Approaching digital banking in the new post-COVID world order

News & Publications

By Denis Kalemberg, CEO and co-founder, Airome Technologies | Friday, August 14, 2020, 1:20 PM Asia/Singapore

Three schools of thought; one emergent winner. Banks may need to review their strategy to capture and hold their transformed customers

In the development of remote digital channels for its customers these days, a bank can choose one of the three most common strategies: the classic remote services path, the ‘mobile first’ approach, and the ‘mobile-only’ paradigm.

These strategies generally correspond to the approaches formulated by Internet resources and cloud services developers. Let us consider each strategy, the arguments that favor selection by banks to serve RBS clients, and try to understand which of them will prevail in the financial market in the nearest future.

Harmony in digital channels

The “classic” remote services strategy implies the simultaneous and harmonious development of online and mobile banking. The strategy of simultaneously and uniformly developing online and mobile banking is typical for banks with an extensive remote-customer service history.

Broadly speaking, remote banking services (RBS) channels in these banks formed gradually: from ‘classical’ online banking to ‘innovative’ mobile banking, which gained demand when mobile Internet access started its widespread inception.

Typically, banks have been accumulating remote-banking expertise over the years in the course of a continuous systematic development process. For a time, a mobile application was kind of a limited-capabilities ‘add-on’ to online banking. However, in recent years the situation has changed. In view of this, the beginning of the era of mobile banking has become an additional impetus for digital channels to increase the capabilities of mobile users: a new approach to presenting information, a new approach to accessing the functionality of the system itself, to ensuring a high level of its ergonomics and transaction security.

At the same time, the development of online banking has not stopped either. The system for ‘classic’ RBS clients, both for legal entities and individuals, has continued to incorporate the most innovative solutions and technologies that are also in demand by mobile users. In particular, banks have started to actively use mobile signatures to confirm transactions and sign digital documents.

Mobility above all

The ‘mobile first’ strategy assumes optimization of digital channels foremost for mobile device users, and only then (on a ‘residual’ basis) for laptop and desktop users.

The trend towards the transition of digital banking services to mobile applications has become so obvious that it is no longer necessary to provide extensive statistics to justify it. According to a number of EU banks, at the end of 2019, the ratio of customers using a mobile application ranged from 58% to 72%, and during Q1 2020, that figure had increased and reached 82%.

This quite understandable: mobile banking simplifies customer access and self-help in managing their financial needs. In turn, the bank receives a sharp increase in the number of contacts with a customer, and enjoys increased brand loyalty and the opportunities to sell new services.

Thus, mobile banking has become not a whim, but one of the key conditions for the existence of not only the bank’s retail business, but also for the corporate segment (at least its Small-to-Medium-sized Enterprise SME segment), whose representatives use mobile devices most of all.

At the same time, the development of ‘classical’ online banking has been slowed down (if not suspended)—the priority of projects in this direction has dropped. Banks have begun to not only ‘bring up’ the capabilities of mobile users to high levels of online banking use, but have also placed a bet on these users identifying them as their key customers.

“Nothing but mobility!”

The ‘mobile only’ strategy (only for mobile-based Internet access) is a simplified case of the previous strategy, where resources for the Internet banking development cease to be allocated at all.

Over time, the so-called “Neobanks” have appeared on the market, which have developed mobile banking to the point of completely abandoning the web version of their digital channels, leaving only a mobile application to interact with their audience.

In a sense, this is a logical decision, given that customers of ‘officeless’ organizations are most often young people who are used to solving all their issues via a smartphone. In an attempt to get these customers, Neobanks did not try to catch up with their competitors with ‘traditional’ RBS, but, on the contrary, began to set the rules in a new and actively-developing segment of mobile banking where everyone was on equal terms, and where ‘youth’ and ‘assertiveness’ could beat ‘experience’.

It was a deliberate and well-thought-out choice that was named “Mobile Only”. This strategy really works for the young segments, but if you expand the sample, it turns out that not all customers want to be limited in the ways they want to access their bank assets.

What strategy works NOW?

So, what has the pandemic period shown? Data from the largest EU banks indicate a trend in Q2 2020 on slowing down the ‘flow’ of customers from online banking to mobile banking, or even some ‘revival’ of customer interest in online banking. All banks have their own statistics, but the same trend has emerged for many banks. What is the reason for this?

On the one hand, the availability of a wider range of devices has had a significant impact. At home, when people have a laptop or desktop with a large monitor at hand, many bank customers prefer to use them. Tentatively speaking, if bank customers are ‘in constant motion’, then they most likely will not even turn on a laptop (not to mention a desktop computer). But if they are already within a ‘home office’, then they are more likely to choose to access their online bank using a large monitor.

Conversely, experts argue that this continued interest in online banking is due to the different functionalities of online and mobile banking, as well as the different tasks tackled by customers. Once desktops or laptops became more accessible to users, these differences became immediately visible.

Consider: Mobile banking simplifies ‘atomic’ periodically-repeating actions that are compactly and conveniently presented to customers on their smartphone screen: payments and purchases, transfers, or viewing balances. At the same time online banking helps customers solve more complex tasks that require more data to be reflected and analyzed: studying the bank’s personalized offers, choosing loan and investment options, viewing statistics and planning, or performing complex operations that require checking a large number of details (e.g., currency transfers).

What conclusion should be drawn, and how can a bank determine its strategy for the further development of its digital channels?

First, a developed mobile application is a must! It ensures commitment and loyalty of the most active and promising share of customers—private users and SME representatives—those who will determine the state of the economy in the near future.

Second, and at the same time, it is necessary to have developed online banking channels. Nevertheless, it is a desktop or laptop that provides users with the highest level of convenience in working with analytical information and the most complete set of opportunities for managing account funds.

Thus, the strategy of ‘harmonious’ development of digital channels for servicing the bank’s customers has now unexpectedly become the most promising one. This also brings to the forefront such issues as system-functionality completeness, clear development plans, usability, high-quality user support, the promptness of deployment and launch of innovative financial and related services, as well as ensuring the safety of user actions.