It’s a centuries-old and highly regulated sector, but the banking industry isn’t exempt from wider consumer trends.

In the era of mobile banking, a seamless, cross-channel banking experience is what consumers have come to expect. Consumers are also more skeptical – they want to know they can trust their bank with their data, as well as their cash.

It’s these changing consumer needs that have prompted banks and financial institutions – old and new – to innovate, and become more consumer-centric.

Millennials in particular have a strong desire to shop around for banks and possess an intriguing perspective on what finance should look like in the coming years. 

So what do consumers want from banks in 2019?

  • They want to bank online: 72% of consumers have used an internet banking service in the past month
  • They want customer-centric services: 26% of mobile banking users expect a brand to provide services or products which help simplify daily life
  • They expect a variety of financial tools: 16% of mobile banking users want brands to offer a range of useful apps and online services
  • They want banks to be accountable: consumers value transparency and authenticity more than ever

Based on these factors, banks and financial entities have become more attune to their audiences than ever before – scrutinizing their customers in granular detail for guidance on how to evolve. 

Access to deep consumer insight is crucial for any bank looking to make customer-centricity a reality. 

These six banks look beyond what their customers do and investigate why they do it, shaping successful strategies that put their audience at the center of everything they do. 

1. SoFi

SoFi, which stands for Social Finance, refers to itself as ‘a finance company that can help you get ahead.’ 

SoFi carved a niche for itself in student loan refinancing, before expanding into mortgages and wealth management, because its users had asked for help with other aspects of their financial lives. 

As to what led to the launch of the fintech startup, CEO Mike Cagney told CNBC “We actually are trying to change a fundamentally broken [banking] system.” 

SoFi operates on a membership basis, and provides complimentary financial advice for all of its members.

Free advice, SoFi realized, is especially sought after by their majority millennial audience segment. Millennials aren’t just motivated by what financial tools can do for them, but also what they can teach them.

A quick visit to their website tells you SoFi prides itself on being transparent, which isn’t surprising, given how many consumers judge a brand’s reputation by its transparency.

What’s different about SoFi is the company’s commitment to offering ‘networking experiences over bank branches’. Members are regularly treated to experiences such as dinners, wine tastings, and workshops for example, to connect them with others in the SoFi community.

Psychographic consumer research undertaken by SoFi was the catalyst for its program of activities, which is growing in popularity. Dan Macklin, VP of Community and Member Success, explained why SoFi offers these benefits whereas other banks don’t:

“People have always had trouble talking openly about money, so we created a community where individuals could connect with and learn from each other,”

These free services are meant to enhance customers’ professional and personal lives, while helping SoFi engage with its customers on a more deeper level

SoFi is focused on building strong, long lasting relationships with each of its members, and despite it’s evolution, has stuck to the same strategy since the beginning: build an aspirational brand that engenders loyalty

 2. Simple

Simple launched in 2009, aiming to position itself as the antidote for consumers wanting access to modern money management tools. 

Pre-launch, and with the aid of market research, the bank’s two founders Josh Reich and Shamir Karkal uncovered that consumers were asking the following questions:

  • Why is banking so complicated?
  • Can a bank exist to help people, not confuse them?
  • What if banks didn’t charge so many ridiculous fees?
  • What if your bank taught you to feel confident with money?

These were problems and frustrations that Simple’s founders were determined to address – founding Simple on the premise that banking should be nothing but ‘simple’. 

On its website, Simple boasts free accounts, kind, helpful, ‘human’ customer service, as well as tools to help save its customers money, while supporting smart spending and budgeting. 

Thanks to important consumer truths uncovered during extensive consumer research, Simple’s brand was designed to help its users solve a problem: 

Sometimes you spend money you shouldn’t.

Simple’s Safe-to-spend feature is a personalized, smart budgeting tool, designed to help users ‘spend with certainty’. It allows consumers to spend spontaneously but within reason, all without ‘having to do math on the spot’. 

Its founders say Simple is as much a product company as it is a bank. The company has made a promise to stick to its consumer-centric approach moving forward, in the name of being of service. 

And according to Simple, this translates to keeping its customers ‘proud of their bank’.

3. GoBank

GoBank’s founders, Sam Altman and Alok Deshpande, set their sights on designing a bank for a new era – the mobile era. 

When users sign up to GoBank, all banking functions happen on a mobile app, which is supported by a network of over 42,000 ATMs.

Knowing that apps have become part of everyday life for the modern banking customer, Sam and Alok envisaged that their new app would overhaul the banking experience – for the better. 

They hated the fact that as consumers, they didn’t feel they had a two-way mutually beneficial relationship with banks. This was the motivation they needed to create the GoBank app, which is completely responsive to the user, while providing a safe and secure experience.

To build the best mobile banking experience possible, Sam and Alok stripped out whatever they could to focus on the thing that really mattered to their consumers: speed

According to Alok Deshpande:

“We knew how users looked at mobile devices, especially while using a location-based app. They wanted to get in, get the answer, and get out.”

When using the app, users can get granular by adjusting tools that track their spending and easily searching for every transaction made.

GoBank also sends its customers real-time transaction notices via push notifications on their phone. 

According to GoBank, it’s something their consumers really value, because they know instantly of any fraudulent activity. 

By differentiating themselves from other, more traditional banks, Sam says GoBank challenges the notion that all savings accounts incur fees, as theirs don’t. “Traditional savings accounts have rules-you can move money only six times a month. That’s not what our users want.“

“We thought, Why can’t you just move money when you want, with no fees?”

4. Chime 

The founders of Chime firmly believe everyone deserves financial peace of mind. 

Off the back of this, Chime was launched in 2013 to change the way people – especially millennials – felt about banking. 

Millennials want finance integrated with their lifestyles seamlessly. Catering to this audience specifically, Chime boasts a design-led, slick banking app, devoid of fees and minimums

“Banking should be free, helpful and easy to use but traditional banks are reluctant to embrace this reality. We aim to set a new standard in the industry by using technology to create services that are truly aligned with the best interests of consumers.” Chime Ceo, Chris Britt. 

Chime sees itself as a new kind of bank: one that members can get ahead, because Chime’s innovative features make managing money easy for younger audiences. For example, Chime helps its users deposit regular savings, in a way that doesn’t require them to think about it, with a “round-up” automatic savings feature common to many challenger banks

Each time customers make a purchase, the app rounds up the amount to the nearest dollar and deposits the difference in savings.

Chime built its business on the principle of protecting its majority millennial audience and helping them get ahead – ‘profiting with them as opposed to off them.’

5. Ally Bank

Digital financial services provider, Ally, prides itself on its commitment to innovate for the sole purpose of benefiting its consumers. Ally has no physical branches, but its customers enjoy fee-free access to virtually every U.S. ATM

Constantly challenging the status quo in banking, Ally has become synonymous for anticipating changes and being quick to respond. Internally, Ally makes it clear that its culture puts consumer research front and center. 

The digital bank continuously revisits its offering – high-yield savings accounts being one example – and evaluates expectations to ensure its product is always the top choice.

It seems to be a strategy that works: Ally has consistently won awards praising its online customer experience.

Holly Thomson, Director, Integrated Channels & Experiences, sums up Ally’s ethos:

“It’s not about the competition, it’s about the customer. Ally leads the industry because we listen, we learn and we’re always looking ahead.”

Ally is known for its 24-hour customer service and short wait times. And in an effort to hold itself accountable for its consumer-centric culture, ‘obsess over the consumer’ is publicly listed as one of Ally’s values on the company’s website. 

6. Chase

In contrast to the previous examples above, there’s no denying that Chase is a bank of epic proportions. But the sheer scale of its operations hasn’t stopped it from prepping for the next generation of consumer banking.

Chase is the largest bank in the U.S., with nearly 5,000 branches and 16,000 ATMs. 

Using robust consumer data, an increasing number of banks, including Chase, have made a conscious effort to identify their audiences’ social media habits, motivations and attitudes, forming a strategy to fit.

With its users spending significantly more time on social networks, Chase realized it had to be sure of which platforms were most important to them and what engagement tactics worked. 

Millennials, one of Chase’s key consumer groups, informed much of the company’s strategy when the bank made the decision to invest more money in social. 

Chase uncovered the following insights that helped shape their strategy:

  • Millennials are 31% more likely than the average internet user to want financial advice delivered by chatbots.
  • Millennials are 27% more likely to want access to educational resources, like videos.

According to the Shorty Awards, which dubbed Chase a 2018 finalist in the Financial Services category, the bank has “deployed a multi-layered social strategy to help consumers of varying backgrounds and financial situations make the most of their finances.”

Chase has a relationship with 50% of U.S. households. This impressive number is what inspired the bank to roll out its diverse strategy, aiming to engage every consumer across social media with a message tailored specifically for them. 

Insight helps banks and financial institutions be of better service.

Banking, and the way we bank, has fundamentally changed. 

Particularly in the last few years, banking trends have led financial institutions to place innovation at their heart, making customer-centricity a reality. They’re cleverly shaping solutions and products to fit their consumers, rather than the other way around. 

Banks that offer an insight-driven experience like this at every touchpoint will continue to distinguish themselves from the competition. 

Having ready access to deep consumer data means organizations can get a true picture of the modern banking customer and what they expect from financial services. And since consumers value authenticity more than ever, this gives them an opportunity to get ahead of competitors, connecting with consumers in a ‘real’ and seamless way. 

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