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Failing to seize the opportunity - what bankers have in common with railroad tycoons

Failing to seize the opportunity - what bankers have in common with railroad tycoons

February 17, 2012 0 Comments

Following last week’s CEB TowerGroup, my main observation was that bankers are facing a ‘perfect storm’ that will necessitate a change in approach across the whole industry. Unfortunately it seems that bankers are still denying the circumstances they face, believing that they will survive.

Why do I say this? In a mobile, connected world, customers are becoming used to service levels that take into account their previous buying preferences, interests, background with the service provider and even their location. They are used to accessing services wherever and whenever they need to, via any channel, and are increasingly savvy to offers and promotions. Despite media stories of ‘Groupon fatigue’, the popularity of daily deal and voucher sites speaks of a new generation of bargain-hunters that often won’t make a purchase without some kind of added incentive.

Banks are not yet interested in this consumer trend, but they should be. Instead of seeing payments as a cost centre to their business, the data it gives them about customer spending habits, when combined with today’s mobile technology, provides a massive business opportunity.

At the moment, it seems like the banks are unable to see the bigger picture. Much like the railroad tycoons in early twentieth century America, they have the cash to invest but are not seeing the opportunity. Airlines were just setting up internal flights, which eventually became the competition that turned the railroads into a second-choice service that could only compete by discounting prices. The railroad owners could have got into the airline business, but instead of seeing themselves as transport providers, they only concerned themselves with the smaller world of railways. Bankers today, similarly, see themselves as providing a customer service that goes beyond today’s boundaries of banking. Traditionally, they’ve been the consumer’s trusted advisor. Now that trust is eroding, they will lose out if they don’t capture new ground. Otherwise, banking becomes a commodity and the only way to survive will be to drive further efficiencies and reduce costs.

In the very near future, customers will realise they don’t need banks, they need banking – and will shop around for the best offer if their loyalty has not been secured.

Solving the problem will require looking to new areas. At the CEB TowerGroup event, the key note speaker made this comparison: after 100 years of failed expeditions, Mount Everest was eventually conquered when new explorers brought in nylon ropes from the world of sailing (to avoid the problem of frozen ropes snapping) and oxygen masks that had been developed for fire fighters. Innovation is ‘out there’ – you don’t need to find it in your own discipline or reinvent the wheel, just observe how other sectors are embracing change and see what might help solve business problems in your area. When it comes to innovation, bankers would be wise to remember that to get to the top, they need to look to other areas for inspiration.

So where should banks look for innovation that will help them adapt their business for the next 20 years? Much of the technology they need to become more responsive to customers’ needs and open up new revenue streams already exists. Bringing together the engines from algorithmic trading, BPM technology from the telecoms industry and location-based services from the mobile world, they could make full use of the information they already have about what consumers like to buy (and where and when) to develop new, more targeted, offerings.

We have a vision for Responsive Customer Engagement, a technology approach that means a bank can respond to a customer’s actions and turn it into an opportunity to secure more revenue – and, perhaps more importantly – customer loyalty. One business model for this could be in providing a customer buying one item on their credit card access to offers and promotions from other merchants in their locality. The merchants – also the bank’s customers – would also become more bought-in, as their payments provider becomes their access to a mass of new custom.

I will be talking more about how these technologies could help banks tap into consumer trends and bring the change they need to survive in future blog posts. For now, I’d like to leave you with a thought from the mountain: if you haven’t yet reached the pinnacle, perhaps you are using the wrong tools. Don’t get left behind!

Bart Schouw

View all posts from Bart Schouw on the Progress blog. Connect with us about all things application development and deployment, data integration and digital business.

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