To Kim Symmons, Head of User Experience at Mettle
The SME market has boomed in recent years, so much so that it makes up 99% of the UK economy. When it comes to banking for this market, London alone has 2,500 fintechs – and 79% of Brits state they use fintech apps for banking and payments.
But it’s not only the ‘traditional’ SMEs that we need to cater for. There is the ‘passion economy’ – almost five million side hustlers, freelancers and small businesses – growing across the UK. From the pandemic to the cost of living crisis, people are changing the way they work, why they work and what they do.
This group of people want to work for themselves and own their own time. They want to start their own businesses or side hustle along their main jobs. Being able to turn a passion into an opportunity, whether it’s a side hustle to generate more income or to be your own boss takes a lot of work. And at the heart of it all lies your business finances.
According to research by Airtasker, 46% of people in Britain are making a second income using side hustles. Of the 5.5 million small businesses in the UK in the private sector last year, 4.2 million had no employees.
When it comes to banking, this group of entrepreneurs need a financial service provider to make their lives easier by reducing day-to-day hassles. They want fast, simple and mobile-first banking. They also want their banking products to be able to help them manage bookkeeping and tax better.
Having the ability to offer access to financial solutions, whether directly as a lender or through partners, is critical for this segment of the market. However, traditionally this group has been too expensive to service by high street banks and their needs are too diverse.
Enter fintechs. The rise of financial technology firms cannot be understated – they have brought faster mobile banking to customers, where many high street banks were still hampered by legacy infrastructure.
The difficulty comes in when trying to stand out in this noisy market. Understanding who your customer is one part of the puzzle. But the overall marketing machine behind that app needs to be able to stand above the crowd to attract and retain those customers.
Designing a stand-out product
Talk to your customers. Build. Talk to them again. And iterate.
It sounds simple in theory but understanding the specific needs of your customer base and creating an intuitive and user-friendly process wouldn’t be possible without solid research. Especially as customers should always be a priority – because at the end of the day, who else are you building this for.
Once you’ve identified a problem you think you can solve with your app, you need to research what products or services your target customers are currently using. This will help you to understand if there is an equivalent product or service out there.
It helps if you can make a list of the top five competitors and figure out what they are doing well. Use this as a starting point for the product design process.
Big on content, short on time
The application that customers will be using is important. But it’s not the only piece of the puzzle when it comes to standing out from the crowd. The wider brand and marketing around that application is equally important.
Competitor analysis can also help to identify how other products or services talk to their customers – what their tone of voice is, their style and how frequent they reach out to customers and on what channels.
When going through this process with Mettle we found that companies tend to put a lot of content on their websites. However, when we spoke to some of our customers, we found that they had limited time.
This then fed into how the website was designed – easy to navigate, and not overwhelming visitors with information. And part of this was championing the very people the app was for.
As part of the website design, we worked with a few of our early customers and arranged photo shoots in their business environments. This helped to capture the authenticity and showcase this to potential customers just like them.
Ultimately, when it comes to standing out from the crowd, you need to first understand what that crowd is and how it operates. From there you can look to build an application that solves a problem your potential customers haven’t fully been able to solve before.
But it doesn’t stop there. The design process isn’t a one-off – you need to constantly talk to your customers, monitor the market and iterate as you go. You should have a design system in place so that the business and app can grow and develop alongside your customers.
How FS organisations can utilise data to boost customer experience
Charles Southwood, Regional VP and GM – Northern Europe and Africa at Denodo
We’ve all heard the age-old adage “the customer is always right”. It insinuates that, in any sector, the needs and desires of those buying a brand’s product or services should be paramount. However, today’s customer has new standards and it is becoming harder than ever for businesses to meet and exceed them.
This is certainly the case in the financial services (FS) sector where getting customer experience right used to be relatively simple. The human touch was traditionally delivered as a bi-product of in-store, transactional interactions. Perhaps, as a result of this, few people ever considered changing their provider and the traditional, established banks ruled the space.
However, with the dawn of online banking and the introduction of new, exciting challenger banks as well as the UK’s unique Current Account Switching Service, the balance of power between the consumer and the bank is changing. Consumers no longer feel locked in. If their needs aren’t being met, they aren’t afraid to look elsewhere and switch their allegiance to other companies. In other words, loyalty is far from guaranteed and customer acquisition is only half the battle.
Retention relies upon delivering strong, unique customer experiences that beat down the competition. In order to achieve this, FS organisations will need to be able to leverage data. Its insights could be the differentiator that enables them to stand out. The positive news is that, in our online world, there is a constant stream of data being produced. However, having access to all this data doesn’t necessarily mean that a brand knows how to effectively analyse and utilise it.
Ensuring data provides insight
The rapid growth in digital technologies and services across the sector has left many FS organisations juggling an unimaginable amount of data. This data is both complex and much of it is lacking in quality. Structured, semi-structured and unstructured, it is stored in many different places – whether that’s in data lakes, on premise or in multi-cloud environments. Before FS organisations can even think about using it to inform customer experience strategies, they need to be able to find it and understand it.
This is where modern technologies – such as data virtualization – can help. Through a single, logical view data virtualization boosts visibility and real-time availability of all data across an organisation. Unlike traditional extract, transform and load (ETL) solutions, it does not move and copy data. Instead it leaves it in the source systems. In other words, instead of just replicating data, data virtualization reveals an integrated view to those trying to find it.
For FS organisations this provides several important benefits. For example, it helps when data sovereignty issues arise and the movement and replication of data outside certain countries is illegal. Data virtualization solutions can also assist in terms of financial reporting by fetching data in real time from underlying source systems – applying the necessary security and obfuscation whilst delivering the performance, the agility and the accuracy needed through the seamless connection of data.
FS organisations that adopt data virtualization, are likely to see an improvement in the overall performance and efficiencies of their business operations. Overheads will be reduced, as will the length of project times. Above all, data virtualization will rapidly strengthen the customer experience by supporting business leaders to think strategically and make decisions based on real-time insights. But don’t just take my word for it.
The proof is in the pudding: How Landsbankinn is delivering on the CX promise
Landsbankinn is just one of the many financial services institutions that has already successfully embraced data virtualization and its benefits. Despite being the largest financial institution in Iceland – with around 40% of the retail and 33% of the corporate banking market share – Landsbankinn used to face several issues when it came to data sharing and analytics.
Over 45 siloed data sources – including Oracle databases, data warehouses and APIs from internal and external sources – made finding and accessing the right data at the right time extremely difficult. Without real-time data to fuel informed decision making, customer experience and operational efficiency were suffering. As a result, Landsbankinn was in need of a data overhaul to streamline and integrate its infrastructure.
To bring together its complex data landscape and collect data in real-time, Landsbankinn implemented the Denodo Platform – a data integration and data management solution built on data virtualization – to build a logical data warehouse. As a result, the team can now aggregate data from multiple data sources, transform that data based on the applied business rules, and then make it available to consuming applications. Ultimately, this means that, throughout the organisation, the data can be utilised by a wealth of employees, even those who are not particularly IT savvy. It also means that the business leaders can use data insights to make well-versed decisions and provide a plethora of services to Landsbankinn customers both quickly and efficiently.
In recent years, customer retention has become the key to successfully growing a business. This cannot happen without an effective customer experience strategy. The ability to convert data into insight is priceless in an economic landscape where the line between a business thriving, surviving and failing is so thin. Those operating in financial services must harness modern technologies – like data virtualization – to stay at the top of their game and ahead of the competition.
The Evolution of SoftPoS in 2023
By Brad Hyett, CEO of phos
Contactless payments and digital wallets have surged in popularity in recent years. Part of this stems from the digital boom that occurred during COVID-19 but it’s also thanks to the ease of use that contactless offers customers. This has helped accelerate Software Point of Sale or ‘SoftPoS’ adoption amongst SMEs and enterprise retailers, with a total of 6 million merchants taking advantage of the technology in 2022 according to Juniper Research.
SoftPoS or ‘Tap to Pay’ technology – is a software solution that allows vendors to turn their phones or mobile devices into contactless payment points. This has made life for small businesses easier, as they no longer have to fork out large sums of money for traditional Point of Sale (POS) terminals, i.e. card readers, or ‘make do’ with outdated payment software.
In light of Apple’s announcement to allow third-party SoftPoS providers to deploy their technology on iPhone last year, adoption is expected to increase further. By 2027, it’s forecast that there will be up to 34.5 million merchants by 2027 – nearly a 500% increase from today. With more payment giants like Paypal and Venmo announcing they will support contactless transactions through their iOS apps in the months ahead, what else is in store for SoftPoS in 2023?
Apple’s role in market consolidation within SoftPoS
Apple’s move to integrate the technology with iOS devices will expand SoftPoS’ usability across mobile operating systems – significantly boosting the size of the addressable market for vendors. For the first time, Apple users will be able to offer Tap-to-Pay solutions which have traditionally been limited to Android devices only.
This will ultimately bring greater awareness and adoption of SoftPoS as we see increased familiarity with Tap-to-Pay solutions among businesses and consumers alike – as they’re no longer bound by the constraints of the type of phone they use.
While the SoftPoS on iPhone rollout currently only applies to the US market, it’s fair to assume this will expand internationally at some point – aiding the normalisation of ‘Tap to Pay’ solutions en masse in the months and years ahead.
The next wave of solopreneurs
The events of the last year will also continue to have a ripple effect over the next 12 months. For example, we’ve seen the tech industry undergo mass layoffs due to a challenging economic environment and rising global inflation.
With large numbers of highly skilled talent out of work, the phenomenon of solo entrepreneurship is likely to see an uplift – as it did during the pandemic – over the next 12 months. Born in a digital-native environment, individuals from this released workforce can now set up their own businesses and run them on mobile devices, as opposed to legacy infrastructures.
This could prove another sizable opportunity for SoftPoS vendors in the coming year, as we predict to see more small businesses sprout as a result of ongoing redundancies.
The growing importance of SoftPoS orchestration
As the market rapidly develops, so too does the choice and ease of onboarding. Financial institutions and retail technology providers can now use a SoftPoS orchestrator to help them deploy Tap-to-Pay solutions quickly and easily for their merchant customers, instead of having to create their own mobile solutions. This saves them time and money – both crucial resources for any business and especially in a challenging economy.
Partnering with a SoftPoS orchestrator is a cost-effective way of providing mobile payment solutions without having to worry about waiting on new software and security updates. With an orchestrator, this is done automatically – making this a much lighter lift with no requirement for technological know-how.
As SoftPos orchestrators are acquirer agnostic, this means they can help businesses provide a SoftPos solution to their own retail customers, regardless of the existing acquirer that they’re already using.
An additional benefit here is that a wider pool of merchants are able to benefit from the technology – growing the overall size of the SoftPoS market. Orchestrators, then, have the ability to drive wider adoption of the technology globally, reaching a bigger audience of end users and advancing the mobile payments industry in emerging markets across the world.
The increased popularity of digital and contactless payment options has driven exponential growth in the SoftPoS market in recent years. The next 12 months will see the technology enter the mainstream, as Apple starts to allow more third-party SoftPoS providers to deploy their solutions on iPhones.
The timing coincides with several emerging opportunities for the technology, including a potential uptick in the number of solopreneurs and mobile-first businesses. This combination of factors will see more financial institutions and legacy technology players work with SoftPoS orchestrators to bring Tap-to-Pay solutions to market in 2023 if they want to stay ahead of the competition and keep up with ever evolving customer demands.
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