Digital services, which include cards, online banking, mobile apps for finances, USSD for transferring money you don’t have, etc., are essential services. In fact, financial inclusion has been elevated to the level of fundamental human rights. However, unlike things we derive joy from using – Whatsapp, Tinder, Facebook, to mention a few, digital services are like toothpaste; nobody gets too emotional about them – you just want them to be affordable, available, easy to use and then get them out of the way before you lose your mind. That is if you have a mind to start with.
Challenges facing purveyors
But then, the horror eating at digital bankers, the unloved purveyors of FinTech (Ok, I want to stop using this buzzword, it’s no longer cool) products and other financial thingamajigs, is the low onboarding or usage rate despite a captive market. When I say captive market, I’m talking about banks with large customer bases but whose customers just don’t sign up for electronic services. You would think customers love going to those crowded and nightmarish banking halls. Hell, freaking no! They continue to complain about having to visit branches to get things done. To make matters worse, even the tellers in the branches aren’t smiling or friendly, so what’s the point?
What customers want
I know quite a bit about what customers want with digital services because I’m one of them. As crazy as it sounds, I’m a customer, so I’m speaking for the hordes of ill-served and hapless customers.
The average user isn’t a techie, but yet products and services are designed such that you need to be a professor to figure things out. How to get the products is never clear; the screen flow is more complicated than flying a space shuttle, and the error messages leave you scratching your head. I can imagine how hard that is going to be for bald customers. For example, the password instructions about using special characters, upper, middle and lower cases, etc. can drive even the most patient Moses impersonator to tears. Why can’t I choose a password I’m more comfortable with? After all, if I use a complicated password and my money gets stolen, the bank still won’t be doing a refund.
By the way, using passwords such as Password123, for example, is like painting a big fat red ‘X’ on your back and then taking an evening stroll through a war zone.
Customers want convenience so asking me to visit a branch to request internet and mobile access is just, pardon my language, insane. Until someone explains why Facebook and Whatsapp never set up offices to sign up users, but my bank has to force me to endure the unfriendly Customer Service Officer, I won’t ever understand this. The pseudo-professionals talk of security and risk management, I only see mental laziness. While the risks have not disappeared, banks have launched USSD services, virtually all via self-enrollment, and the world is yet to end. Why the same approach can’t be used for all other electronic services baffles me.
My accounts have simple ten digit numbers, but the various digital banking services require different profiles and credentials. The multiple systems don’t talk to each other or even know my preferences. Does it make sense to have a different username and password for the internet and mobile services? Why can’t I manage my cards within these applications?
And the most annoying thing ever? – Even after I have taken Keke Marwa to visit the branch, endured the overzealous security guard, prayed through 10 chapters of Psalms that the branch doesn’t get hit by robbers on the day I visit, complete a form that stretches over a thousand pages, made to fill all my information over and over again, sign in 10 different places and then, oh, the customer service officer says “you have to come back to get your token as we have to make a request to head office.” Darn it!
Why digital initiatives and products have failed
Of course, customers aren’t idiots, so they rebelled against the products, come to the branches to cause trouble and continue to add to the blood pressure of digital bankers when they have to explain their weak numbers at monthly performance meetings.
My opinions on why things failed are few:
It starts from the top. Senior management and executives don’t understand the retail customers. In their rarefied offices, they practically get everything done for them. If you don’t walk in your customers’ shoes, you can’t get things done for them. In fact, let’s take a bet; if you work in a bank and 50% of your senior management use digital products regularly, I’ll give up my salary for next month.
Many products are developed by techies, who obviously have orgasms making complex products than serving dumb customers like me. The world has moved beyond digital products being hobbyist items; experts in customer experience and human computer interaction need to work on the flows and processes that are simple and a joy to use. Banks and FinTech (oops, I used the word again!) have to start doing product management and not product delivery.
Risk management is essential but isn’t everything. Every business has an element of risk; if you don’t want to get bruised, don’t play games. Many of the processes and product requirements are designed by sadists who think risk avoidance is the same as risk management. Not to be hard on them, if you have ever seen a massive fraud once in your career, you could be worse than them. Trust me, EFCC cells don’t have air conditioners.
Data practice is poor, and customer information is scattered everywhere in database silos. The silo data means the customer’s phone number on the card management system is different from the one on that of internet banking; the address filed on the mobile app request form was never updated into the core banking application; the madness goes on and on.
Making life easy for everyone
It’s not all doom and gloom. The strides made by some banks, especially those leading the USSD trail (GTBank, Fidelity, Access, Zenith, etc.) have shown that when the right mindset is applied, magic can happen. The simple workflow and self-service options for USSD banking have been so successful that it has led to over 200% growth for interbank transactions in 2016 alone.
Banks should develop integrated products or make efforts to integrate what they already have. Let the ATM know that I have the mobile app; let the mobile app be able to change my card PIN (yes!), set limits and allow me to make requests from my phone.
Processes that involve branch visits should be streamlined; Forms should be designed by humans (not sadists) and for humans; requirements should be clear and reasonable. For instance, setting up a company online banking profile, with various mandate instructions remotely, will always be difficult but not impossible. At least, that process shouldn’t be an attempt at mental genocide.
Banks should clean up their data and also implement a single-source of truth. It’s never going to be done in a flash, but the process can start now.
FinTech and banks should understand what risk management is. Instead of making things too loose (FinTech) or too hard (Banks), elements of quantitative and qualitative risk assessments should be applied, and banks should learn to set a portion of income aside for fraud and loss compensations.
Things can change
The frenetic pace of changes over the last few years is an indication of things to come. I honestly believe that many of the issues outlined above can be resolved. After all, we didn’t get here in one weekend. Additionally, the regulatory demands of Cashless would drive the banks, financial service providers and the average Nigerian towards more robust digital services.