Why Your Financial Firm Needs a Digital Transformation

The financial services industry is changing from a product industry to a services relationship management industry. At the forefront of that change is the transition to a two-way digital communication method that allows for an omnichannel customer experience.

It’s no easy task, and it requires total C-Suite buy-in from the start as well as a top-down approach.  After all, we can accomplish almost anything digitally, and many industries — from shopping to marketing to education — have gotten on board.

Unfortunately, there’s still a huge lag in the industry. It’s not because of a reluctance to go digital, but rather the complexity of the industry, and therefore, the infrastructure changes required to convert firms, systems, and technologies.

The trouble is, the use of digital financial services is driven by other industries. If they are decades ahead in digital technology, it bodes poorly for finance.

The Search Box Standard

Customers already have an idea of how they want to search for something. Whether it’s a new outfit or a stock, consumers expect an Amazon- or Google-style experience: Type a query into a search box and get an answer. They want immediate options, and then, an experience that narrows down those options and helps them prioritize.

Digital has completely changed the role of financial services. Before, financial firms provided a product of sorts: knowledge. Now they provide an experience and form a relationship. Using digital, they make the consumer experience a two-way street.

It Starts at the Top

Consumers expect a simple, fluid experience, but the complex nature of finance makes this seem nearly impossible. There have been so many mergers and acquisitions over the past 20 years that most of the firms in financial services are an amalgamation of many different firms with their own technologies, platforms, processes, and silos.

There’s a mortgage side, a brokerage side, and an insurance side. There might also be a 401(k) and institutional side. There’s typically not one place in a firm that has a single view of the client in order to say, “OK. How do we best enhance this experience?” That’s the biggest nut to crack, and that’s why it has to start with the C-Suite.

Understanding the Customer Journey

In the case of the search for a financial advisor, consumers are heading online first before ever contacting a firm. They’re researching background knowledge, potential firms, and customer experiences. As a financial services firm, it’s imperative you understand what this user experience looks like.

Your executive team should be asking: What are the things we should be considering, and what is the groundwork needed to really make this transition to digital as easy as possible? Because financial services firms are so big, it can be difficult to get the CEO to focus on these details, but it’s imperative that this happens.

  • What’s the first step? To ground a digital strategy, you need to figure out where potential clients are starting, which websites they visit, which e-newsletters they subscribe to. You do this through journey mapping. Are they reading The Wall Street Journal website? If so, run banner ads there. Do they subscribe to specific digital newsletters? Buy a featured space or send out a custom e-blast.

It’s not just about marketing. It’s about understanding the critical touchpoints for your audience. Your firm should be accessible in an easy, appealing, and organic way.

  • What does this journey look like? Using these insights into the customer journey, your existing capabilities, and available resources, develop a strategy roadmap. Start with data, apply strategy, and create logical frameworks for who owns what within the organization to make the customer experience is as seamless as possible.

The lynchpin of this is developing an agile environment. Technology changes at such a rapid pace that if you try to put a three-year roadmap in place, it will be outdated within six months.

  • How can we offer options? Modern consumers are used to having flexibility in their purchasing options while also getting what they want when they want it and how they want it. Once they make a decision on the direction to take their finances, if they want to switch over and talk to a real person, it needs to be a seamless experience. If they prefer to do it themselves online, it needs to be just as easy.

In this regard, financial services are heading toward being more omnichannel. Prospects must have the option for this experience from the beginning.

Overcoming Roadblocks

More than any type of infrastructure or regulation challenges, the largest obstacle to going digital is how to deal with the corporate amalgamation. Mergers and acquisitions create separated cultures, departments, processes, and practices.

That’s where North Highland specializes in adding value to your digital strategy. We approach the process from an Agile Business Acceleration (Agile Change Management) standpoint: Expand and align mindsets first, then engage the workforce in the co-creation of the desired organization.

For example, your associates’ value proposition is doing portfolio management, and they’ve created successful businesses over the past few decades doing just that. Getting them to change can be really, really hard. “It’s worked for 25 years for me,” they’ll say. “Why do I want to take the time and learn something new?”

We understand the ingrained way of thinking in the financial industry, and we understand how to rapidly shift mindset – which means we can bring the appropriate strategy to transform your firm.

This change also can be dramatically accelerated when starting with the associates’ mindsets and making change a continuous business innovation process, driven by the workforce and associates. The client and North Highland will work together to focus on cycles of innovation and reassess the needs every 30 to 60 days.

Finally, North Highland helps you focus on quick wins that create maximum impact. You don’t need to waste time focusing on things that will take three years and $20 million. We put the client experience at the forefront, helping you focus on important, visible outcomes and work backward to achieve them.

Want to take an even deeper dive into mapping the customer journey? How about getting the right internal teams in place to successfully go from 0 to digital? Download our whitepaper to learn about North Highland’s signature approach to this complicated — but very critical — process.

Vicki Shillington

This article was co-authored by Vicki Shillington. She leads North Highland’s Professionalizing ITSM and is the global lead for People and Change. She is a published SFIA consultant having led numerous engagements to transform the way information technology organizations operate. She has a wide range of industry experience in both the public and private sectors. Vicki has more than 20 years of consulting experience working with companies such as Deloitte and has served as a leader in both North Highland’s London and Los Angeles offices.

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