outbreak as consumers must still conduct complex financial tasks, like finalizing mortgages, in person, Brubaker said. Virtual tools such as mobile messaging can help, but they have not yet supplanted face-to-face conversations for these tasks because consumers want to sit down with financial professionals when they want advice about buying homes, she said.
The bank is still operating approximately 50 percent of its branches, but the pandemic has affected how these branches are run. All are currently drive-thru-only operations, which could indicate new trends in how consumers bank in the future.
“We are able to do a lot of the services that customers need just through the protection of the drive-thru serving as that physical barrier,” Brubaker said. “We are evaluating now what our transition back to a more open service model would look like for our banking offices when it is safe to do so, but I would say we have been surveying our customers since we have gone to the drive-thru-only arrangement, and we seem to be meeting most, if not all, of their expectations.”
It is difficult to predict how branch banking will change in the pandemic’s aftermath. Drive-thru-only banking has been particularly popular with banks during the outbreak and could lead FIs to reconsider how they interact with their customers at brick-and-mortar locations. Banks must be sure their revamped branches or products fall within consumers’ expectations, though. This could mean revising how they approach the creation of these products, with potential partnerships with digitally savvy FinTechs being one way they could put new strategies in place.
Watching which tools consumers are using during the pandemic and, more importantly, which they are leaving by the wayside is essential to determining what those banks should consider for the future.