By Kevin Deveau

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted wide swaths of the world economy, and Canada’s financial services industry is no different. As more Canadians than ever find themselves working from home, more of them are accessing money online, CIBC, for example, saw a 250 percent increase in clients ages 65 and older signing up for digital banking services back in April 2020.

But greater use of online services hasn’t automatically translated into greater customer satisfaction. J.D. Power’s “2020 Canada Retail Banking Satisfaction Study” found that the 33 percent of Canadian banking customers defined as digital-only reported lower levels of satisfaction with the financial services they received than their branch-dependent and branch-only counterparts.

Fortunately, tools that would have been out of reach to any bank outside of the country’s major metropolitan centres even a few years ago are now affordable and ready for adoption by financial services institutions across Canada. Bank and credit union marketing teams can use any one of them to ensure their employers are providing optimal customer experiences: the need to minimize attrition during a pandemic that, for better or worse, is forcing them to digitally transform.

Adopt a cloud-based platform
If there’s an overriding lesson to be learned from the way financial institutions have responded to COVID-19, it’s that they cannot respond to emergencies in isolation. Employees in every department – many of whom, even call center agents, are now forced to work from home – need to collaborate at every stage to provide an optimal customer experience.

This requires adopting a cloud-based platform with centralized analysis and decision-making capabilities. One that provides executives, marketers and front-line employees alike with real-time, 360-degree insight into the experience of every customer, on every channel, whether they’re an individual, small business owner or large corporation.

Between relocating their operations and supporting customers affected by COVID-19, many financial services marketers have found themselves with hours, rather than days or months, to put out their largest fires during the pandemic. It’s likely the ones who did so fastest were the ones who could register, serve, and support customers and update their products using a single cloud-based solution.

Tapping AI-driven analytics
Attrition is a challenge for marketing teams in every industry, financial services included. While many employ tactics such as reward programs or promotional pricing to keep existing customers or entice new ones, they can only go so far.

That’s where artificial intelligence (AI) comes in. By adopting the right AI-powered analytics platform for their customer origination and retention strategies, marketing teams can go from relying on a one-size-fits-all approach to drawing from a deep well of personalized promotional offers that intelligently target customers based on a variety of factors. Receiving an offer that feels tailored to their geography, age, life stage and bank relationship helps customers feel valued and can later create new revenue opportunities.

More importantly, analytics platforms are capable of building, testing and predicting the results of a wide range of campaign scenarios at a much faster speed than real-world A/B testing, and are easy enough to deploy that marketers can take advantage without relying on the IT department. And since they’re based on algorithms capable of learning and improving themselves with each transaction, the teams using them don’t have to worry about their strategies going out of date; the models behind them simply adjust to updated consumer behaviour patterns.

Optimizing digital channels
“Digital transformation” was a buzzword in the financial services industry well before the pandemic, with Canada’s banks spending more than $100 billion on technology between 2009 and 2019, according to the Canadian Bankers Association. COVID-19 simply accelerated the process, limiting in-person customer service and transforming digital platforms from an alternative to the main communication channel for many financial companies.

Fortunately, as those companies’ marketing teams have quickly discovered, those platforms come with scale, speed and efficiency advantages. They allow them to use not only banking apps but autonomous services such as chatbots, web forms, inbound IVRs, online payment channels and even social media to connect with users.

Even at the best of times, customer needs are dynamic. During a crisis, financial institutions need their systems to be more flexible than ever, delivering new products, meeting user expectations and testing new services as quickly as customers have come to expect from the likes of Amazon and Netflix. A single, static design cannot meet the needs of today’s financial services companies for more personalized, customer-focused, multi-faceted strategies. And any institution that doesn’t accept that reality will lose customers to a rival that will.

Don’t wait!
The worst thing any business can do in response to COVID-19 is wait for it to pass. While the pandemic will end, many of its impacts on consumer habits are likely permanent. The longer financial services companies and their marketing teams wait to digitally transform their services and retention strategies, the further behind they will be when the “new normal” finally arrives.

Kevin Deveau is the vice president and managing director of FICO Canada.

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