Trust on a brand is built over years. However, it is lost with one poor customer experience and with continuous such poor experiences, the news spreads far and wide, leading to devastating effects. For many financial institutions, such loss in trust by the customers has led to them not only being charged millions of dollars in fines, but also, millions in remediation, and worst of them all, public censure, and reputation loss!
Since 1999, Harris Poll has been quantifying the public reputation of organisations in the US, across the industries, and have found that 80% of the respondents to their survey, have always rated “lying or misrepresenting facts about a product or service”, as the top reason affecting reputation. In the latest findings, there is only 4 financial services organisations in the US in the top 50 – most favourable of them is perched at 13, others are at 17, 45 and 47. Other top reasons for the fall of reputation and trust in a financial institution are “lack of fee transparency”, “providing biased advice for my needs”, “misusing my data”.
A survey by Ernst & Young, suggests that the rise of self-financial management tools propagated digitally and the rise of non-banks and neo banks, has also contributed to lack of trust in the traditional financial institutions. With the increasing dependence and ease of use of digital solutions, the trust in technology is increasing, leading to increasing trust in the non-banks and neo banks, as they fundamentally ride on technology to reach the customers and provide them solutions.
Research firm Forrester highlights the relationship among trust, advocacy, loyalty and future purchase intent in financial services. The research says, “Customer advocacy — the extent to which a firm’s customers believe it does what’s best for them, not just what’s best for its own bottom line (in other words, TRUST) — is a top predictor of customer retention and growth. US financial services customers who rate their firms highest on customer advocacy are most likely to consider those firms for future purchases.”
The bottom line is that like any other relationship, customers base trust as the cornerstone of their relationship with their financial institution. Let’s look at how banks can potentially embrace trust as the fulcrum of all their policy making and decisioning.
To drive trust as the pivot for all organisation decisions, processes, customer centricity must be the centre stage conversation. It is a cultural decision that the board and the management have to drive at all levels, with the right incentives all throughout the organisation. The most consequential way to trust building is by motivating and rewarding the right behaviour. Right from the front-end staff to the CEO to the Board, has to find and do the right thing for their customers. The senior management must become the ambassadors of customer centricity, and trust and that must drive all decision making. With the focus on earning customer’s trust, by building a culture of customer centricity, one of the largest banks in Australia, recently announced an investment of $50 million towards a coaching, education and accreditation program for each one of the 34,000 of the bank staff. While announcing the program, the CEO of the bank remarked that their customers expect their bank to know them and get behind them with products and services to help them prosper. As a bank, they will meet those needs by doing the right thing for their customers and getting the basics right – every time.
For a financial institution, delivering complete transparency in product and service features and fees is a key driver towards building trust with customers. Research has proven positive correlation between fee transparency and customer advocacy. If customers don’t find their financial institution to be transparent on its fees, they are less likely to recommend them to others, making banks lose opportunities to cross/up sell and future business. Driving complete transparency on fees and product and service features is a prerequisite for banks to own the role of a trusted advisor. A centralised product catalogue and a centralised pricing engine sitting on top of all the product systems, that drives product orchestration at the channels and automates the pricing process for the financial institutions can go a long way in enabling product features and fees transparency.
Having a streamlined and seamless approach to customer touch points is crucial to drive customer experience and build trust. Such infrastructure is key to enabling improvements in efficiency, accuracy, and service. Imagine a customer starting a loan application on the digital channel, however, must visit the branch to finish the application with assistance. Moreover, as the branch and the digital channels are disjointed, the customer must restart the application, with some data/information loss through the movement across the channels. Or a customer sees a special offer on internet banking channel, however, he does not see that offer on the mobile app. Such poor experiences can be rooted out by a centralised platform that enables data and information flow between the channels. To drive operational excellence, back end systems must be integrated with the touch points to enable easy orchestration of product and service information and fees. Such ease with operations will propel transparency across the processes, enhanced self-servicing and even empower the financial institution staff to direct the customer to right choices.
Privacy and protection of customer data is another key factor in enhancing trust. With the widespread use of digital, data assumes tremendous significance. Thus, its misuse grows. And with this the need for data protection against cybercrimes, fraud, misconduct, etc, swells significantly. Financial Institutions need to have the right mechanisms to not only protect customer data and keep it private and confidential, but also protect against, say credit card fraud, payment fraud, or similar crimes. With the increasing demand for Open Banking requirements/commitments across the globe, managing and protecting the customer data will be even more critical. Clear responsibility of holding and managing such data is going to be paramount. It is not only about having the necessary infrastructure and process in place, but also about a proactive process and a customer centric approach. The staff needs to be regularly sensitised against such misconduct and misuse of data. The country and regional privacy laws – the likes of GDPR in the EU, The Privacy Act 1988 in Australia, The Data Protection Act 2018 in the UK and similar, need to be operationalised with regular checks and monitoring in place. Financial Institutions should look at building additional controls into the products and services that restricts misuse of any customer data.
For a typical financial institution working as different sub-businesses within the single institution, having a “single source of truth” for product and services or fees, or even customer data, can be a pipe dream. However, there are institutions, who have achieved this with varying degrees of success, and continuing the path. Unless the front-line staff or the customer service representative does not have the holistic picture of the customer, it is always going to be different for him to serve the customer appropriately and “do the right thing.” And if one asks the customer to wait and come back a few days later, the battle is already lost. This is where integrating data across silos and empowering staff to deliver the right product or service, is going to enhance the customer experience and trust.
With the growing use of digitalisation, and the experiences from the other industries, customers expect the similar superior experiences from their financial institutions. Fallout from the current Covid-19 situation and ensuing spurt in use of everything digital, the trust in tech and digital is growing at a pace like never before. This will put financial institutions at the crossroads, where they not only have to shore up their balance sheet in this uncertain environment, but also invest in ways to grow their customer’s trust in them.