Creating a true omnichannel bank

Did I recently mention I was from Boston? Actually, to be perfectly accurate, I live a short distance nearby in beautiful downtown Lowell, Massachusetts — both the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution, as well as the current official snowiest city in the United States. I bring this up not just to share a little hometown pride, but also to share a few anecdotes from the front lines regarding what it’s like getting from here to and from the fourth snowiest city in the United States, Boston, Massachusetts.

You may not have seen the pictures in The Atlantic, but, trust me, it’s historic. I won’t say how far, but I go back beyond the well-hyped Blizzard of 78, and I can tell you first-hand that this year tops them all, with the possible exception of the Great Snow of 1717, though I can only take other people’s word for that. We used to use the suspension of public rail service back in ’78 as our benchmark of “snowmaggedon”, but already this season they’ve outright cancelled two entire days of rail service, and provided limited service on several others, with many more days of hardship to come.

But I’m a bank, you say, and what does all this have to do with the price of home mortgage loans in Peoria?

Given the ubiquity of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and any number of other ways to share experiences and vent frustration, I’m acutely aware of the inconveniences suffered by all my relations, friends, and acquaintances over the past few days. I can tell you exactly how long it took people to catch a running train on Tuesday at North Station, and how that compared to the wait at South Station, as well as the automobile travel times on the Mass Pike, Southeast Expressway, and 93 North, because I know people who tried to take each of those options earlier this week. I also now know each of their online expressions of both frustration and relief when they were finally able to find their way home, and it absolutely will have an influence on the choices I make in the future. It occurs to me, customer frustration with various banking products being what they are these days, that we’ve arrived at an age where coming up short an any given instance is never going to remain a secret among a small number of affected people and their bank. It’s more likely an open invitation for the blogosphere to air every unfortunate detail, and, further, invite friends and trusted others to advertise their better alternatives in their response comments.

Becoming a true omnichannel bank is no longer an opportunity for differentiation, it’s a necessity for meeting your customers where they are, and giving them the reason to brag about *you* to their friends, rather than a reason for those trusted friends to tell your customer exactly how and why they might want another bank.

Imagine in Boston there were 10,000 other public rail services from which to choose. How many of those commuters on the platforms in North and South Stations would have waited even 20 minutes?

The Economist Intelligence Unit recently surveyed both bankers and consumers on the subject of mobile banking, and the findings were both as you might expect, as well as surprising. (You can read the summary report here). As eager as everyone remains to improve mobile access and service, there is still important value in brick-and-mortar branches and other channels. Finding a way to build an effective omnichannel bank is the inescapable necessity. Peter Sands, CEO of Standard Chartered put it in plain terms as he was quoted in the EIU piece: “Banks and their regulators are going to have to embrace technology-driven innovation. Otherwise it will simply happen by stealth, driven by players outside the industry”. Mr. Sands also puts the prescription in clear context as well: “Too much of the debate about banking is about not repeating the mistakes of the past. We risk missing the opportunity to make banks much better in the future”. And the future, clearly is omnichannel banking.

For further reading, check out the Ovum Decision Matrix on evaluating digital banking technologies. While you’re standing on your banking platform waiting for the future to arrive, the customer standing next to you may very well be texting for a cab.

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