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Financial Services must redefine its purpose for new-era customers – here’s how


“This is the time, if there is any time, to start flexing our innovation muscle. Breakthroughs are happening because COVID has driven different behaviours in the industry. We really need to push and challenge ourselves to do more.”

This is how Jamie Patel, Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at American Century Investments, summarized the gauntlet that coronavirus has thrown down to the financial services sector.

She was speaking as part of an expert panel on Fundamental Shifts in Financial Services and Products at the seventh edition of the 2020 Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) Innovation Forum, held by video link.

Panellists were united in their views that the outbreak of coronavirus had accelerated many trends that had already been underway dramatically – whether it was video consultations, cashless payments, online transactions or straight-through-processing.

The core of the panel discussion focused on how the financial services, insurance and banking sectors can take this momentum forward to reinvent themselves.

Changing customer preferences

For an industry built on personal interactions and consulting, financial services’ swift digital transition has been surprisingly well-accepted by customers.

“Not only did digital adoption rise, but we have also seen an increase in customer satisfaction and in the number of customers leaving feedback on digital journeys, with very positive commentary around ease and speed of transaction. 96% of respondents rated their digital journey with us as “good” or “excellent” throughout July” explained John McGuigan, Group Customer Director at The Phoenix Group.

But compared with other customer-facing sectors, banks and insurance companies still have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to digital transactions and customer care.

“Digital interactions are now at the heart of everything our customers see,” Jamie Patel of American Century Investments pointed out. “You get online, you shop, you press a button, you’ve bought it and it’s at your front door. This seamless interaction is what customers expect of the financial industry now.“

Instead, they often face having to complete online transactions in a branch, or a long wait before a digital transaction is processed and can move forward. Panellists agreed that the sector needs to speed technology developments in this area to stay relevant and, with that, competitive.

Balancing ease and security

In a sector where trust and confidentiality is paramount, providing this transactional ease is not a straightforward task, especially not at a time when financial fraud attempts are on the rise.

As Georgia Woods, Executive Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Canada, Canada Life, underlined: “You want to create as frictionless and as easy an experience as possible. But we’re constantly looking to balance that off to make sure that it is also a very secure experience.”

“So, you think about stepped-up authentication, device protection and risk-based decisions. And you overlay additional augmented levels of control and security for larger transactions, especially between individuals.”

Jan Solhøy, Chief Technology Officer at Vipps AS, a smart payment provider based in Norway, added: “Foremost, it’s about trust. If we don’t have that, the customers will be gone. It’s a fine line.”

Making the best use of data and analytics is critical to providing this balance, ensuring resilience against cyber threats. But the importance of data reaches much further.

Homing in on the customer

Insurers, banks and financial services companies have a vast amount of data at their disposal, and with digital channels growing, this will only increase.

However, it’s critical to use this data effectively to ensure that the sector can stay relevant to its audiences.

“Life has changed on the back of COVID. Many people's lives will be different for a long time. We need to make sure that we understand that and can address their changing needs, said John McGuigan of The Phoenix Group, highlighting the need for insurers and other financial services providers to stay agile as customer needs change.

“We have a huge amount of data. And we've had that data in the business for a long time, but it's not been very accessible,” he admitted. ”So, over the last number of years, we have focused on gathering that data to extract insights that will help build new propositions – making that data actionable.”

The greatest opportunity, panellists agreed, is using data for improved segmentation to offer ever-more personalized services, as Canada Life’s Georgia Woods explained:

“We talk about a 360-degree view of our customer and the relationship that our customer has with us. We are continuing to invest to create a more personalized experience for our customers.”

Designing financial products for humans

Another source of customer insight may be afforded by behavioural economics, as Dilip Soman, Canada Research Chair in Behavioural Science and Economics and Director of BEAR Rotman School of Management pointed out.

This discipline helps to explore how to effect behavioural change by exploring human motivation and habits, “nudging” them in the right direction and eliminating potential stumbling blocks on the way.

He offered the example of a pension fund that relied on the human tendency to procrastinate with a product called “Save More Tomorrow.” It allowed people to pre-commit to saving more after a future salary rise, with a percentage of the increase being set aside for pension savings.

Soman was excited by the opportunity for digital capabilities and behavioural science to combine to develop more effective financial products.

“The list of digital capabilities is long, but it includes new ways of presenting information and new ways in which we can engage with our customers. We can combine behavioural economics and machine learning to come up with a dramatically new way of segmenting and customizing our different interventions.”

A comprehensive transformation

The banking, financial services and insurance sectors have certainly shown their ability to adapt and build resilience over a very short timeframe. The panel made it clear that these new-found capabilities now need to be nurtured.

As K Krithivasan, President and Global Head, Banking, Financial Services and Insurance at TCS pointed out, staying relevant to customers will mean redefining the purpose of their businesses in the context of their customers, becoming enablers of customers’ life objectives rather than money handlers. “For example, banks could define their purpose as taking care of customers' financial wellbeing, rather than lending and deposits. Similarly, insurance firms could home in on keeping their members safe instead of focusing on fast claim settlement.”

This level of adaptability requires structural simplicity, noted Suresh Muthuswami, President and Global Head, Banking Financial Services and Insurance Platforms, TCS: “It’s more important than ever to overcome complexity. Simplicity is the key to agility, adaptability and providing an excellent customer experience.” He added, “The post-crisis winners will be firms that can position themselves as customer champions and demonstrate their customer purpose, adaptability and resilience.”

For such positioning to succeed, there are two key requirements:

As Jan Solhøy of Vipps held, the first is that an “agile, adaptable organization is not something that just happens in the IT or the product development department. It needs to be pervasive throughout the organization. Old structures and governance models need to yield to that new way of thinking.”

The other is that financial services companies must look beyond their products and services.

“We need to be able to communicate our broader social purposes on how we help people achieve a more secure and sustainable future as well as consider how we collaborate with others to deliver this for our customers,” stated John McGuigan of Phoenix Group. “Those are the things that customers are interested in. We may believe that we’re already doing it, but COVID has taught us that we need to be much more explicit in getting those messages across.”