Banking providers around the world are helping millions of people and small businesses manage tremendous financial uncertainty amid COVID-19. Some have risen to the challenge with remarkable ingenuity, but this crisis has shown us how customer needs could change unexpectedly, underscoring the need for all financial services providers to accelerate digital transformation.

The success of Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and IT departments in the banking industry is critical to delivering the financial support that’s so desperately needed to withstand the economic impacts of COVID-19.

As technology leaders seek to digitise and connect the systems, processes and key channels that support increased customer demand, they should use these three guiding principles to ensure their banks remain a source of financial support and trusted advice in trying times.

1. Use API-led connectivity to digitise and scale lending operations

Lending operations have been front and centre in the US banking industry’s response to COVID-19, with banks now racing to digitise and connect processes that enable them to handle everything from mortgage refinancing inquiries to loan forbearance requests.

Perhaps nowhere is the need for digital transformation more evident than with the US banking industry’s effort to administer the government Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans for small businesses – banks faced 14 years’ worth of loan applications in 13 days.

Yet, their front-end intake portals often lacked connectivity to the back-end document management and loan origination systems that processed the loans. To make matters worse, there were common integration challenges with a key government system known as E-Tran, which is required for guaranteeing the loans.

These pain points emphasise the need for greater connectivity across internal bank systems, as well as external partner systems. With an API-led approach, banks can deliver the level of integration required to solve these immediate challenges while future-proofing their lending operations, so they’re able to handle change more effectively in the months and years ahead.

By wrapping APIs around back-end loan origination systems, banks can expose their data and functionality into modern digital channels. This enables straight-through processing of loan applications received through web portals or mobile apps. Moreover, an API-led approach allows for reuse across other channels, such as chatbots and voice assistants, that may be used to accept loan applications in the future. The same goes for different lending products, such as mortgages and auto loans.

2. Deliver targeted relief faster with a single customer view

Banks can administer assistance and advice outside lending faster and more intelligently with a single view of the customer.

Rather than waiting for customers whose income has been impacted by COVID-19 to reach out and ask for assistance, for example, banks can proactively notify them about their options for deferred payments or fee waivers if they detect interruptions in monthly direct deposits. 

They can use predictive analytics to assess the likelihood customers who require assistance waiving overdraft fees will also require loan forbearance. Loan officers can proactively work with borrowers on their payment plans, strengthening the customer relationship and the bank’s ability to forecast and manage risk.

To deliver this type of experience, banks need a single view of the customer across front-line employees, marketing programs and mid-office functions such as risk and underwriting. To get there, they must integrate back-end systems like core banking with front-end systems like customer relationship management (CRM) and marketing automation. 

Putting APIs in front of core banking systems enables banks to use transactional data such as direct deposits to trigger marketing journeys, or to suggest that relationship managers offer specific types of assistance. This accelerates and improves the precision of banks’ relief efforts.

3. Double down on digital banking and payments capabilities

Banks should enhance their digital capabilities for managing and moving money.

Back in 2017, 57% of US customers expected to be able to open a bank account in less than an hour and 46% performed the majority of their routine financial transactions online or via mobile apps. With branch access limited during COVID-19, these digital capabilities became even more essential for helping people manage their finances.

Connectivity across front-end, back-end and external systems is a prerequisite for providing a frictionless and fully functional digital banking experience. Digital channels need to be integrated with core banking systems and know-your-customer/anti-money-laundering services to allow for fully digital account openings. Rather than integrating systems point-to-point, APIs securely expose core banking functionality anywhere customers want to open accounts or perform transactions — via web portals, mobile apps, voice assistants and more.

Banks should use this moment to offer customers access to modern transaction capabilities such as mobile wallets and credit/debit push payments. These tools help customers transact when their cash usage declines. These capabilities depend on a secure and well-governed approach to consuming internal APIs and third-party APIs from the likes of major payment networks.

For example, to help small businesses make up for the loss of in-person sales, one high-tech financial services provider is helping merchants by processing payments for free through its ecommerce platform. MuleSoft is powering the connectivity between Salesforce and the company’s order management system to ensure merchants have visibility into their supply chains and know orders will arrive on time.

Accelerate the transition to connected banking

Many banking CIOs were already embracing connectivity before COVID-19. But the crisis has revealed the urgency of this. As banks prioritise helping customers with urgent financial needs, an API-led approach serves as the foundation for lasting improvements in operational efficiency and customer relationships.

To find out more about how COVID-19 is changing the future of financial services, and how leading banks are proactively transforming, watch all 25 sessions from Salesforce Live for Financial Services on-demand now.