Customers expect to log into their online utility accounts to check consumption, turn on the heating through their mobile phone and buy that phone ready to go out of the box with all their stored information downloaded. Online services such as Amazon have changed expectation in its ability to deliver next day or even same day and their pioneering of the use of drones for immediate delivery promises even higher levels of gratification.
In the financial services world, although consumers can have unsecured loans pre-approved in minutes, there is still a struggle to match that seamless delivery of other services, particularly mortgages and secured loans.
The digitisation of the financial services market is happening and it is being driven by new lenders and providers whose business models are based largely on an online presence with minimal human interaction (unless called for). These newcomers are providing the spur for further change as established players come to grips with the necessity for change.
But let us not forget the importance of older fashioned virtues of service. The value of human contact for advice, explanation or when heaven forbid, the internet suffers a glitch, cannot be underestimated. There is a balance to be made between the immediacy of online transaction and human interaction. As a regional building society, we are working to bridge the gap between the old and new. While the millennial generation is entirely at home with electronic access, our local branch network provides a reassuring presence for a whole section of society which still wants to deal in cash and cheques and has the option of talking to a member of staff.
As we enter 2017, no institution can afford to ignore the digitisation of business processes and does so at its peril. Regional building societies are working with customers to find the most practical ways of engagement to keep the best of the established practice but constantly modernise processes and systems without eliminating the important human interaction.
But no matter how many transactional functions move online, the need to be able to ask questions, expect face-to-face advice and explanation as well as maintaining the primacy of human experience in evaluating complex personal circumstances around the granting of mortgages and loans remain a key focus for us. Finding the right balance is the real challenge for 2017 and beyond.