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The 2021 Banking Blueprint

2020 has been disruptive in almost every sense of the word. E-commerce has swept aside physical retail. Daily commuting, once a reality for most people, now only affects a select few. Customer service is now generally delivered via digital medium—instead of face to face.

This widespread disruption has had a profound impact on the banking sector. 2020 has made one thing abundantly clear: if you’re not digital-first, you’ll come off second best. Keeping up with the pace of change is a never-ending necessity.

Those spearheading innovation within banks need to act fast. Consumer habits are transforming at a rate of knots—and only the most digital-savvy, innovation-orientated banks will survive going forward.

Making what’s new, normal

With strictly enforced lockdowns and countless branches around Europe closing, temporarily for some and permanently for others, 2020 has seen all banks forced to rapidly embrace digital-first approaches.

Despite mass lockdowns and quarantine, technology has ensured that business-as-usual carries on as much as possible. Those that embraced technology at all levels have thrived during this period—and will continue to thrive in the years to come. Technology must therefore be at the forefront of everything that banks and financial institutions do. Digital-first isn’t just a buzzword—it’s the modern way of life.

We live in an era where there are more mobile phones than people and where most consumers actively prefer digital interactions. This is unsurprising. Throughout 2020, doing things digitally has been a literal matter of life and death.

The past year has seen the global e-commerce market increase in value by 19%. As of April 2020, there were 300 million daily Zoom meeting participants—ten times more than a year ago. Digital-first approaches have permeated every aspect of life. Buying groceries? Schedule a delivery. Chatting with your doctor? Arrange a video call. Working out? Hop on Zoom group class.

There’ll also be long-term effects on the way we socialise. Large, public, in-person gatherings used to be synonymous with having a good time. But the pandemic has flipped this on its head. According to the 2020 Gartner Consumer Behaviors and Attitudes Survey, 77% of respondents no longer feel comfortable socialising as they did before the pandemic. 

Life is increasingly digital-first. If banks want to cater to these consumers, they need to reflect this in everything they do.

Changing realities

Technological innovation and the long-term effects of the pandemic will transform all aspects of customers’ banking experience. However, there are three areas where it will have a particularly profound impact: payments, customer service, and attitudes towards credit.


Cheques, once commonplace, were largely replaced by debit and credit cards. Cheque books were bigger, harder to carry around, and more easily susceptible to fraud—making cards a welcome and necessary innovation. But these days, even physical cards are on their way out. 

5 years ago, forgetting your wallet at home was a travesty. These days, however, you can simply use Apple Wallet, Google Pay, Samsung Wallet, or any other phone-based payment functionality—meaning credit/debit cards are arguably yesterday’s technology. 

It’s no wonder that digital-first payments have increased by 30% across Europe over the past three years. They allow consumers to seamlessly integrate payment functionality into their existing device ecosystem—whether on their phone while they’re out on-the-go or sitting at home on their laptop/desktop. 

What’s more, they avoid the potential health concerns associated with physical cards. Rather than having endless consumers bring out their cards, hold the payment machine in their hands, and physically enter their PIN, they can now make payments while keeping a safe distance at all times.

Customer service

At the beginning of the pandemic, bank branches were suddenly closing left, right, and centre. For example, Santander—one of Spain’s largest banks—announced earlier this year that it was closing down a third of its 3,100 branches across Spain. Unfortunately, this trend has affected all banks and financial institutions across Europe.

You could be forgiven for thinking that customer service standards were therefore going to plummet. But that hasn’t been the case. Digital-first customer service has instead taken its place—allowing customers to continue banking just as before, with minimal disruption on their customer experience. In the UK, Natwest “went from doing 100 video banking calls a week in January to 9,000 per week in September”. Across Europe more generally, coronavirus led to a 72% uptake in the use of digital fintech apps.

Technology will be at the heart of customer service going forward—so it’s crucial that you integrate digital-first approaches into your customer service strategy in 2021 and beyond.

Attitudes towards credit

Since being introduced in the 1950s, credit cards have been nothing short of a financial game changer. Consumers can continue spending (up to a predetermined amount), even if they don’t currently have the money to pay for these goods—while banks can then reap the interest that consumers end up paying them in return. Therefore, this “buy now, pay later” principle has generally been beneficial to banks and consumers alike. 

But that might be set to change. Rising interest rates, and unfavourable economic conditions more generally, are set to cause a spike in the number of delinquencies. Consumers may now see credit—once viewed as a reasonably safe bet—as a potential risk. When it comes to food retail, for example, the number of consumers using debit cards (instead of credit cards) has risen from 45% to 55% in just a year—showing an increased mistrust of using credit for everyday purchases.

Internal improvement

Banks are beginning to adopt a customer-centric lens to everything they do—and rightly so. However, in order to serve your customers better, you need to make sure that your internal approach is spot on and is informed by latest changes in consumer behaviour. Make sure that using technology is done in the right place to add value to customers.

Digital transformation

Digital transformation has long been talked about in the banking sector—but its importance has never been as stark as it has been in 2020. 

According to McKinsey, the percentage of European consumers using digital banking channels has risen from 81% to 95% in 2020 alone. To meet this changing consumer behaviour, ING released Yolt: a platform allowing consumers to integrate their various cards and accounts into one easy-to-understand mobile platform, giving them more visibility and control over their spending while using digital channels.

Data analytics 

Technology allows you to acquire a wealth of data on your customers, analyse it with ease, and tangibly improve your customers’ lives. Take BBVA, for example. They were recently named the most innovative bank in Europe and Latin America for digital banking in recognition of their digital transformation initiatives. In order to improve their customers’ experience, the bank rightly utilised data analytics and artificial intelligence. How customers behave and where they need more attention are questions which are best answered by customer data, not necessarily through feedback forms. Going forward, all financial institutions need to look at their customers’ behaviours through their behavioural data. The digital infrastructure they build must be built with the intention of collecting and processing data to inform priorities and strategy. 

Rise to the challenge—and reap the rewards

2020 has had a transformative impact on banks and financial institutions. It’s made one thing abundantly clear: those that introduce technology at all levels, both internally and externally, will thrive. In 2021, it’s time to put this lesson into action. 

From all of us here at receeve, we wish you Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year! If you’d like help working out how you can innovate in 2021 and beyond, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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