Editor's note: A version of this post originally appeared on LinkedIn.
The other day my friend, whom we'll just call "G," sent me several frantic emails about his bank account. The night before, the entire contents of his foreign exchange account had disappeared. My first thought about what had happened to him was fraud: He had been the victim of a hacking attack.
But, no, the reality was he was a victim of his bank. And his story illustrates a key defect in the consumer's banking experience that digital technology has not yet been able to solve.
G's banker had moved all of his money – not an inconsiderable sum – between accounts. His money started the day in a forex account and ended up in a CD account without his permission.
As G relates it, there was no regulatory or compliance requirement for his money to be moved out of the forex account. What had happened? Nothing. He simply had not made any transactions on the account and had let the money sit in the account for some time. Eventually, this inactivity triggered the transfer by the bank.
The bank probably had a good reason for doing this and I'm sure the rationale had to do with being proactive in protecting the customer's assets. I'm also sure the bank was allowed to make such a transfer: I'm sure when he opened the account, the many papers G read and signed said so (in legalese of course). But something is wrong if the outcome of the bank's policy is transferring funds around needlessly without the customer's consent. In this case, G was frantic, afraid and then, just plain old angry at the bank.
Why am I telling you this story? Because it underscores a dangerous dynamic in the industry. Increasingly, our conversations about digital banking are only about technology: digitalizing transactions and activities based on data analytics, customer behavior, event triggers and business moments. Microsavings apps, for example, let us consumers save and invest without doing anything. Likewise, G's bank has digital technology, apps, alerts, 24x7 access to accounts and data. But all the mobile banking apps, analytics and triggers in the world could not save my friend G from the bank and banker who did not consider G's needs and wishes before moving his personal assets.
Rather than just focus on technology, we must make sure to follow these three strategies in a digital banking world:
- Permission: Even if regulations don't require it, ask your customer's permission to do something;
- Transparency: Expose your process to your customers so they know what's going to happen and when. If the customer must complete some steps before a service is executed, then tell her: What are those steps? Which ones are done and which ones are yet to be completed? This shouldn't be just a one-time text message but maybe a leaderboard that is visible whenever she logs onto her online banking or mobile banking app; and
- Easy: Make it easy to give or rescind permission, to see the process, to ask questions and get answers. Some call this frictionless.
Ultimately, these three points add up to empathy: Bankers having some understanding about and sensitivity for the feelings (yeah, I know) and experiences of other people – yes, people – without having had the same experience.
Can we put empathy into our technology? Yes. Can digital banking be empathetic? I think so. But it will be harder and more complex than adding the newest and latest bots, social messaging, and yes, digital banking platform to your architecture.
As for my friend G? This little escapade with his money has pushed him to look for another bank and undertake that fun process of switching accounts and banks – one that won't move his money in the middle of the night without his permission.
Stessa Cohen is research director of banking and investment services at Gartner. She can be reached on Twitter @stessacohen.