SapientNitro calls itself the first ever customer experience company, and in a new report written with other industry players, Sapient's pushing "engagement banking"-remaking retail to maintain its relevance. BTN talks to Alex Sion, Sapient's vp of financial services, about engagement.


BTN: You look at how technology will allow banks to become more engaged with customers. How do PFM tools fit into this picture?

Sion: I think PFM is the key, really the central organizing principle now for how you engage customers at scale. So for me it's less about PFM-PFM might have kind of a bad name associated with more budgeting tools-to me PFM is really a proxy for saying the customer needs context around their financial life. So however you deliver that, whatever you define as context, is the way to go.

That doesn't need to be budgeting tools, but it does need to give you a sense of where is my money going, how am I doing with it, and how is it either helping me or preventing me from achieving my goals?


BTN: Where are banks, and non-banks like Mint or Bundle, in the evolution?

Sion: It varies. You've got PNC Virtual Wallet at one end, [and] they've got a great product that really is organized around that context. Then you've got Bundle doing some very, very clever things around peer-to-peer context. Then you've got the grandfather of them all, Mint, which has really taken a budgeting, cash flow-oriented approach to context. I think they're all innovating in some way, and I think there will be many flavors of this out there. I believe that PFM will be the brand differentiator at the end of the day. So I expect it to take on different characteristics.


BTN: Let's switch to mobile. You say banks aren't paying enough attention to mobile payments. What is going to happen in this market in the next two years?

Sion: You see a lot of people filling in the empty space. You see the telecom providers aggressively moving into this space.

You've got the technology companies like PayPal, even CashEdge with PopMoney, entering the space. Until the banks get their act together around this you're going to see a lot of innovation coming from other places.


BTN: You also talk about the use of predictive technologies in branches. What might that look like?

Sion: To me it really is taking context to a whole 'nother level. A recognition of who you are as soon as you enter the branch, which you can do a number of ways. There are some augmented reality tools at the ATM, or some kind of RFID tagging as you enter the branches. Kind of like at the finest restaurants out there-the service model is based upon knowing the customer as soon as they enter. That's what we envision in the branch environment-the ability for them to know your name, know your needs, and anticipate what you're looking for.


BTN: How might augmented reality be used in a branch?

Sion: I think there's great possibility, with the whole virtual experience, touch screen walls, the real estate in a way that the ATMs own today. Sapient's done a lot of pioneering work in the area of facial recognition and the ability to use that to basically create an engaging experience for consumers. ...The use of branches as broadcast points intrigues me as well.


BTN: Who are some of your customers and what are the coolest things you're helping them do?

Sion: We're working with a lot of the major financial institutions...And they're all kind of in this investment mode around the engagement banking concepts. Heavily investing in mobile, reinventing, reconsidering the entire online experience around this kind of notion of PFM and what do I do with it? And also playing with the more emerging technologies, iPad applications, all in the right ways.

What I would say is a lot of people are still doing this as point/reactive efforts. And there's only one client that we're working with right now that is truly at the senior support levels viewing this as a business model transformation opportunity.

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