Banking at one's fingertips - but some aspects will still require human intervention. Let's not do away with client-banker relationship altogether. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Financial institutions are finding new ways to connect as the world becomes increasingly more digital. As companies continue to innovate, a fine line exists between catering to customers’ real needs and jumping on the digitisation bandwagon.

What sets these apart - and ultimately win the hearts and minds of customers - is how much financial institutions are invested in understanding the latter’s evolving needs – all the while offering them a seamless customer experience.

There is a real opportunity for those financial institutions that strike the right balance between digital and human interactions as part of the customer journey. The rise of digital-first banks, and their emergence more specifically in the UAE, brings to the fore this question of balance – and whether the human element remains an important factor in the banking experience.

Disruption now being an expectation, it begs the question of how much disruption is really needed, and if we have reached a stage where we need to consider putting the human touch back into banking.

A best of both

Digital banks today are benchmarked on ease of transacting, responsiveness, flexibility and their ability to adapt to quickly changing market conditions, thereby maximising value for customers. While traditional banks continue to digitise their offerings, they have a unique opportunity – building on their personal relationships they have developed with their customers over the years – to marry the best of both worlds through an agile and personalised approach.

To truly succeed, digital interactions require a high degree of personalisation similar to what traditional in-branch interactions offer to customers. Banks must consider the emotional impact of a fully digital customer engagement as people today want more than just speed and convenience. They want to feel that they have access to experts for all money matters – their life savings and business ambitions.

A bank of the future

Therefore, what should the perfect banking experience look like? There is no one-size-fits-all answer for this. In fact, each customer journey is unique as requirements are different. Banks can tap into data – made available through their digital transformation efforts – to curate an experience that has the right balance of digital and human engagement.

Building long-term relationships with consumers that go beyond the usual short-term transaction focus is more critical in today’s fast-paced environment. This can be done by concentrating on strengthening bank-customer relationships across the organisation and underpinning activities with a feeling of responsibility to assist clients in their personal growth journeys through life's inevitable ups and downs. Customers appreciate personalised treatment because it makes them feel valued.

Shorn of value

You only have to consider the opposite extreme of this thinking to understand why it is so important. First, all banking transactions could be possible on a low-cost, single-click basis. This would remove the real value of professional advice and guidance so that all business becomes commoditised with little or no differentiation in service apart from speed and cost.

Frustration levels would build as individual circumstances may not always fit the system design and the real interesting elements of banking would be taken up by bespoke niche players specialised in the areas where advice and guidance is of the greatest significance.

Spread the tech around

At NBF, we view our digital transformation as one of the ways we need to respond to our clients’ needs. We strongly believe in the importance of investing in technology and infrastructure such as the use of robotic process automation (RPA), A.I., and other sophisticated digital technologies, all of which are at the core of our strategy to better serve clients.

By automating certain processes and leveraging technology across a number of areas, we can enable and empower our staff to invest more in client relationships and set aside more time to offer them personalised advice to meet their life goals or business aspirations.

This balancing act also paves the way for career development opportunities for our own employees. As new technologies are introduced, employees’ responsibilities are elevated and altered rather than replaced, giving them the opportunity to act as true partners in meeting customers’ needs.

Instead of conducting repetitious activity that robotic technology can execute faster, more efficiently and with fewer errors, they are given more possibilities to upskill and add value to the customer relationship. Therefore, investing in technologies should go hand in hand with investing in bringing on the best talent in the industry.

Finding the right mix also requires creative, out-of-the-box solutions that rely on technology to solve customer challenges in an innovative manner. The thinking is led by partners who truly understand the market and how clients are responding to specific industry issues.

An example of this is NBF Connect, which acts as a dedicated banking platform for SMEs, and the first of its kind in the UAE that was created by SMEs for SMEs. Another example is NBFX, a first-of-its kind electronic trading platform that is backed by a team of experts to support customers’ trading needs.

Personal relationship services for customers that require assistance for more complex financial services will be always available. Technology will just further transform and improve the banking experience.

Against this backdrop, banks have an opportunity to strike the right balance between the digital realm and human, personalised relationships and not just slavishly follow the hype.