Tom Rahder, from Esendex, discusses how digitisation, and use of mobile messaging has transformed the banking industry, and where it can go from here. 

Barely a week goes by that we don’t see reports of banks closing more of their branches. 

And while they might come under fire for it at times, these closures reflect the fundamental shift in how we do banking today. 

Covid accelerated the change, of course – but digitisation of financial services had been happening for a long time. The rise of online-only challenger banks, and a growing number of ways to manage our finances online, has meant that the local high street branch has become redundant for many people. Young people in particular may never step foot in one because they have no need to: they can do everything from an app on their phone instead.

Most of us don’t think twice about using self-serve and/or automated digital tools for straightforward transactions, like transferring money between accounts. 

But our research also suggests that nearly 70% of those experiencing financial difficulties would rather manage their own repayment plan rather than have an ‘unpleasant’ conversation, and almost two-fifths would opt for an automated service over speaking to a human. So, far from being ‘second best’, an automated environment can provide the privacy people need to address complex challenges they’d once shied away from.

It goes without saying that any branch closures must be sensitively handled and communicated to ensure that the customers who still rely on them, many of whom may be elderly, disabled or vulnerable, aren’t left behind. 

To their credit, most banks recognise this, and will point people to nearby branches, set up pop-up counters in public places, and remind them that the Post Office is available for everyday banking. They also offer free digital skills training courses to empower customers to manage their finances in a fast, secure and convenient way. 

Unlocking the value of multichannel communications 

The reason why so many customers prefer to self-serve is largely down to the range and quality of communications available today. 

Forward-thinking firms recognise that choosing the right channels is critical if they want to deliver outstanding experiences in a competitive sector. 

A multichannel strategy doesn’t mean introducing as many channels as possible but meeting customers where they are, and continually monitoring the effectiveness of all your communications. It means balancing ease and convenience with security, and understanding how different channels drive actions – whether it be a clear and direct SMS for two-factor authentication, or WhatsApp messaging for dialogue.

The financial services sector, like any other, is impacted by wider consumer trends, so we’ve seen a big uptake of WhatsApp for Business messaging recently. It’s a channel that most people are already active on and feel comfortable with – so they are usually more likely to engage with banks, building societies and other lenders that offer it.

The good thing about WhatsApp is that it allows contact centre teams to manage multiple conversations at once, so people don’t have to endure long waiting times to speak to someone on the phone. It can also bring down the cost-to-serve, and free up staff to support customers who need it, including those who can’t easily access a branch. 

Two-way messaging, available via SMS and chat too, helps customers to feel listened to and deepens their connection with a business. They can discuss their issue and come to a resolution in a way that is most convenient for them, and have a written record for reference.

Looking ahead

As mentioned before, consumer demands are changing all the time – the challenge is keeping up. Fortunately, there is a growing number of APIs that plug your business messaging platform, allowing you to build on your capabilities with services such as RCS Messaging (Rich Communication Services Messaging). This interactive content, which can include videos and audio, is a powerful way to reach people via their SMS inbox.

Sometimes, we’re thrown a curveball – for example, reports that Gen-Z is shunning smartphones in favour of ‘dumbphones’. 

Whether this trend takes off remains to be seen; what’s important is that organisations in all sectors are able to accurately track metrics like open rates and ROI. It also reminds us that the ubiquitous SMS, with its open rate of 98%, remains as relevant today as ever. 

Last but not least, don’t be afraid to ask them exactly what they want too, rather than waiting for them to switch off and go elsewhere. A quick-fire SMS survey is a good way to gauge opinion and track trends over time, so you can invest in the channels that will deliver the most value to both your customers and the business. 


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