Challenge of digitisation: how retail banks can win the competition for customers

London - 26 March 2015

  • Banking sector under pressure from digital players, fintechs and changing customer expectations
  • GFT Group launches finance sector trend survey

Sectors such as the music industry and retail trade have already experienced it: the digitisation process is now gradually spreading to all areas of business and daily life. A panel of experts at CeBIT in Hanover discussed the growing pressure for innovation in the banking sector. The big question is: how will banks react to the changing market environment and how can digital technology improve the service experience for customers? A recently launched international study by GFT Group aims to provide answers.

It took PayPal less than three years to establish itself as a powerful online payment option. In Germany alone, the company has more than 12 million active users. And with Apple Pay, Alipay and Google Wallet, the next non-industry players are about to roll out their own digital payment solutions. However, digitisation not only means new competitors but gives retail banks the opportunity to adapt to new trends, to develop a better understanding of their customers and to cooperate with the so-called fintechs. These are the key findings of GFT’s panel discussion among industry experts at CeBIT.

Whether social banking (Fidor Bank, represented by Frank Schwab, CEO of Fidor TecS AG), applications to facilitate everyday banking (Gini, Munich-based start-up, Michael Maier, Head of Sales and Marketing) or an analysis of customer data in order to optimise services (GPredictive, CODE_n Finalist 2014, Björn Goerke, CEO) – the range of new digital services is wide. They illustrate the industry’s current change process: the focus is now less on products and more on the customer. The experts all agreed: a European comparison clearly shows that there is a substantial difference between those countries with advanced digital banking economies, such as: Spain, Italy, the UK, Sweden or Norway, and those who have yet to embrace the digitisation of the finance sector. “Even in Germany for example, the ‘land of direct debit’, the banks are still at a very early stage,” says Marina Walser, Head of Portfolio Strategy, GFT. “The organisational structures within banks are complex and focused on product development. We cannot emphasise enough that a change in attitude towards a more customer-centric approach would bring huge benefits in view of the current fierce competition. Young people in particular have long established their digital daily routines. However, the mindset of most banks is still analogue.” This was also confirmed by the three fintechs: there was only modest interest in cooperation being displayed by banks.

The key findings of the panel discussion were:

  • Banks will be forced to integrate their services into the everyday lives of their customers – and this is increasingly digital. In other words, there must be a complete integration of both analogue and digital channels and a constant presence in the customer’s daily life.
  • The customer is at the centre, not the product.
  • Data analysis and interpretation are the future: banks must know their customers to be able to make the right offer.
  • Fintechs have the ideas, banks the money – a no-holds-barred collaboration with young think tanks might act as a catalyst for innovation within the banks.
  • The automotive industry has already shown the way: reduce vertical integration by outsourcing parts of the value chain to cooperation partners, like the fintechs, in order to focus on what’s important: the creation of strong and trustworthy brands.
  • The pressure is not only coming from new players, such as Google, and innovative fintechs – customers themselves see how things could be different and expect a new quality of service.

Are these just a few isolated highlights or an apt description of the overall situation? In order to answer this question, GFT has launched an international survey among top decision-makers and banking experts in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, the UK and Brazil entitled “The Secrets of Success for Digital Banking”. The experts will be surveyed until 6 April. Participants are naturally granted exclusive access to the results as of May. 

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