TD explains how it’s putting more context into mobile banking

The financial institution’s chief digital officer is looking at apps that will demonstrate a deeper understanding of what customers really want

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If you want to know what the future of marketing and customer service looks like, just think back to that famous scene in the Tom Cruise movie Minority Report.

It’s the one where virtual billboard ads pop up as Cruise’s character, John Edgerton, walks past walls made out of digital screens. As he passes cameras mounted on each wall, ads pop up for various products. Since all of the ads address Edgerton by name, we know, a) they’re personalized to target him specifically and, b) are triggered when those wall-mounted cameras recognize his face.

It’s an astonishingly prescient piece of filmmaking, given that the movie was released over a decade ago in 2002. Now, 13 years later, personalized content pops up on our smartphones, triggered as we walk past beacons that are programmed to interact with the related apps we’ve downloaded onto our phones.

Here in Canada, most of us associate that type of mobile, personalized marketing experience with the retail industry. But TD Bank is teaming up with a hot Toronto startup called Flybits to bring new levels of personalization to the Canadian financial sector.

TD has just been announced as the first big customer for Flybits’ new context-as-a-service solution. Flybits says it’s a cloud-based platform allowing companies to offer personalized service to their customers based on “multiple sources of contextual information – from location to social profiles, user behaviour and preferences, environmental data and beyond.”

Just how could that play out for a banking customer? Flybits has mocked up an example scenario on its website: Charlie is a customer at Alpha Bank. Charlie also just got a new job. After he deposits his first paycheque, the Alpha banking app sends him a suggestion to boost his retirement fund contributions. Charlie likes the idea and uses the app to request a video meeting with a financial advisor at Alpha Bank.

Feeling hungry, Charlie uses the Alpha banking app to find restaurants nearby that offer discounts to Alpha banking customers. After scarfing down his chow of choice, he goes to watch a ball game at the local stadium. While he’s there, a message appears on the Jumbotron offering a VIP upgrade to four lucky Alpha credit card customers in the stadium audience. Charlie opens up his Alpha banking app to find out he’s one of the four winners.

The fictitious bank personalizes the customer’s experience by offering financial advice relevant to his life circumstance (in this case, a new job).

It also offers added value to his life that goes beyond banking (i.e., finds him restaurants, upgrades his stadium experience) – a strategy IDC says is the next frontier in financial services. Forrester analysts believe this approach could persuade a customer to stay with one bank instead of switching to a competitor.

TD isn’t necessarily going to launch a context-as-a-service solution exactly like the example on the Flybits website. At this early stage, Flybits has only signed on to develop apps for TD involving personalization overall. But in an interview with me, TD’s chief digital officer Rizwan Khalfan echoed the idea of using personalization to make banks a part of customers’ wider lives, not just their financial transactions.

“Mobile has really empowered customers,” Khalfan said. “This is not unique to banking. This is all parts of our lives, for entertainment, for videos, for music, to read the news. It’s fundamentally changed how we empower ourselves in a very unique way. How can we enable our customers to live the lives they want?”

It’ll be interesting to see how the Flybits platform is integrated into TD’s mobile strategy – and how customers react to it. Personalization is a delicate thing to balance (privacy and security vs. “creepy”) and the stakes are high with upstarts like Apple getting into financial services.

A later part of the same scene from Minority Report illustrates the risks of failed customer personalization. As Edgerton walks into a Gap store, an iris scanner zooms in on his eyes. Then a virtual sales associate greets him with, “Mr. Yakamoto, welcome back!”

Edgerton walks away, disgusted that such a high-tech system failed to recognize him as the customer he actually is.

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