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How financial institutions can engage their high-value customers online

By Frank Cristiano
Oct 1, 2020
4 MIN. READ

With more transactions moving from in-person to online, financial services firms can use digital platforms and data to connect with high-value customers in a personalized way.

When was the last time you went into a bank or a financial services firm to conduct a transaction with a human being? It’s likely been a while, perhaps even years. And while the number of face-to-face interactions was already diminishing well before a global pandemic arrived in 2020, COVID-19 has seemingly accelerated this trend and brought the frequency of face-to-face interactions to a standstill. For financial institutions, high-value customer relationships and transactions have historically relied on live interactions, whether with an advisor, applying for a mortgage, a loan, or transferring wealth or assets. As customer expectations continue to evolve, financial institutions continue to become more digitally focused, and physical distancing measures continue to change the way we conduct business, the shift to digital service will only accelerate faster.   

The challenge financial services firms now face is two-fold. Not only do they need to bridge the physical and digital divide to retain these high-value customers (and acquire new ones), but they also need to maintain the high-touch, personalized engagements that their customers have come to expect, even as they move transactions online. The stakes are high, as the in-person engagements that have traditionally shaped high-value relationships in the financial services industry have a long history—in some cases, spanning a generation or two—and shifting them online carries risks.

So how can we navigate this new reality in a world where the expectation of the human touch was so prevalent, and yet build and sustain continuous relationships that move beyond transactional and into those that foster loyalty, advocacy, and ultimately participation?

We’ve outlined three key ways to get started below:

1. Consider the evolution of the investor mindset.

Anytime, anywhere, and always-on customer expectations are now the norm. This is true of investor expectations as well. Today’s investors embrace self-directed and powerful financial tools more than ever before, whether through mobile apps or financial planning and investment platforms. These tools help them make informed investment decisions that aren’t just word-of-mouth or based on one advisor’s recommendations. Investors of all levels are now more comfortable with using artificial intelligence and machine learning to help guide their next stock pick, index, or fund. And while savvy customers are much more aware of advisor fees and lower-cost options that don’t require expensive advice, they also demand holistic and personalized recommendations to meet individual goals.

2. Enable technology to power the missing piece of personalization

If done right, technology can help bridge the gap and replace the comfort that face-to-face interactions once provided when discussing issues as personal as personal finance. Financial institutions can achieve this through more informed use of personalization—with a human touch, of course. For example, tech enhancements such as targeting tools, chatbots, and natural language platforms have increased in both precision and accuracy to meet today’s financial customer needs. Predictive and connected communications through both advisors and firms will be necessary across the customer buying journey to offset the often-complex purchase decisions and stages of once in-person high-value transactions. And all of this needs to be coupled with financial institutions’ ability to integrate disparate data sources across web, email, CRM, and all other touchpoints to provide a much more holistic view of their customers while enabling the delivery of more valued—and valuable—engagements and experiences.

3. Look beyond just providing experiences

High-value customers aren’t simply looking for a financial planning tool or digital platform in and of itself, but rather an end-to-end and integrated experience across all touchpoints. This integrated experience ultimately builds trust and serves to fulfill the aim of any long-term planning or large transaction—namely, protecting customers’ and their families’ futures. To achieve this aim, financial institutions should serve up fewer untargeted communications and focus on delivering the right content at the right stage to the right customer to impact better decision making and goal setting. Doubling down on serving the individual versus targeting personas and segments will go a long way in sustaining continuous relationships beyond merely the transactional, even if a customer is conducting just that—a transaction. This level of sophistication in turn enables advisors and other customer-facing roles to spend less time on administrative duties and more time on advising or guiding.

Delivering thoughtful digital experiences to high-value customers yields dividends.

Whether financial conversations take place in-person or digitally, today’s financial questions are complicated, deeply personal, and require more thinking than the typically one-size-fits-all approach we are used to.

Bridging the gap between in-person and digital is about giving your customers the confidence that you can help them get more out of their money, enabling them to reach their financial goals. And if you play your cards right, your highest value customers will view you as a trustworthy and transparent partner that will help them become a smarter investor.

ICF’s global marketing services agency focuses on helping your organization find opportunity in disruption.
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By Frank Cristiano

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