U.S. Bank and Bank of Montreal have begun multiyear overhauls of their websites, mobile apps, call centers and ATMs.

Each recently gave American Banker an in-depth look at its efforts to modernize and unify these nonbranch retail channels and explained its thinking. Other banks, including JPMorgan Chase and USAA, have been undergoing similar remakes.

The main goal is obvious: promote growth by making customers happy. And making customers happy happens through listening and constant tinkering.

“A bank app is not Netflix, it’s not entertainment,” said Gareth Gaston, executive vice president of omnichannel at U.S. Bank, a unit of U.S. Bancorp in Minneapolis. “It’s a utility to help you get whatever you need done, done … as quickly as possible.”

Several common themes underlie these projects.

Fix what’s broken. Both U.S. Bank and Toronto-based BMO are starting with the “dissatisfiers” — the things that vex customers or make them give up on one channel (say, mobile) and switch to another (such as the call center). JPMorgan also made this part of its approach when it rewrote its mobile app last year.

Keeping it simple
“I haven’t earned the right to delight you until I’ve simplified the experience,” Niti Badarinath, BMO’s head of North American channels, says in describing the glitches that prompt mobile customers to get frustrated.

“First I have to focus on simplicity and removing dissatisfiers, because I haven’t earned the right to delight you until I’ve simplified the experience,” said Niti Badarinath, BMO’s head of North American channels. “The reason people change channels midsession and midtransaction is because something is broken, confusing or not there.”

This approach is logical but sometimes overlooked.

“If you try to go forward with too many broken pieces, you could end up throwing away a lot of good work, investments into all kinds of technology that may or may not be the right ones for you,” said Jacob Jegher, a senior vice president and banking expert at Javelin Strategy & Research.

BMO is using analytics to understand where break points occur and why customers change channels — which hurts efficiency and net promoter scores. For the first two years of this project, the bank will work to simplify transfers between accounts, bill payments, goal-oriented savings and other services. Eventually it will use predictive analytics to shepherd customers along their financial journeys.

Make incremental enhancements. Gaston prefers the term “continuous improvement” to describe U.S. Bank’s project.

“It’s not just fix what’s broken, because it’s not necessarily ‘broken,’ ” he said. “We’ve got changing customer expectations we’re keeping up with. The customer’s expectation is set by the latest iOS upgrade or what Amazon has brought to life in their experience.”

U.S. Bank’s mobile app was improved 27 times in the past two years, with the help of so-called agile development methods.

BMO also has adopted agile development. “Gone are the days when our tech people took months and months and built detailed requirements,” Badarinath said.

Authentication is a prime example. The top thing U.S. Bank customers ask for is an easy yet secure way to log in to online and mobile banking.

“What happens frequently is customers forget their passwords, so we we’ve done many things to make that process easier,” Gaston said.

In the mobile app, customers can use their fingerprint so they do not have to remember their passwords. For person-to-person payments, the bank will text a PIN so, again, the customer does not have to remember anything.

For times when customers have to reset passwords, the bank has streamlined the process. It has built tools for call center agents and branch bankers to reset and reissue passwords, too.

“That would be an example of listening to customer feedback, implementing it quickly, and not just implementing it in digital but across all channels,” Gaston said.

U.S. Bank is also implementing a common authentication platform that will let it plug any type of authentication — fingerprint, eye, voice or facial recognition — into any channel. The platform comes from a vendor Gaston declined to name.

Create a “unified customer experience.” For years, banks have talked about having a consistent experience across mobile apps, websites, branches, ATMs, video kiosks, call centers and text messages. Yet you would not want to talk with a teller the same way you tap on a mobile app or withdraw cash from an ATM.

At BMO, the mandate is to improve customer experience for the bank’s U.S. and Canadian wealth and retail clients and serve them as one bank, according to Badarinath.

“Anytime I spend money building something, in year two, it will be expanded to cover the entire bank,” he said.

BMO is concentrating first on its digital channels, because it perceives that customers increasingly want to begin and end their sales journeys on mobile devices.

This fits with recent Javelin research that found most consumers would prefer to apply for credit cards in digital channels: 48% said online, 13% mobile, and 34% said they would prefer a branch. For a checking account it was 41% online, 8% mobile and 49% in a branch.

Today, only 8% of successful applications start and finish in a smartphone or tablet.

“An abysmal 67% finish the process in another channel,” Jegher said.

Last year BMO rolled out an eight-minute mobile account opening process for deposit accounts and cards in Canada. Now it wants to bring that to the United States.

Yet digital is not the sole answer, U.S. Bank’s Gaston cautioned.

“The customer wants great digital tools and a great digital experience,” he said, “but they also want a great branch experience and a great contact center experience and a great ATM experience. We can't leave some channels behind.”

For example, U.S. Bank is piloting mobile appointment scheduling for branch visits in Denver and getting customer feedback before taking it national.

Establish an innovation team. At U.S. Bank, an innovation team led by Dominic Venturo helps Gaston’s group roll out new technology.

“He will skate further ahead and look at trends and develop more future-oriented things, so he’s way ahead right now thinking about augmented reality and artificial intelligence,” Gaston said.

Venturo’s group tests new technologies and gets market reaction to them. Gaston’s team figures out how to bring them to market in a big way.

“That’s a great model because it’s hard to execute today and tomorrow and also be thinking about next year,” Gaston said. “Dominic and his team are free to think ahead without being burdened by today.”

BMO has a group whose job is to look for interesting fintechs the bank can partner with to augment his group’s work.

“We acknowledge that not all good ideas come from within the bank,” Badarinath said. Some stem from relationships with accelerators like Plug and Play and Communitech.

Test emerging technologies. BMO is experimenting with the use of beacons in branches to recognize customers coming in, new methods of authentication and other products.

It is thinking about presenting offers from geocoded merchants using location information and about location-aware fraud mitigation “where we know where you are because we know where the phone is,” Badarinath said.

And it is exploring options for using chatbots to let people use text messages to request and perform transactions.

Gaston envisions using augmented reality to help customers who want to purchase a car, a house or a boat understand their options.

He foresees using machine learning in the bank’s decisions about online accounts.

“Quite often you say no when you’d like to say yes, and sometimes you say yes when you should have said no, and there’s learning there,” Gaston said. “I see it in sales, in service, learning what patterns customers go through when they’re requesting help or information, and getting them that information quicker.”

U.S. Bank has been testing voice banking for several years.

“I’m a big Alexa fan, [and] I do think voice will be big in our future,” Gaston said. “The idea that I can say, ‘What’s my bank balance?’ or ‘Send the babysitter $20,’ it’s such an easy and seamless way of banking. It’s rapidly becoming something customers will expect from any company.”

U.S. Bank also experiments with chatbots. “I think we’re a few years off discussing our wealth management needs with a robot," Gaston said, "but never say never.”

Editor at Large Penny Crosman welcomes feedback at penny.crosman@sourcemedia.com.