The biggest consumer brands in the world often make it a point to highlight how they personalize the customer experience. Whether it’s Peloton creating personalized fitness goals or Amazon’s Alexa catering responses to specific voices, companies are now using their vast troves of user data to deliver a more holistic customer experience, instead of using it solely for marketing.
More often than not, these personalized experiences are helpful. Who wouldn’t want customized fitness goals, or a virtual assistant that knows someone’s schedule simply by their voice? As long as that person is fine with sharing their data, there’s no real downside. Either use it or turn it off. That is the benefit of personalized experiences in a consumer setting.
The same cannot be said for the finance industry. Or rather, should not be said. There is a point of reckoning happening right now. When vast percentages of customers migrated online during the pandemic, banks sped up their roadmaps to launch new digital tools. With those new tools came the need to personalize the experience and illustrate user-specific benefits.
As one of the largest banks in North America, TD’s shift to digital was already well underway, but the pandemic accelerated everything. The bank debuted new tools and features that were generally received in spades, delivering real value for users looking for new ways to digitally manage their finances. But the rise in digital banking also gave way to rising expectations.
According to TD’s chief digital officer Rizwan Khalfan, the biggest emerging trend in digital banking is rising customer expectations. As more people begin to bank online, they want to access every capability the bank has to offer, including ones that were largely relegated to in-person visits.
“It comes from a space where each of us has been empowered with innovation,” says Khalfan. “As a consumer, I’m empowered to ask for what I want, and that empowerment has resulted in rising expectations. With the adoption of more digital in our lives, customer expectations continue to rise.”
The question Khalfan finds himself asking more often than not is, “How do we meet these rising needs?”
“Digital plays such a big role that my experience in buying groceries online or streaming movies will affect how I view my online banking.Rizwan Khalfan, Chief Digital and Payments Officer, TD
In other industries, personalization is the key to meeting new lofty expectations. When more people began working out at home, Peloton developed personalized fitness goals. When brick-and-mortar locations closed, brands such as Walmart, L’Oreal, and Burberry invested in augmented reality to mimic the in-store experience. Sometimes the answer is that straightforward
Financial personalization is not nearly as simple. Banking often requires tough conversations around budgeting, long-term goals, and level setting. Often referred to as “advice banking,” these types of conversations (such as ones around mortgages, new accounts, and investing) used to happen in branches, but are now increasingly taking place online.
As advice banking becomes digitized, it has led to a monumental rethinking of what personal communication looks and feels like between a bank and a client. What if someone ignores a low-balance push notification, the same way they may swipe away a notification from Instagram or Tiktok?
These are the challenges leading digital banks are solving right now, and according to Khalfan, it’s all about going the extra mile to understand everything there is to know about the user.
The customer experience ceiling
The tough thing about user experience—at least from a software perspective—is that the high water mark consistently increases. There’s a saying, “A rising tide lifts all boats,” but in this case, the tide is customer expectations, and only the best experiences stay afloat. The seamless UX of Uber or Netflix raises the bar for every boat in the harbor.
“We shouldn’t be comparing one bank to another,” says Khalfan. “Digital plays such a big role in our lives that my experience in how I buy groceries online or stream movies will affect how I view my online banking. I’m not going to partition myself and have different expectations for different needs in my life.”
“We’re in a phase of humanizing the digital experience, not digitizing the human experience.”Rizwan Khalfan
Obviously, Uber and Netflix have a much different purpose than a bank. Rightfully still, customers compare the experiences, hoping to see thoughtful design, communication, and yes, personalization.
“Most digital experiences are for mass adoption,” says Khalfan. “When you build an app, you build it for everyone—not for unique users. But when I’m having a one-on-one conversation, it will be very different from a separate conversation with another person, even if we talk about the same topics.”
Khalfan explains that with digital banking tools, especially ones that involve nuance and real-time money management, a “realization” has come that calls for a new form of personalization. For TD, it meant breaking its app apart into cards, with each one changing based on the user. If someone has a bill payment coming up, the first card they see on the TD app will remind them to pay it. The same goes with stock alerts for investors and many other examples.
This approach to personalization has worked wonders for the bank, especially given the fact that many new digital customers are ones who had previously never used digital tools of any kind.
“This journey of breaking the app into cards and rendering them based on the user has been incredibly valuable from an architecture perspective,” says Khalfan. “If a customer is not digitally fluent, then the cards we render to them would be very different from that of a power user. We want to slowly graduate them to useful digital experiences.”
The power of personalized banking
TD’s approach to personalization has allowed it to launch a suite of new tools aimed at proactively addressing customer problems before they actually become problems. These features focus on cash flow prediction and send alerts to clients whenever a shortcoming may arise, such as a low balance right before an automatic bill payment.
Tools like these lean into the increased digital engagement during the pandemic and serve to build out TD’s entire ecosystem of apps and features, creating a link between platforms tied together by data and preferences.
For Khalfan, it’s that idea of adhering to customer preferences that will push the bank forward into a digitally native future.
“Each customer’s needs and expectations have been amplified in the current environment,” he says. “I think customers are in a situation where they clearly understand their needs, and more importantly, understand their preferences. That means the method in which we serve up solutions is critical.”
For example, if a customer usually looks at their last three electricity bill payments before paying a new one, presumably for a gut check on the new bill total, TD will serve up those three past statements in an easy-to-read card.
“Customer needs and expectations have been amplified in the current environment.”Rizwan Khalfan
The bank is taking that personalization even further for its proactive cash flow tools. By applying new types of design methodologies for these digitized “tough conversations,” TD is reshaping its entire messaging discourse. According to Khalfan, the bank utilizes processes and tools including journey mapping, assumption testing, prototyping, user testing, storytelling, and refinement “to appreciate and understand needs and ways we can establish stronger connections with the customers we serve.”
Going even further, Khalfan explains that, from an architecture perspective, there are four pillars to digital banking success. Data, intelligence, capabilities, and the interaction layer. The first three are actually the easy ones, as TD has mountains of data and the intelligence to analyze it, then use those findings to develop new suites of tools and capabilities.
The interaction layer is the part TD and every other bank will be figuring out for the next few years. Khalfan says his team is well on its way, guided by early success with predictive alerts.
“What we did through the pandemic using AI to predict low balances has been received really well,” says Khalfan. “We were skeptical because we don’t want to be blatant about it—you want to be thoughtful and deliberate and subtle about saying things like, ‘Hey, we see your balance might be low, here are a few options to consider.’”
TD found that digital users—including the new wave of clients driven online by the pandemic—were looking for assistance from trusted providers, and as long as the interactions were meaningful, TD could fill that void through digital channels.
“The level of satisfaction in being proactive and giving customers actionable choices was huge,” he says. “Going down that path of providing advice as part of a daily digital conversation is the best way to meet and exceed customer expectations.”
The next step is to continue moving away from the notion of mass experiences and get to the heart of customer expectations which, for him, means highly personalized proactive messaging involving every part of a client’s banking needs they select.
“If you do that, now you’re rendering that personalized experience with the right level of emotional connectivity, just like you would do with a human to human conversation,” explains Khalfan. “We’re in a phase of humanizing the digital experience, not digitizing the human experience. With data intelligence and design methodology, along with the right capabilities, you’re now at a point where you can have a digitized one-on-one conversation between two trusted parties.”
Empathy in digital banking
It’s not often that empathy gets tied to conversations surrounding digital banking. As more people gain access to tools capable of influencing massive life decisions with a single click (mortgages, investing, loans) communication is the first and last line of defense.
“We are setting up foundation blocks of what the next generation of user experience will be,” says Khalfan. “If we get to the point where we can personalize the content we’re rendering, we also need to ask about the level of emotions and empathy you can build into it. Embedding strong design methodology is a big part of the puzzle moving forward.”
In the past, human advisors could field questions and offer advice. They still can, of course, but new customer expectations point towards digital channels becoming their first and last interaction layer; a trend that will continue long after the pandemic ends.
“In those moments of life that are so important, the way we interact, with the right level of emotional connectivity, is a key differentiator,” says Khalfan. “I have seen enough of this thoughtful design, that if you apply it in the right way, you will have an experience that hits the right level of understanding customer circumstances, along with the right level of empathy.”
“That’s the next level up, and honestly, I haven’t really seen it in a lot of the big-ticket digital experiences out there,” says Khalfan. “This is all breaking new ground, regardless of what industry you’re in.”