Most consumers look at banking as a time-consuming chore. They have many options to choose from and their loyalty can be fickle, making onboarding and engagement challenging.
That’s why Bank of the West is not trying to think like a bank at all, said Hisham Salama, the bank’s executive vice president and head of digital channels. Bank of the West is instead using data and a focus on payments to craft an experience centered around what consumers really want: simplicity.
“Banks are trying to mimic other banks [on mobile],” Salama said in a recent interview with PYMNTS. “We had this realization, from a digital perspective … that in three years, if we’re being compared to banking apps and we’re comparing ourselves to other banking apps, we’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere.”
The bank uses data and tailored consumer personas to hold customers’ attentions, achieving a level of satisfaction that will keep them engaged.
Customer Service and the Importance of Payments
Crafting detailed, insight-driven, customer-facing services in the age of mobile banking means accepting that customer satisfaction doesn’t always come from new capabilities, Salama said. This doesn’t mean banks can afford to be complacent, however, as many customers are used to seeing the same features in every digital banking app.
“When we start looking at banks as a whole, the products are commoditized – everyone has Zelle, everyone’s got a checking account, everyone’s got credit cards and loans,” he said.
The trick to standing out is not to focus on the experience on the products, but rather on how customers are using those products, Salama noted. One prime example is payments, where customer behavior has changed drastically over the last decade.
“When you actually start breaking down why people are using banks today, my belief is that it’s centered around the payment experience. It’s centered around these social moments of, ‘I need to pay my friend 20 bucks for the concert ticket last weekend,’” Salama said, adding that P2P solutions like Venmo have changed chore-like payments into a social activity. “What we always forget is, what’s behind that payment? It is a checking account? The fact that you carry a Venmo balance is one thing, but at some point, when you cash out, it is going to that checking account.”
Bank of the West’s digital experience is centered around payments and innovating the simplest products, such as its fee-free checking account or real-time payments with Zelle, to better appeal to today’s customers. Members of the mobile-first Generation Z are representing larger shares of banks’ customer bases, making engaging payment experiences all the more important. This is where Bank of the West’s level of customer service becomes a critical differentiator.
“[Members of Generation Z] have mobile payments [in] virtually every app they’re using,” Salama said. Banks are not just competing against other FIs for this age group’s attention, but also against social apps like Facebook Messenger.
“I don’t see payments exiting the hierarchy of needs for our customers. I believe they’re going to stay right at the top for the foreseeable future,” he noted. “[So], how do we have an engaging digital property where consumers go, ‘Wow this doesn’t feel like a bank, this feels like the other digital properties I’m used to using and, by the way, it’s solving an immediate need for me.’”
Meeting that need will be key to competing as the digital banking ecosystem becomes more saturated with third-party players.
Customer Engagement and the Future of Digital Banking
FIs like Bank of the West will need to further differentiate their digital banking experiences as the space grows, and as consumers start to ask for mobile support for complex financial decisions like loans or mortgage applications.
“Consumer demand to do virtually everything on mobile … has never been higher,” Salama stated.
Customer engagement on mobile will grow more essential to banks as time goes on, especially as most consumers still consider banking and finance to be time-consuming chores. Perhaps the key here, as Bank of the West believes, is to trick consumers into thinking they’re not banking in the first place.