Banks facing new wave of digital disruptors must empower customers at every step

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Banks around the world are coming up against a wave of disruptive digital-first and digital-only players. That’s as true in South Africa as it is anywhere else in the world. And consumers, hungry for new, streamlined digital solutions will be keen to explore what they have to offer.  

In order to counter this threat, the big, established banks will have to do more than just update their digital offerings. They’ll also need to ensure that their digital messaging meets their customers’ exact needs in a way that surprises, delights, and (most importantly) is helpful. And, for the most part, keeping existing customers happy should be their top priority.

While some 32% of South Africans don’t have bank accounts, they aren’t likely to be who the new entrants to the market will target. Instead, they’ll go after digitally-savvy customers of existing banks looking for added convenience and increased value. It’s therefore imperative that the established banks do everything in their power to prevent their existing clients moving across.

Fortunately, those self-same clients provide the incumbent banks with their most powerful weapon in staving off the newcomers.Those customers provide them with a treasure-trove of data, the likes of which their would-be competitors can only wish for. Understood properly, this data not only tells them what their customers want right now, it can also give them an accurate idea of what they’ll want in the future.

Combined with the right technologies, banks can use this insight to create messaging that is helpful and useful to their customers, making them more likely to stay. Ultimately, this messaging should appear serendipitous rather than forced. Let’s say, for example, that someone is looking for a new Audi A3 online. Ordinarily, they’d be followed around the internet by ads for that car, something which isn’t particularly helpful. But if their bank’s on the ball, they can serve that person dynamic ads for relevant vehicle financing, with a) an appealing offer and b) the exact car they are looking for dynamically (automatically, programmatically) appearing in the ad.

By adopting this approach to digital messaging, established banks demonstrate another advantage they have over the new disruptors: the ability to provide a full service offering. Where many new banks will only have basic services (especially at first), the established players in the industry can, for example, turn customers with cheque accounts into vehicle finance and home loan clients.

But in order to do so successfully, it’s vital that this value be demonstrated throughout the process. Digital messaging isn’t just about drawing customers in. It covers the whole process from initial awareness, through sign-up, and onto ongoing support. While it can sometimes feel difficult to achieve this kind of consistency across legacy systems, it’s far from impossible.

In adapting this kind of messaging, it’s also vital that banks make their customers feel empowered in every step of the digital experience. A major part of this involves not to getting carried away with personalisation. Just because you’ve got a lot of data on someone, doesn’t mean you always have to use it. You need to use it well, construct your audiences and segments, and drive the right message at the right time.

Even if you’re careful about how much data you use, it can be easy to veer into overreaching. If someone feels like they’re the focus of the ad, rather than the product or service you’re trying to sell, they’re likely shut down. But it also entails building a digital experience that makes customers feel like they’re in control of the entire process. Any established bank that gets this right has very little to fear from digitial-first disruptors.


Shaune Jordaan is the CEO of Hoorah Digtial. He is passionate about delivering world class results to brands and building a digital culture that drives change. He is the former co-founder / CEO of an award winning performance digital agency with an extensive global client list.