In today’s financial services environment, not serving customers digitally is not an option.
Given that banks and credit unions have been forced by COVID-19 to severely limit servicing customers in branches, financial institutions can no longer turn a deaf ear to the “Digital is king!” message pundits have been trumpeting since long before the pandemic.
When Cornerstone Advisors collected data from banks for its 2019 Cornerstone Performance Report, COVID-19 was an unknown. But even then, the number of median active mobile users reported by mid-size banks had increased nearly 40% over Cornerstone’s prior bank study in 2017.
Digital Banking is Here to Stay
Providing a top-notch digital customer experience is critical to an institution’s competitive future. But as with any new technology, only meticulous planning will ensure an institution’s success in the new digital landscape.
It is easy for a financial institution to get lured into taking a “big bang” approach to implementing a digital platform. This new solution will increase functional capabilities and provide a fresh online face to the organization, and the implementation team is understandably eager to get started. However, implementation is just one point in time in the digital journey, and an overly aggressive approach to the initial implementation can result in misaligned features and deployment of “not ready for prime time” functionality.
A carefully crafted approach aligns the digital landscape with the institution’s strategic vision and chosen solution. Done right, the effort will result in a solution that provides enhanced internal efficiency, improved workflow and a better client experience. These three strategic planning steps will plot banking leaders on a course for a best practice digital implementation:
1. Create a Detailed Roadmap
After evaluating what is important to customers, the institution must assess the complexity and dependencies of incorporating “must haves” into the solution. An effective roadmap includes key features, segments the project into logical blocks that build upon one another, and defines an achievable Day 1 project scope.
A well-designed roadmap can help an institution:
- Minimize the risk of rework
- Align the institution’s plans with vendor capabilities and development plans beyond the target implementation date
- Identify and prioritize functions that are key to the institution’s brand and digital growth plans
- Synchronize vendor and organization plans, resource availability and skill sets
- Provide flexibility for changes as new functions and solutions become available
2. Develop a Comprehensive Test Strategy and Plan
The old adage that you get one chance to make a good first impression is especially applicable with a digital solution. With such a customer-facing platform, failure to provide a robust test strategy and plan can result in frustrated end users, limited go-forward adoption and customer attrition. Following these steps will help ensure end users don’t discover issues before the institution does:
- Inventory all functions and end-user interactions with the digital platform. Include customer types, account types, transactional features/functions and end-user device authorizations. This inventory will serve as the basis for the test plan.
- Identify the development approach and its impact on test planning. While the financial institution bears the responsibility for the testing results, the vendor approach to development and testing is important to the planning process as it impacts test timing, sequence and resource requirements.
Most financial institutions follow a traditional waterfall methodology, which requires significant testing and resource involvement over a scheduled and concentrated duration. Many vendors are moving to an agile approach, which overlaps development and testing activities iteratively throughout the development process. Understanding the methodology used is essential to a successful testing approach.
- Develop an agreed-upon responsibility matrix around test planning and execution. Successful testing begins with planning. Defining test activity, ownership across departments and individuals ensures all features and functions are assigned, vetted and managed in a cohesive plan.
- Document end-to-end data flows, functional components and integration points. The end-user experience is key in the implementation of the digital solution. Define how processes work from start to finish, features interact with each other, and form and function combine to align individual components into a single comprehensive view.
- Track results. Implement a centralized, detailed and well-documented approach to track both successful and unsuccessful outcomes. This will enable the institution to focus and remediate issues based on organizational priorities and customer expectations.
3. Understand How Your Third-Party Vendors Integrate
Third-party integrations can serve to differentiate a financial institution’s digital offering. When properly implemented, they can open the user experience beyond the institution, keep the customer within the FI’s offering, and allow for wallet and phone placement. When improperly implemented, issues that arise will be viewed by end-users and vendors as the institution’s problem.
Knowledge is power in third-party integrations. Because vendors will default to “what they know,” a financial institution must fully understand the details behind each integration point to effectively steer the vendor relationship toward the desired end-user experience.
In the current environment, the need for speed, convenience and mobile access are driving customer interactions. As digital becomes customers’ preferred access channel, careful planning, scheduling and execution will enable a financial institution to deliver a solution that best meets both customer and organizational expectations.
George Morelli is a senior director and Jessica Pinkston is a consultant in the technology services group at CUES strategic partner Cornerstone Advisors, Scottsdale, Arizona.