Digital Banking

In Digital Banking Age, Personal Touch Still Matters

FinTech and Brecit

Is the branch relationship, with its face-to-face meetings, handshakes and deep knowledge of the small banking customer, dead? Not according to Urban FT EVP Glen Fossella, who sees opportunity to leverage the personal with the digital and create competitive advantages for smaller FIs.

Technology has brought transparency and speed to financial interactions, including those between banks and their customers. But must everything be at arm’s length, a technology-enabled hit-and-run where banking is ruled by apps and apps alone?


Human interaction still matters and, for some smaller players in the banking realm, can make all the difference in providing a positive experience that will keep customers in the fold.

The ideal experience, according to Glen Fossella, EVP of enterprise growth at Urban FT, melds technology with efforts to reach out to consumers on an individual level. The personal touch should be just that — personal — Fossella told PYMNTS’ Karen Webster and is one that can, and should, build upon the relationship already in place at a physical bank branch.

It may be true, said the executive, that digital banking platforms “are more efficient” than the traditional, in-person banking relationship and that consumers “may value the convenience” of technology “even it it’s not so personalized … but you still can’t confuse personal [touch] with convenience.”

Against that backdrop, the customer experience matters at small to mid-sized banks and can be a key differentiator in the customer’s mind. These banks, said Fossella, must avoid thinking that personalization in digital channels and especially mobile is “a waste of time and not important … They need a strategy and not just to roll out another banking platform” simply because other banks, and especially bigger banks, are doing so.

Smaller firms are likely already on top of their personalization efforts in a branch setting. When it comes to digital outreach, executives must get together with “product and marketing teams to think about how you are going to take that asset into other channels. Technology,” he continued, “puts things on the table, but you have to understand not just what is possible but what is important … and leveraging core competencies, especially using information about the customer, is critical.”

One way to springboard between the personal touch and technology, especially in a mobile setting, can come through social media interaction. Institutions, said Fossella, “need to participate and create content” across such platforms that are “separate from advertisements or solicitations.”

Social media is a way to open up a dialogue between the bank and its customers that is sustainable and that can give insights regarding products and services most enjoyed by users (and thus giving insight to the bank itself as to what is working and what might not be working).

As for technology itself, and as Webster termed it the assertion by some FI observers that “apps are dead” and that it’s all about the bot these days, Fossella noted that “the term ‘bot’ has been around for a long time, and I think we can dissect that to a certain extent and say that, if you start with data and you analyze that data and you can automate the actions that you take against that data, that’s essentially a bot. I’m sure there will be some technologists out there who will argue with that … but aside from a new user experience, we’re already to that point where … based on the activities of the users, we analyze and draw conclusions, and then provide content and recommendations that are more relevant to them than it would be otherwise. Is that a bot? Maybe, maybe not … Ultimately, it’s a service that is running someplace that provides capabilities” to the user.

For smaller banks, such capabilities may, in the near term, be beyond reach. However, that should not dissuade these institutions from competing strongly in digital channels. “Start with what you know about the customer,” said Fossella, “because this is a big asset that you have. Recognize that leveraging that asset is a competency because you are already doing it in the branch. Then, step back and take some time to develop a strategy that takes advantage of both [the asset and the competency].” IT budgets and resources are important, but they are not a substitute for what bankers know about their customers.



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