Five ways for banks to thwart new threats

A look back at 2015 shows just how beset Canada’s traditional financial services companies are — and how they might fight back.

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North American banking trends 2015 Gartner

Vulnerable. That one word best describes 2015 for Canada’s banks. They face a growing threat to their traditional business areas as technology firms and retailers enter the financial market.

Apple’s Pay service may be the best-known intrusion. Introduced in November, it lets people use an iPhone 6 to make payments. But that isn’t the only one.

Intuit, the small-business-focused software provider, bought Check, a mobile bill-payment app in 2014. Forbes reported that the move brings Intuit further into the personal finances realm.

Let’s not forget Walmart, which now offers low-fee chequing accounts outside Canada — obviously bank territory. No word from the retailer about bringing that option to this country, but the threat looms.

How should traditional financial services firms respond? Five key posts we published throughout 2015, summarized here, provide some answers:

1. Look past mobile payments

Gartner research director Rajesh Kandaswamy pointed to mobile payments as the prime point of contention between banks and their new competitors. The analyst said banks should think of mobile payments not as a goal, but as a starting point for future services, such as a way to enter into and profit from the sharing economy.

2. Simplify high-value services

Banks already have a strong grasp on the omni-channel, providing service across websites, call centres and other contact points. Financial firms should build on that omni-channel knowledge to support not only transactional services such as transfers and bill payments as they do now, but also value-added services like financial management.

3. Get personal …

TD Bank recently signed up for Flybits’ service, which might help the financial provider better understand and speak to clients individually. Flybits uses various details about customers, such as their location and social-media profiles, to help companies develop personalized offerings. Researchers at IT market analyst firms IDC and Forrester indicate that a bank’s ability to add value to customers’ personal lives — beyond banking and into the realms of entertainment, dining and other leisure pursuits — could help that institution attract and retain customers.

4 … But don’t be creepy

In a survey, mobile-app developer Delvv found that 78 per cent of people feel that most of the mobile push notifications they receive aren’t relevant to them. When consumers are overwhelmed with commercial information, irrelevant notifications could annoy customers to the point that they cut ties with message senders. That’s a warning. Banks need to choose their push-notification channels carefully to avoid deafening clients with noise. Firms should use opt-in consent policies to increase the likelihood that customers who receive notifications will value the information.

5. Break down barriers between IT and business

On one hand, customers expect financial institutions to be cautious and conservative. Yet many consumers like how nimble the alternative financial providers can be when it comes to introducing new services and using the latest technologies. KPMG’s Mark Smith, financial services industry practice leader, said it’s time for substantially more collaboration between technology managers and business-line managers. Working closely, they may find ways for their companies to capitalize on both prudence and innovation.

One commonality among these posts is the call for technology strategies. Whether for collaboration, data analysis or new opportunities, banks need their IT decision makers to take a long-term view of the market — and help their employers envision novel ways to approach it. Expect to see technology managers at Canadian banks doing just that throughout 2016. And watch as the so-called traditional financial firms morph into extraordinary service providers.

Image courtesy of Free Digital Photos

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