Bank of Tomorrow: the keywords are customisation and relevance

26 years old. Bright green sneakers, messy hairdo, an irreverent look in his eyes. Not much out of the ordinary so far. But while the bulk of his peers are looking for jobs, his agenda is booked solid until September 2014 with international consultancy assignments, lectures, workshops and radio and TV appearances: ‘internet guru’, entrepreneur, writer and consultant Danny Mekić. 

After starting an internet company at the age of 15, things went fast for this Dutch autodidact with Bosnian roots. Against all advice, he dropped out of high school to focus on being an entrepreneur. And he was successful: in 2009 he was declared young entrepreneur of the year. By now he has several successful companies to his name.

By Leontien van Tilburg for ABN Amro’s staff magazine

Together with this entrepreneur and innovation strategist — in the past also for ABN AMRO — who knows what ‘the next generation’ is like, I’m talking about the customers of tomorrow. What would they want and expect of the bank? And how can we make the most of that?

What kind of customer are you, yourself? A critical and inquisitive one. I’m often a customer to more than one company in the same sector, so I can compare them. I use every major bank for something or other.

So, are you satisfied? I’m lucky enough to have very good account managers, but my parents, my sister and a lot of my friends and colleagues don’t have that luxury, and they never hear a thing from the bank, except for the usual commercial mail. That’s a real waste of opportunities.

I’m listening. There’s online banking, for example. It looks exactly the same for every customer. You login, you do what you came for and you leave again as soon as possible. It doesn’t properly take into account who you are and what kind of stimuli would appeal to you.

Like a pink website with hearts and pretty curly letters? Why not, if someone likes that? There’s a lot less face to face interaction than there used to be, but people still want personalised service, be it on or offline. That starts at asking customers questions, like: what keeps you up at night? Or: ‘Say, Danny, what are your dreams and how could we help you achieve them?’ I expect a proactive bank, but my neighbour might just find that incredibly annoying. One customer has completely different wishes from another, and a bank is expected to take that into account.

The keyword is customisation, then?  Yes, and also: time. We hop around from appointment to appointment, from whatsapp message to tweet, from site to platform. There’s always a more fun place or a better deal out there somewhere, and that makes consumers restless and picky. The challenge for a company is to offer added value and thus be worth your customers’ valuable time.

Young people want good value for their time. Exactly! Here’s an example: an automotive dealer noticed a drastic decline in ‘quality time’ with customers in the showroom, as a result of internet shopping in advance. Meanwhile, sign-ups for his annual racing event were overwhelming. And I thought: put a racing track next to your showroom! Don’t offer test drives in a gloomy industrial park, let them go wild on the track — to the tune of their favourite musicians blasting from the speakers from someone’s Facebook page. That’s what attracts customers. It’ll even make them willing to pay a bit more.

So how does that translate to banking? The way I see it, your added value would be in being the connecting party in all sorts of valuable transactions: between the bank and the customer, but also between different customers. It’s all about the customer’s interests, wasn’t that the slogan? You have all sorts of data that could really be helpful to your customers. It would be a waste not to put it to use.

The bank as an intermediary? Tomorrow’s bank is a platform where you can shop for services yourself, and where you’re matched with relevant parties. For example: I have money and I want to invest in startups. The bank gets requests every day and can’t nearly answer them all. Or maybe I’ve made an invention that I want to sell. Or I want to buy intellectual property rights. I’d say there are opportunities there.

We’ll seize them! We recently launched the crowd funding platform ‘Seeds’, which lets private individuals invest in companies. That’s a good initiative, but if you visit the website, you can’t see anywhere that it’s part of ABN AMRO. And I think you shouldn’t separate something like this, but make it centrally accessible via online banking. Here’s another suggestion: benchmarking. ‘Hey Danny, similar offices in your sector use up way less office space, so maybe you should scale down a bit.’ That’s useful to me. That way, my bank becomes more than just a transaction processor.

So: the bank of tomorrow offers customisation, added value and connections. And in order to do that, you need to go back to the basics. Because real innovation is about wondering what your products and services would be like if you’d completely reinvent them today. If you dare to do that, you’re showing real vision and leadership.

That sounds utopian. No, it’s not, because you’d add that technology to the existing bank systems. You’d start small and build on that. Just a few people on a small budget, focusing only on tomorrow’s customers. And designing the bank around that. Slowly migrating. Until one day, the new bank is larger than the old and you’re suddenly at the forefront again.

Isn’t it better for a bank to just be ‘normal’? Nonsense, you can innovate with risk management as your core business too. If you present cool, surprising things, you’ll get people interested and you’ll win back their trust. And as it happens, that’s particularly vital for a bank.

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