5 Takeaways from SAP's Client Conference: Reporter's Notebook

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It's hard to be a bank.

During the SAP Financial Services Forum held in New York this week, the challenges the industry faces were repeatedly outlined by numerous speakers, including the Honorable Sheila Bair and an exec from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. Let's just say the list goes on and on: The budget line for complying with regulations continues to trend up for banks, thus pressuring their profits, while consumers' lack of trust in the financial services industry keeps on raging on. All the while, the need for banks to provide a better customer experience remains a pressing issue, which also means financial institutions must get better at offering products and services in a multi-channel environment that are both easier for their customers to use and more meaningful to them individually.

Despite the litany of complaints about constraints, a number of banks are still doing cool stuff for their customer. As SAP's Michael Nixon said during a presentation, referencing author Peter Sims: "little bets" can help companies discover and develop ideas.

To that end, bank execs shared ideas and company learnings throughout the forum that were meant to help inspire fellow financial services players to not only survive the climate but perform better. Here are five takeaways from the first day of the event:

1. Customers want to talk to banks when they want to talk to banks. Indeed, outbound communications are less relevant than inbound messages, said Andrew Hagger, Andrew Hagger, general manager — head transformation and analytics, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, which has been changing to SAP's core for years (a project which it refers to as "the revolution"). The challenge for banks, then, is to have the information on why the customer is seeking out the contact readily available, he said. "Analytics underpins the ability to offer the right products to clients," he said. In addition, Hagger revealed that CBA is piloting HANA, an in-memory database from SAP.

2. Banking is a companion activity, which is why simplicity must reign. In other words, a consumer might be watching TV while he's applying for a loan, which probably means his attention span is less acute. "People are doing things with us while they are doing something else," said CBA's Hagger. "That's why we need to be simple."

3. Customers are more willing to demand change. "They are willing to seek out better services," said Rodney Nelsestuen, senior research director of CEB Financial Group. To better understand the customer, Nelsestuen urged banks to put anthropologists on their staffs. Why? To better navigate and understand the human social network.

4. Corporate mobile banking appeals most to small businesses. Since First Tennessee Bank rolled out corporate mobile banking in April of 2011, it has found that the number one users are small businesses, said Taylor Vaughan, director of treasury products. The bank uses the Sybase 365 platform, which is owned by SAP, and delivers the feature to customers through a mobile browser.

5. When innovating, consider the emotional state of the end user. SAP's Vice President of Value Engineering Michael Nixon said the company has been talking a lot about the emotional connection, which it never used to do. Indeed, Nixon said SAP thinks about putting scenarios and people at the center, such as mulling over what people are thinking about during a certain time of day. In other words, understanding the emotional state of the user is becoming an important part of SAP's design thinking process. "We're changing the way we engage," Nixon said.

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