What banks can swipe from Google's video-game playbook

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Banks have long struggled to provide an experience that effortlessly works across multiple devices and provides the same service found in a branch.

For every success story that comes from Bank of America, USAA, or the recent reimagining of U.S. Bank’s mobile app, there are countless examples of consumers unable to finish a loan application or open an account online, forced to come into a branch to complete the process.

A true omnichannel experience is difficult for most banks to achieve.

While brands outside the financial services sphere such as Amazon, Netflix and Uber have served as examples for best-in-class digital design, Google has come along to set new expectations for what an ideal omnichannel experience could entail in the near future.

Google recently introduced Stadia, a forthcoming streaming video-game service that will not rely on traditional console hardware in the same way Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo do with their respective systems.

Other companies have disastrously tried to go down this path before. But technology has now advanced to the point where streaming high-quality video gaming is possible with the right broadband connection and cutting-edge technology from the provider.

What bankers should be paying attention to is Google’s promise with Stadia: a flawless omnichannel setting where a user has the ability to pick up and play a game at any time, on almost every internet-connected device with a screen.

This capability is one of Stadia’s key features. For example, if users start a game through a Chromecast Ultra device on a 55-inch television in their living room, they can save the game and start it back up later at the same point on a device that features a Chrome web browser, be it a smartphone, tablet or personal computer.

Google also aims to take omnichannel, and on-demand services, a step further and make gaming experiences more interactive among users.

Consumers will be able to share with others specific moments of a game through a link. The end user would be able to pick up the game exactly where the last player left off.

Stadia also will offer what it calls Crowd Play, a feature that will enable YouTubers and streamers to instantly share a game with their viewers.

How the exact logistics of this will play out within the context of what’s believed to be a Netflix-style service remains to be seen.

But the ability to have this kind of experience will once again raise consumers’ expectations, particularly with millennials and Gen Z, two demographic segments banks struggle to impress.

Industry research continues to show that millennials value great digital experiences.

A recent study from the American Bankers Association found millennials are three times more likely to open a new account through their smartphones than in person.

What’s troubling for banks is that the same study found 53% of millennials don’t think their institutions offer unique products and services.

While Gen Z consumers are currently in their college years, or a couple of years removed from high school, their digital preferences often mirror those of millennials. That should concern banks, especially as challenger banks and tech giants encroach on their turf.

Apple this week caused a media frenzy with Apple Card, a new credit card in partnership with Goldman Sachs that is closely aligned with digital payments, loyalty rewards and personal financial management.

While Apple did not necessarily reinvent the wheel with the new card, it does bring up questions for banks about ideal digital experiences.

However, banks do have the ability meet the digital expectations set by brands outside their industry, but can only do so with dedicated resources, both financially as well as with personnel.

The nation’s largest banks will continue to spend the necessary capital to build new digital experiences and improve existing ones. The pending merger between BB&T and SunTrust shows how far institutions will go to keep pace with technological competition and change.

Community and regional banks also will expand their research and development budgets to keep pace with the larger banks. The right fintech partnerships for smaller institutions also will be vital to address technology shortcomings.

Don’t underestimate personnel decisions, either. Banks can look to Stadia again for inspiration.

Google hired Phil Harrison, who spent time at both Microsoft and Sony, as the head of Stadia. He brings with him decades of video-game industry experience.

Jade Raymond will lead the development of the platform’s exclusive video games. She has founded two game studios while leading the creation of the popular franchise Assassin’s Creed.

Banks have already shown a propensity for hiring outside the industry. More of them are looking to former executives from tech heavyweights such as Amazon who also have financial services backgrounds.

Banks will continue to have plenty of examples to borrow from when upgrading their technology experiences. While video games might not be an apparent example, what Google is doing could very well change digital expectations across multiple industries, banking included.

Bankshot is American Banker’s column for real-time analysis of today's news.

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