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Digitization provides financial services institutions (FSIs) with operational efficiencies, but companies must incorporate a “human touch” to spur customer engagement and loyalty.  Customers want fast and easy financial interactions, but also desire to be treated as human beings, not just digital bytes.  The quality of experience along the customer journey informs two-thirds of customers’ decisions (1).  FSIs can create a successful and profitable relationship for both parties by prioritizing a customer-centric and “humanized” digital experience, incorporating human interactions as needed.  Customer engagement should become a company-wide initiative, with cross-functional collaboration required for all digitization decisions.  When FSIs personalize digital channels and virtualize human channels, then customers’ transactions become quick, valuable, and satisfying experiences.


Now it’s personal

The heavy push towards digitization in the financial services industry arises from both profitability restraints and consumer demands.  Lower interest rates and new regulatory initiatives are pressuring FSIs to increase both operational efficiency and revenues.  Digital channels significantly cut down on costly and time-consuming human-to-human transactions, while boosting operational productivity and efficiency (2). Customers increasingly prefer digital channels anyways --  50% of smartphone users prefer mobile apps over calling a contact center, and 78% of US consumers prefer answers from a website rather than on the phone (3).

Customer satisfaction with digital financial services will increase with a customer-centric approach.  Every digital touchpoint creates an opportunity to mine specific customer data, which can then inform relevant offerings and next steps.  Each customer is led down a unique path formed around their past digital behaviors, preferences, and choices.  Customers expect the personalized digital experience provided by non-financial digerati.  Consumers even showed interest rates exceeding 25% for potentially switching banking services if provided by Google, Apple, Amazon, & Costco (4).  Interest was even higher for financial disruptors PayPal (41%) and Square (50%), who consumers already routinely trust with their financial data (4).  FSIs can’t just digitize; they must customize, based on a holistic view of the customer and predictive analytics.

FSIs must strike the balance between digital and human.  Over 60% of surveyed banking customers who prefer using digital channels still had recently conducted business at a branch.  Customers choose the channel that grants them the fastest, easiest, and most valuable result -- Often that’s online, but sometimes that’s in-person or over the phone.  Customer satisfaction and customer engagement drop significantly when customers can’t use their preferred channel for that transaction (7).  Financial companies must prioritize granting easy access to both digital and human channels, and ensuring that both deliver high value to the customer.


Engage customers through human interactions at relevant touchpoints.

A top desire for banking customers is easy access to advice on complex issues -- in-person, by phone, or by video (8).  Since “human interactions” are scarcer and more complex, customers expect higher quality service and more personal attention.  Companies will need more highly-trained and specialized agents that excel at customer engagement.  Legal & General, a UK investment and insurance firm, achieved better results by measuring their frontline agents on customer service quality metrics rather than sales targets (13).  Agents could focus on customers as humans rather than a quota.

Customers don’t want a requirement to speak to someone, but they want the option -- and they want it to be as fast and easy as their online user experience.   Migrate “high-touch” interactions into “Virtual touch” (10).  Investment advisors, insurance agents, and bank specialists become scalable when accessible via a digital channel, such as video-enabled ATMs and mobile video conference apps.


Explore new channels for customer engagement.

Innovation should never stop.  Continually explore new ways to integrate digital and human elements.

  • Take advantage of mobile devices’ capabilities. - Mobile video chats with an agent or advisor.  Smartphone photos to deposit checks or file insurance claims (8).   Peer-to-peer payments, mobile wallets, and self-service Virtual Agents (3).

  • Use social media as a customer engagement tool. - Customers can ask questions and voice complaints; FSIs can quickly respond to concerns and push real-time alerts. 60% of financial advisors have daily contact with clients via social media; 77% confirmed social media helps with client retention (9). Brands can establish substantial online presence.

  • Get creative with customer service. - Kindle Fire’s “MayDay” button immediately connects to an Amazon Tech advisor, who can provide advice via video and remotely draw on the user’s screen to highlight features. Average response time is 9.75 seconds (12).  Self-service tools, face-to-face agent interactions, and live screen-sharing will increase customer engagement and improve resolution time.


Embed collaboration into business processes.

As digital and human channels collide, traditional department divisions won’t work anymore.  Data analysis, personalized digital journeys, video agents -- these require the support of IT, marketing, finance, legal, and other departments.  Speed and scalability are key, so many companies are forming collaborative decision centers where cross-functional teams can brainstorm and share ideas.  Virtual meeting rooms enable real-time collaboration and faster decision-making between geographically dispersed teams.

One bank that created a “corporate center of excellence for digital marketing” expects to add more than $100 million in annual margins from their fixes and new programs (11).  McKinsey suggests forming a “scrum team” whose sole job is to bring to together the right people and tools from across the company to test and learn before determining how to scale digital initiatives (1)  FSIs need constant cross-department interactions and integrations to innovate customer engagement across all channels.



Financial services companies know they must provide digital alternatives to the traditional channels of customer interaction.  But companies must also avoid becoming purely transactional to keep their customers engaged, satisfied, and loyal.  Personal interactions becomes even more meaningful and impactful as they becomes scarcer.  Customer engagement is a balancing act between digital and human -- It’s time to humanize the digital and digitize the human.  


(1)  Van Bommel, Edwin, David Edelman, and Kelly Ungerman. “Digitizing the Consumer Decision Journey” McKinsey & Company, June 2014.

(2) “Operational Excellence in Retail Banking 2014.” BCG Perspectives, 2014.

(3)  “Digital Self-Service Goes Mobile.” IntelliResponse Systems Inc. 2014.

(4) “The Digital Disruption in Banking.” Accenture, 2014 North America Consumer Digital Banking Survey.

(5) “2014 Edelman Trust Barometer: Financial Services Industry Results.” Edelman, 2014.

(6)   Vermaas, Julian. “Consumers’ Addiction to Branch Banking Hard to Shake.” The Financial Brand: Marketing Insights for Banks & Credit Unions, 20 Nov 2013.

(7) ““High Touch or High Tech? How Consumers Prefer to Interact With Banks.” The Financial Brand: Marketing Insights for Banks & Credit Unions, 21 May 2013.

(8) Schieber, Hamutal.  “2014 Digital-Inspired Trends in Financial Services Industry.” Carmelon Digital Marketing, 6 Jan 2014.

(9)  “Closing the Gap: How Tech Savvy Advisors Can Regain Investor Trust.” Accenture, March 2013.

(10) Srinivas, Val, Sam Friedman, and Jim Eckenrode. “Mobile Financial Services: Raising the Bar on Customer Engagement.” Deloitte University Press, May 2014.

(11) Dahlström, Peter, and David Edelman. “The Coming Era of ‘on-Demand’ Marketing” McKinsey Quarterly, April 2013.

(12) Reisinger, Don. “AMazon’s Mayday button average response time is under 10 seconds.” CNET, 13 June 2014.

(13)  Nutley, Michael. “Customer Experience Is Key To Rebuilding Trust In Financial Services.”, March 20, 2014.

Humanization Issue Brief Outline

  1. Introduction (50-100 words)

    1. Title

      1. Still Human: Successful Digitization Strategies in Financial Services Require a Personal Touch

    2. Executive summary

      1. Digitization can provide Financial services institutions (FSIs) with operational efficiencies but losing sight of human focus can have a high cost in customer satisfaction and loyalty.

  2. Problem/Trends/Landscape (200-300 words)

    1. Landscape

      1. Pressure for increased operational efficiency among FSIs due to lower interest rates and new regulatory initiatives are pushing FSIs to  streamline costs and increase revenues.

      2. Competition from digerati outside FS space increase customer options.

      3. Customer loyalty is diminishing as customer expectations outpace innovation at median FSIs.

    2. Consumer preferences

      1. Customers are more willing than ever to share data in return for convenience as long as there is trust.

      2. Customers are increasingly comfortable using mobile for secure transactions.

      3. Customers prefer fastest, most valuable interaction, not necessarily always digital or always in-person.

      4. Customer satisfaction depends heavily on ability to use preferred channel.

    3. Landscape Impact on Business

      1. Ensure trust and human touch is central as we increase digital interactions.

  3. Aspirational Solution (300-400 words)

    1. Incorporate human interaction through all touch points to foster relationship and trust that may not have been built due to automating per customer preference.

    2. Deliver superior customer service via low-cost virtual touch.

    3. Embed collaboration into business processes so that internal teams can make the best decision on behalf of the customer, quickly, and efficiently.

      1. Collaborate with internal teams to digitize customer interactions that prioritize speed and accessibility.

      2. Create scalable in-person interaction opportunities to humanize customer interactions that prioritize human touch.

    4. Explore new ways to interact

      1. Mobile

        1. Apps?

      2. Social

        1. Integrated social media features to interact with clients the way they do.

        2. Brief example of delivering customer service in social.

      3. Online

        1. Incorporate a “Mayday button”

        2. Offer a technology concierge

      4. Virtual

        1. Kiosk - Ziraat Bankasi

        2. Online face-to-face customer service

        3. Direct connect to experts - anytime

    5. Shorten problem detection, analysis and resolution time frames.

  4. Closing (50-100 words)

    1. Issue brief summary

    2. Closing remarks