You might switch up the place you shop for clothes, groceries or the latest gadget, but we usually choose a financial institution in the hopes of a long, loyal relationship. 

Some of us still have a bank account that was set up when we were children. We might choose the same financial institution to apply for a car loan, a mortgage and savings accounts for our children’s education. It’s far easier when we don’t have to change the firm with which we got our life insurance, or which set up our investment portfolio.

At the same time, nobody wants to stay in a customer relationship when the experience suffers. This can take the form of long waits in line at a branch, a slew of irrelevant marketing offers or fees that get raised without a clearly-communicated rationale. 

While Canada’s banking sector is less fragmented than elsewhere, there is plenty of competition among the top five institutions. 

There are also alternative financial services firms such as credit unions who are just as ready to differentiate themselves by the unique experience they offer. And let’s not forget the many different insurance firms, independent financial advisors and even “robo-advisers” that offer investment opportunities via an app.

Many of these businesses have been working hard over the last few years to think deeply about the journey their customers take with them, and how to improve it. Some of their innovative ideas have included open concept branches with more of an informal, almost cafe-style atmosphere. Others have focused on making it easier to conduct transactions or manage accounts online, even using a smartphone. 

COVID-19 has only increased the urgency for financial institutions to make their customer experience the easiest and most flexible it can possibly be. 

If you’re a Canadian small and medium-sized business (SMB), it pays to study the financial services sector for ideas on how to do the same, because this is where a lot of customer expectations first manifest themselves. 

What you’ll probably notice is:

Trust Is earned through personalization

A bank associate would know better than to talk to a pair of senior citizens about a new loan program to get their “starter home.” In digital channels, though, you don’t always get to see what customers look like. Even in physical encounters, it’s best not to make blanket assumptions about customer needs based on appearances.

The financial institutions who enjoy the highest levels of customer loyalty make sure personalization is the cornerstone of how they market themselves and develop relationships over time. That means they make sure to ask smart questions (either in person or through surveys online) at any opportunity so they can get to know customers better. 

As a result, customers can enjoy an insurance policy tailored to their particular needs and risk profile. A credit union can suggest retirement savings plans that take into account a customer’s budget and everyday expenses. A wealth manager can recommend investments based on the customer’s desired rate of return. 

Personalization doesn’t just have to happen in terms of the marketing a financial institution does, however. Service and support operations also have to offer the capabilities to recognize customers. It’s the best way to ensure customers will feel confident that they have their money with the right organizations. 

Remote and self-service options should be standard

There was no getting around the need to wait in line for a teller . . . until banks came up with ATMs. 

You simply had to come into a branch to deposit a cheque . . . until the ability to take a picture of it and upload it online was conceived. 

It was too risky to manage your money through a mobile app . . . until financial institutions beefed up security mechanisms. 

There may always be customers who continue to prefer traditional customer experiences in financial services, but today you need alternatives, too. Customers want  the choice of whether to come into a physical location to talk about their finances. 

They want the ability to see account information at a glance and to manage much of it on their own. Cloud computing is making this possible in finance, just as it does  everywhere else. 

Expect to see customers and their financial institutions to move even further into remote and self-service interactions in the years to come. This could include areas such as getting financing for a loan to start their own business, changing their insurance beneficiaries and more. 

Autonomous finance is the most efficient finance

The world is beginning to see self-driving cars, so why not financial systems that can reliably predict what customers want and to serve them accordingly? 

If a customer manually makes an e-transfer to pay a bill every month, for example, why wouldn’t you offer the ability to have it happen automatically? 

Artificial intelligence has already transformed business areas such as sales, marketing and customer service.  There’s no reason financial institutions can’t harness those technologies to create rich customer experiences. 

By making better use of the data they already have on hand, financial institutions will be able to immediately move on their customers’ behalf when an investment opportunity arises, or if they need to reallocate funds as part of a savings strategy. 

A lot of autonomous finance will also take place behind the scenes, removing a lot of the repetitive tasks that take up a lot of employee’s time. Customers may not realize what’s going on, but they’ll appreciate it when they want to have a human interaction and employees can devote the time and attention they deserve. 

Financial institutions often have considerable resources to improve the customer experiences they offer, but many of the tools they’re using are well within the reach of all kinds of organizations, including SMBs. 

Think about how you can use personalization, remote and self-service capabilities and automation to be as dynamic as the finance sector, and get ready to see the positive financial impact on your bottom line.