The hottest topic in banking for the past few years has been digital transformation. Regulations remain unpredictable and economic conditions are uncertain, but the importance of digital connectivity continues to grow.
As Senior Vice President and General Manager of Financial Services at Salesforce, I lead the company’s strategy in the banking, wealth management, and insurance sectors. Throughout the year, I meet with hundreds of our customers around the world to understand the opportunities and challenges they face, as well as the short- and long-term trends taking place in the financial services industry.
Last year, we heard from almost every one of our banking customers about the ongoing significance of digital transformation. Open banking regulations pushed ahead in Europe and Australia. Banks acquired fintechs, and fintechs moved closer to banking. Mature financial institutions continued announcing new digital products such as robo-advisors.
In 2019, this whirlwind of developments will continue to gain speed. I believe we’ll see banks take digital transformation a step further by focusing on providing holistic financial experiences to their customers. Digital will be viewed as more than just an app or website — it will be the foundation for an entirely new way of engaging banking customers.
I believe these three trends will shape banks’ digital transformations in 2019:
1. Customers — not products — will be at the center of banks’ business processes
Banks embracing digital transformation will recognize that customer-centric business processes are critical for success. This goes beyond just technology to encompass team incentives, talent, and trust.
For example, banks will begin thinking about growth through the lens of customer journeys rather than product sales. This will involve a balance of automation and empathetic human experiences — journeys may begin in a self-service digital channel but end with an in-person interaction featuring a banker or advisor in the branch. Connecting these digital and physical touchpoints is key for a seamless experience, and employees need to be empowered with the right skills and tools to help customers progress on their financial life journeys regardless of channel.
In addition, trust and security will remain paramount. Customers will expect that banks continue to safeguard their finances, which means it's essential that banks avoid missteps such as Robinhood's botched launch of a “checking and savings” account that lacked proper deposit insurance.
Furthermore, regulations such as GDPR will require transparency into how banks and partners leverage customer data. Ongoing controversies around how Facebook and others shared customer data with partners will only heighten the importance of data privacy in 2019.
But banks should continue to have ample data at their disposal to power holistic banking experiences. The “2017 Accenture Financial Services Global Distribution & Marketing Consumer Study: Banking Report” found that 67% of customers are willing to give more personal data if it means more tailored service or advice. This will provide opportunities for banks to optimize the customer experience and deliver fully personalized banking through AI.
2. Ecosystems will be the key to holistic financial experiences
Banks recognize they cannot provide holistic financial experiences on their own. They need to cultivate an ecosystem of partners to be present throughout customers' lives at each moment of financial need.
The evolving role of financial technology firms (fintechs) in financial services is a great example of this trend, and it was on prominent display when Salesforce participated in the 2018 Singapore FinTech Festival.
In 2016, the majority of exhibitors at the festival were fintechs. At the time, mature financial institutions viewed fintechs as competition. Then at the 2017 festival, major financial institutions began exhibiting with fintechs, viewing them as partners rather than competitors.
The 2018 Singapore FinTech Festival was a fascinating transformation: banks were exhibiting their own open platforms, illustrating how they’ve moved from competing against fintechs to actively nurturing fintech ecosystems. The future was clearly on display — regulators, financial institutions, and fintechs all working together.
3. Banks will partner with the broader consumer services ecosystem
The trend toward ecosystems will only become more pronounced as banks go beyond fintech and begin to partner with industries such as healthcare, insurance, and retail.
This is already happening through partnerships such as the joint healthcare initiative that JP Morgan Chase, Amazon, and Berkshire Hathaway announced last year.
For an idea of what this will look like, we can turn to China where companies such as WeChat and Ping An are transcending traditional industry boundaries through a combination of in-house innovation and partnerships.
For example, WeChat began as a mobile messaging platform and has since evolved into a leading financial services provider offering peer-to-peer payments, financial advice, and even insurance products. Among the other things you can do with the app: schedule doctor appointments, pay traffic fines, and book transportation. WeChat now has 1 billion monthly active users, 60% of whom open the app more than 10 times a day.
Ping An is another remarkable example of industry convergence. China's largest insurer with $94 billion in premium revenue, Ping An also has a fintech incubation arm that has spawned companies such as Ping An Good Doctor and Ping An Healthcare And Technology. The former is a healthcare portal with over 30 million monthly active users, and the latter is a mobile app for booking hospital visits used by 800 million customers across 70% of cities in China according to Forbes.
I believe banks will make it their resolution in the new year to connect with every customer on a human level, rather than on the basis of a particular product, process, or channel. Regardless of digital maturity, banking leaders will work towards this goal by cultivating the right skills and establishing the right structure and incentives for their teams while making smart technology investments. The banks that are further along in their digital transformation will continue to expand and cultivate ecosystems that encompass fintech innovators and partners from other industries. All the while, trust, transparency, and data security will remain paramount.