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Skinner starts Digital Bank with his central recommendation, which is that banks need to "turn their model on its head and focus on electronic platforms, where physical distribution is the cream on the cake, rather than the other way around." That is, banks need to recognize that a model of physical distribution -- with paper checks and local marketing campaigns at the core -- can no longer work. Instead, banks need to embrace a data-driven and networked platform.
Most bankers probably agree that change is inevitable. What they might not see, however, is how to make the transition to become a digital bank. To this end, Skinner gives a painful (though honest) answer. He says, "The only way to do this is to cannibalise the organisation and create friction within the bank."
Steve Jobs highlighted this same idea when he said, "If anybody's going to make our products obsolete, I want it to be us." Just as the iPhone has cannibalized the iPod, mobile banking is set to cannibalize other channels.
Forward-thinking bankers recognize this and embrace it. They're willing to adopt digital solutions and keep their customer base, even if it means that some customers are less likely to visit the branch as a result.
Another major argument of Digital Bank is that a truly digital bank negates the need for the phrase "omnichannel banking." Skinner says that "banks should stop thinking of channels and just recognize that they are digital enabled. Call centres, ATMs, the branch, Internet, mobile ... everything is digital enabled."
To a degree, it's a point well taken. Once a bank is totally digital at its core, there won't be fractured channels, each with their own set of information. There will just be the channel -- the bank -- and account holders can access that single channel through their various devices.
However, until banks can implement a fully seamless digital core, the term "omnichannel" has meaning. This point surfaces when Skinner talks about a customer who inquires about a mortgage through various channels. He says, "the bank needs to recognise that as the customer moves through those channels, all the information ... is carried across consistently through those channels." In other words, the bank needs to adopt omnichannel banking.
Perhaps it's a matter of semantics, but it seems as though until banks arrive at the ideal Skinner mentions -- a seamless digital core -- the word "omnichannel" still has meaning. Either way, the ultimate goal is to create a single, cohesive banking experience.
Skinner also urges banks to become more customer-centric in the digital age. This entails adopting better social networking practices and developing better data analytic products.
He says, "From a purely social networking viewpoint, banks need to focus on methods they can use to become friends with their participants in their networks. Friends advise and support, they don't sell, charge, or make money out of you."
Many traditional banks still think that friendly staff and free candy at a branch equates to good customer service. But if millennials are about 30 times more likely to visit a bank's online presence than to visit a branch, what good is a friendly teller? Customer service in the digital age lies in figuring out a solid social media strategy. That's where the customers are, after all.
As far as data analysis goes, Skinner invites the reader to think about what would happen if Amazon were set up like a bank, where each department were separate from the others. The book department wouldn't converse with the clothing department, which wouldn't converse with the video department, and so on. It would mean that Amazon's ability to provide the customer with a full range of targeted offers would be shot.
And yet that's how many banks currently operate. "The silo divisions of banks," says Skinner, "mean that they ignore their greatest competitive advantage--data."
To overcome this problem banks need to be certain to create a seamless experience for account holders and then leverage that data to best please their users. Skinner adds, "It is the information value the bank adds in advising me on my financial behaviours that will really lock customers like me in."
Chris Skinner ends Digital Bank by talking about three specific things he would do if he were building his own digital bank today. I won't give away the ending here (Money Summit is a spoiler-free publication), but I will mention one more idea from the book that stuck out to me.
Skinner says that turning a bank around is like turning a supertanker around. The ships have to be careful not to turn 180 degrees quickly "as they will flip over and sink." As a result, every turn requires "fourteen turns of the wheel." Changing a bank can often seem just as strenuous.
However, because change is coming so quickly (for instance, Skinner shows that non-bank providers now handle more than 15 percent of all payments -- "up from virtually zero 10 years ago"), Skinner's proposal is for banks to collaborate with quick-moving startups going forward.
By partnering with fintech startups, banks will give their account holders the right measure of security and speed. Account holders can know that their money is safe, and they can enjoy the latest financial technology. This is the way to become a digital bank.
*Note: This review was cross-posted on moneysummit.com.