Banks Need to Focus on Service and Simplicity

  • Philip Ryan
  • February 25, 2014
  • 1

serviceThe biggest challenge ahead for banks is providing excellent service, a new study has found.

Simplicity, advice and problem-solving are the three areas where customers are looking for more from their banks, according to a new study by Ernst & Young.

The company surveyed 32,000 retail banking customers in 43 countries to build up its data set, and analysis of that data yielded three areas clearly needing improvement.

Banks must be transparent about fees and provide multiple ways for customers to reach them, the survey found. Ernst & Young recommends an “omnichannel experience that combines both traditional and digital banking. To stay competitive, financial institutions need to continue building channel capabilities to provide seamless 24/7, real-time access to banking.”

The simplicity, in other words, doesn’t have to do with a clean look and feel or streamlined product set. Rather it means clearly communicating with customers, and allowing customers to access services in the manner that they prefer. American Express and USAA both provide much of this for their customers.

Customers, in particular younger customers, crave financial advice, the study found. More than 70% of respondents said that they would consider buying additional products from their financial provider if advisory services were improved.

This sounds easy enough, but advice is expensive and requires skilled staff to give it. Good examples of lightweight or inexpensive advice from nontraditional financial service companies are Moven‘s instant feedback on purchases and Level‘s PFM (personal financial management) product, both of which use analytics rather than live feedback to provide useful, in-context advice. LearnVest, a PFM and financial education offering, goes another route and, for a cost, offers a network of live advisors.

One in three respondents of the Ernst & Young survey needed help solving a problem from their financial institution in the previous year, and 58% of those whose problem was solved satisfactorily said they would likely widen their relationship with that provider. Having one’s problem solved by the bank is also a great trust builder. 44% of respondents reported “complete trust” in their financial institutions, and trust is a major reason, along with the financial stability of the institution, for customers to stay put with the bank.

Problem-solving can also be an expensive matter for banks, since it involves human help, but not solving problems leads to lost customers. On the other hand, not solving problems leads to lost customers – 19% of customers dissatisfied with their problem’s resolution, and 32% of customers very dissatisfied with the resolution, said that they closed some or all of their accounts or services as a result. And there is not a lot of time to solve problems: Carlisle & Gallagher found, in a December 2013 study (PDF), that two calls was one too many for customers — banks had to solve the problem in just one call. This is a stiff challenge and banks may have look at outstanding companies outside financial services, such as Zappos, an Amazon company.

None of these results is surprising in itself, but cumulatively, the challenge they pose to traditional financial services companies is considerable. The survey findings suggest banks need to invest in improving customer service, from handling simple questions to offering advice to solving complex problems. Branch networks and mobile capabilities will have to be built around this growing need for service, and most importantly of all, real live people will be required to meet customers in those channels.

Learn more about what’s next in banking at Bank Innovation 2014 on March 3-4 in Seattle. Request an invitation here.

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Philip Ryan is Senior Editor of Bank Innovation and Senior Director of INV Fintech. He began covering financial services in 2012 and has more than 15 years' experience in online journalism. He can be reached at

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