Financial services organisations offer stability.
For hundreds of years, the physical stability of brick and mortar, sometimes viewed as an organisation’s hard assets, paired with direct eye contact from an experienced advisor has given customers around the world the security to invest, insure and protect their most important assets.
That said, parts of the traditional financial landscape have been quietly rearranging over the last two decades. Online convenience has brought stability to a new generation of customer through app-based challenger banks such as Monzo, online investment companies and other FinTech companies brought around by the acceleration of growth in e-commerce and digital payments.
The coronavirus pandemic has now introduced a new challenge for the entire financial service industry with everything currently happening online. Whether established in 1809 or 2009, financial services organisations must find a way to maintain trust, support customers and sell services online with true integrity to their brand.
So, what’s next for financial services institutions when we know humans can be resistant to a change in routine?
A 2012 study investigated the behavioural effects of large travel disruption during the Olympic Games site construction, affecting thousands of Londoners everyday commute. During which, positive behaviours were introduced to the public, such as the encouragement to cycle or walk. The study concluded that following the games, 54% made at least one change, by reducing, re-timing or changing their journeys altogether!
Why this example? The disruption to routine caused by the pandemic can (like the London Olympics) help to make introducing positive behavioural changes easy. The key to making these positive changes is to use digital services to understand and react to shifts in consumer behaviour.
Simply put by Canada Life (a subsidiary to Great-West Lifeco, founded in 1847), ‘Times are changing. So are we’.
Here are five ways financial services organisations can leverage their website to stay ahead in 2021:
1. Streamline experiences and information.
Streamlining customer service might seem like an obvious economic band-aid right now. Sure, it is a reflex to altered working hours and reduced resource, but it is also the catalyst for more personalised, holistic, trustworthy experiences for users, new and returning.
Simple, smart changes to a website’s Information Architecture can funnel different types of users, from customers to financial advisors to the correct stream of service in as few clicks as possible.
It’s a little more difficult to streamline information in a highly regulated industry like this one and many financial services websites are extremely content-heavy, rich in resources and vital information. Whilst Data Officers may agree that cutting down essential content is a no-go, it’s still possible to retain the best possible User Experience with the addition of intelligent cloud-based technologies, such as a “Cognitive Search”, a feature that can help different types of users sift through thousands of document types in real-time, activated by voice, single letter entry, policy number and so on...
Laying down useful feature integrations along with a set of sturdy Information Architectural principles not only helps users find the content they need but provides a permanent template for the consistent creation of a unified brand message for future content (and even future subsidiary sites).
2. Understand the shift in customers’ priorities.
Financial services offerings have always been intangible, with products and services largely offering peace of mind. In the absence of physical buildings, for the time being, it’s important to make online experiences as authentic as possible by addressing real customer priorities.
It’s the shift in priorities that can affect rates of spending, saving and investing, so how should we use technology and digital strategy to address one of the biggest behavioural nudges we’ve seen in years? A 2021 report on consumer behaviour begins to answer this question...we must ‘deliver tangible benefits that make products indispensable’.
To identify indispensable types of content and features, let’s take a quick look at a couple of examples from key players that are seeking to understand some of the current priorities:
Using digital to help customers in need:
Starling bank’s Connected Card is an additional debit card, aimed at those affected by isolating and to those living with disabilities. The card allows Starling customers to share a capped amount with those who can help them (such as NHS workers, childminders or carers) to gather any supplies they need. The offering is largely aimed at this new reactive consumer behaviour, helping those in need through an easy-to-use mobile-first experience.
- Helping customers who are cautious:
Recent 2021 data collected by leading market intelligence agency, Mintel, has suggested that over a third of customers are currently trying to add to their savings, though it remains unclear whether to form a savings “safety net” is a direct result of limited access to usual activities or as a direct response to economic certainty. Financial service companies, from insurers to investments banks are responding to caution directly through significant structural changes to their website. PayPal (number one in ‘The 20 most loved financial services brands’, 2020) is a great example of how organisations across the industry are addressing customer caution head-on, with entire resource sections, targeted at specific types of users.
3. Use the power of personalisation.
Customers are calling for much more personalised experiences, and to give customers what they need, financial services organisations must be listening.
Data-driven personalisation, fed by customers browsing habits and personal information is key to providing attractive offers. The 2019 Accenture Global Financial Services Consumer Study from Accenture goes on to explain that customers are now willing to share their personal data for required benefits such as personalised offers and, over time, consumers are likely to expect greater innovation in return for handing over their data.
To support this demand, robust, flexible and long-lasting infrastructure is needed for organisations to gather data and consistently create the targeted content users are looking for. This starts often, from the CMS backoffice and ends with customers receiving more appealing (and less offensive) offers. API Integrations are just one of the ways making it possible for financial services organisations to build almost anything on top of their existing CMS and connect with existing CRM systems for example, which of course opens up the opportunity for deeper insights, more personalisation and better user experiences.
Personalisation can also support regulatory compliance responsibilities, as the better the backoffice experience for editors, the better the front-end experience for users. Greater focus on implementing features that help teams to plan, create and execute content can too lead to a much more consistent browsing experience. For example, it can be useful to leverage a tool that will manage workflow, compliance, audit trail, user roles and permissions. This type of addition will enable stakeholders, content-editors and developers to serve the customer landscape efficiently whilst communicating a unified brand message.
The thing is, personalisation is nothing new and customers know this now. As users become more willing to share data, they’re looking for something in return, stronger guarantees, with many consumers reporting recently that ‘issues over data security would lead to them leaving their current provider’ (Accenture, 2019). This strongly suggests that any tools and features financial services companies introduce should be coupled with an equal commitment to effectively communicate investment or action to support data security measures.
4. Address resistance to digital adoption.
Breaking the barriers to digital adoption with your customers is easier when there is a solid set of information architecture principles in place. Why? This makes room for the smooth implementation of leading cloud-based cognitive technology like chatbots, which can work to help guide those who aren’t as confident through the browsing process. Overall, this offers customers who aren’t confident with systems the time to navigate (and with a bit of configuration) an intelligent path to a live agent who is up to speed with the story so far.
For financial services organisations, it’s important to address the shifting online demographic and respond in as many ways as possible. An older online demographic has actually been steadily growing within some financial service sectors for the past three years! In online banking, for instance, a 2020 report tells us of a 3% increase in users aged 45-54 and a 6% increase in users aged 55-64. For Insurance websites, online demographics have aged too with an additional 2.1million additional users aged 45-64, from 2019 to 2020. What is also known from this data is that users in this category are more likely to rely on comparison websites, search engines and customer reviews, and so a fine-tuned organic and paid search is important to be able to continue to reach and grow this market with content that can build trust, and empathise with this growing age bracket.
Duplicate pages are common among content-heavy websites, which can not only affect manageability for content editors, but it can lead to a loss of ranking for web pages on google. So aside from the implementation of great tailored content, attention to site structure can too help financial services be more visible to a changing demographic.
5. Know that brand trust is everything.
Trust in brands is everything. But we need more than trust to connect emotionally. ‘Data shows us that if a consumer loves a brand, they are more likely to consider and prefer it than if they just trust a brand’. (Savanta, 2020). This is where effective creative strategy is essential to build trust and to start a “love story” that ensures the message is unified and products remain true to business goals, brand and values.
A great place to start is to make sure a brand shines through in every area, not just the homepage. Most companies invest solely in print guidelines which are not fully intended for online use, so it’s difficult to achieve trust and recognition in a digital space applying these types of guidelines onto a screen. By adjusting existing guidelines into a comprehensive design system, organisations can move forward with a clear visual language and set of digital brand guidelines that meet web accessibility standards.
While a consistent message through brand visuals is a must, it’s important to reflect how users really want to be treated through the right tone and experience. Traditional face-to-face businesses have been doing this for years, usually in well-decorated physical settings, with excellent customer service. When online brand visuals and tone is not synchronised with the offline brand ethos, it can be compared to a customer walking into the building and having to solve a labyrinth to find a meeting room filled with hostile consultants who aren’t able to surface the correct information.
Customer service has always been vital in this environment, and online customers' user experience should be considered with the same attitude. Making people feel comfortable, cared for and right at home should apply to web-based offerings too (and with most customers at home right now, we’re already halfway there).
As new and emerging services try to make their mark, traditional firms must find new creative ways to cut through the noise through seamless user experiences that respond directly to the behavioural science data available right now. To make a cut above the rest, financial services organisations must earn trust and connect emotionally, and on a personal level whilst consumers are finding a new way to connect with digital.