What does the future of banking look like for Maurice Lisi, head of multichannel and CRM office at Intesa Sanpaolo’s International Subsidiary Banks Division? “I truly believe that many physical representations of the bank will disappear. For example, the plastic cards that are in our wallets; they are already disappearing, being replaced by our phones. Artificial intelligence will contextualise our behaviours and make suggestions for products, reacting to the customer’s experience. I would be able to chat with my relationship manager without ever visiting a branch. The consumer experience will totally change. In the next 10 years, the concept of traditional banks will completely disappear.”
In 2015, Lisi and the team launched Intesa Sanpaolo’s DigiCal, an entirely new customer experience delivered through digital platforms and supported by physical in-branch services. DigiCal was designed around a customer-centric approach; rather than force technology on a traditional banking structure, the team began by thinking about what the customer might need. Working from “trustpoints”, they built an entirely different banking experience led by a series of smart technological set-ups and even smarter fintech partnerships.
“Most financial companies focus only on their digital strategy; for us the focus was to deliver a truly new overall customer experience. We wanted to create an ecosystem of financial services around the customer,” says Lisi.
The first application of DigiCal was with CIB Bank in Hungary, where a mobile app launched in March 2016 – and almost immediately won an award at the Mastercard Bank of the Year Awards. The CIB app was the pioneer of the DigiCal team’s bold future banking ideas. In 2017, the team created an award-winning ‘7-minute loan’ feature, allowing customers to apply for and receive a personal loan in a matter of minutes – a process that takes days in a physical branch.
Today, 41 per cent of CIB’s retail clients use the mobile app and it enjoys high customer ratings (4.4 – 4.5 stars) in respective stores. “The Hungarian market and customers are ahead of digital trends and open for innovation,” says Tamás Ákos, executive board member and head of the retail division at CIB Bank. “70 per cent of our retail customers use at least one of our electronic channels. We can say that – in a way – digital channels are becoming ‘the new branch’, because 98 per cent of transactions and 20-30 per cent of new investment fund and unsecured loan sales are going through these channels.”
Technology is changing the DNA of banking and completely disrupting traditional systems. To stay relevant to your customer, you have to be prepared to change as well. Those who don’t will disappear.
That is not to say that the DigiCal project is a purely digital exercise. Its name, a combination of the words “digital” and “physical”, suggests that Lisi and the team put as much emphasis on the branch experience as on digital access for customers. Lisi compares the approach to that of Apple, whose stores are primarily points of physical engagement with the customer rather than for selling products. In banking terms, that means that technology takes away all the admin and form filling, leaving in-branch representatives to have meaningful and supportive relationships with the customer.
“While more and more financial transactions are diverted into digital channels, customers still like to visit branches on business that they could otherwise handle online, as they prefer professional support and help from our colleagues. Employees working in branches have an important role in educating our customers; in many cases they help customers try out some unique features available on our mobile app,” says Ákos.
Throughout 2017, Intesa Sanpaolo’s International Subsidiary Banking Division (ISBD) bolstered its digital offering by launching five digital projects across two continents. Organisational transformation was key to delivering DigiCal’s innovation agenda. “Technology is easy, but working with people to answer the question: ‘Why do we change when we are the market leader?’ was the most demanding part of the project,” says Lisi.
Tamás Ákos, Deputy CEO and Head of the Retail Division at CIB Bank.
The real power in the DigiCal approach shows in its successes at tackling the problems presented by territories with different levels of digital maturity. As Lisi observes, in Egypt, where ISBD operates Alexbank, 80 per cent of people are unbanked – quite a contrast from the digital-only markets of Eastern Europe. “In one country we might discuss how to do everything online, whereas in another it is about using technology to deliver financial inclusion,” says Lisi. “100 million citizens in Egypt are unbanked. In Albania, looking at the data, we have a group of people who are going to skip the desktop PC era, going straight to mobile. In all territories we are continually learning and improving.”
For Lisi and the DigiCal team, change is coming. Lisi observes that, while artificial intelligence and machine learning are beginning to be used in mainstream banking, there is still a long way to go to exploit their potential. It is the DigiCal team’s role to keep up with the needs of the customer and use technology to address those needs. “Technology is changing the DNA of banking and completely disrupting traditional systems,” says Lisi. “To stay relevant to your customer, you have to be prepared to change as well. Those who don’t will disappear.”
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