Digital Perspectives

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February 27, 2018
Frictionless banking experiences: Why it’s time for financial services to heed Steve Jobs’ call
By: Becky Skiles

For years now, I’ve been promised that my fridge would have a smart chip in it and I’d no longer have to order my own groceries. Well, we’re not there yet. But the combination of an Alexa, a dash button and an online grocery app on my phone do finally bring me close to that reality.

And what about my money? Why is my refrigerator and my grocery company more attuned to my needs than my bank and my insurers? My bank still turns off my bank card every time I go abroad (even though it knows I bought a plane ticket for travel on the same day, and a glass of champagne at the lounge at Heathrow). I still have to fill in a dozen or more paper forms to apply for a mortgage–and then provide the same information all over again when the mortgage application is completed so the bank can try to sell me life, or home, or contents insurance.

Why hasn’t my bank delivered on the promise of digital in the same way other services have? I can click two buttons on my phone and get a car to take me wherever I want to go, completely frictionless. I still have no idea however, if I have enough money set aside every month in my pension to retire to a villa in the Caribbean, or if setting my sights on a 1-bedroom apartment in Spain is more realistic.

When it comes to digital, it appears that some of the most important challenges have yet to be cracked. Of course, many of the high-street banks are working on this. They’re (at least partly) driven by the knowledge that if they don’t come up with a real digital experience, there are literally thousands of FinTechs ready and waiting to bridge this experience gap and start eating away at their business margins.

Banks are only one part of my financial well being, what about insurance companies? I If an online grocer knows that I’m out of milk, and Hive knows that I’ve walked out of my house, my insurance provider should be able to know that my boiler is about to go on the fritz, or to warn me that the water pump’s about to spring a leak. Or even better, turn itself off and notify the nearest emergency plumber to sort it out for me. P.S., insurance companies, if you’re listening, I’d be willing to pay extra for that!

For now, most insurers are focusing their efforts on finding ways to speed up the claims process. A noble goal, but an aspiration that falls short of offering a dramatically different experience. I think there’s an opportunity here to change the conversation entirely; don’t help me around the edges, but protect my future and help me live a more confident financial life. So we must ask why? Why isn’t anyone turning the conversation on its ear?

Well there are loads of reasons, of course. Simply put, it’s very hard to do. There are a lot of risks and regulations that need to be managed. A host of legacy issues, both technology and cultural, mean that this is a huge challenge; but whatever the reasons, these organisations need to have their own Uber moment, soon.

Steve Jobs urged humans to "think different" when Apple launched the first iMac. Grammatical infelicity aside, it’s good advice. If they’re going to embrace innovation, financial services businesses need to act and think differently. But how will they need to think and act differently around innovation and/or diversity and inclusion and/or embracing technology and risk?

What does all this mean for the next generation of leaders and thinkers? These are the people, after all, who will really drive disruption. How can they be attracted into industry sectors (particularly insurance and capital markets) that many of them neither understand nor find interesting?

What are the implications, both good and bad, for customers? How can banks and insurers meet the needs of people with such varying levels of financial and technology savviness? These are all big questions. Financial services companies need to start thinking about their answers. Fast.

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