Balancing Digital and Physical Channels in the New Era of Banking and Insurance

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a spike in demand for digital banking experiences, a shift which banks and financial services institutions around the world have responded promptly to by accelerating product roadmaps and enabling new digital experiences.

But despite a clear surge in digital banking and transactions, industry stakeholders believe that customers still value the human connection in financial services, especially when it comes to more complex products.

During Fintech News Singapore’s latest Fintech Fireside Asia panel session, top executives representing Standard Chartered Bank, Tune Protect Group, Kenanga Investment Bank, and OneSpan Australia and New Zealand, discussed the digitalization of sales channels in the banking and financial services sector, highlighting emerging trends and sharing how they’ve successfully created human-digital blended experiences.

Ian W. Lloyd, Chief Digital Officer, Kenanga Investment Bank, said that although his company has been exploring opportunities in new markets and eagerly partnered with fintech companies to tap emerging business concepts, the bank has maintained a large network of agents and sales force which has been essential in reaching customers.

“We have a mix [of sales coming from physical and digital channels]. A lot of it now is digitised and digitally-enabled and supported, so we have a very large agent and sales force, and they are supported by digital tools,” Ian said. “But we also have some very complex products. We are an investment bank and we cater to corporate clients and high net worth clients, and sometimes, they need that specialized touch and service.”

Echoing Ian, Tom Gardner, Executive Director, Head of Sales – Financing & Securities Services Hong Kong, Financial Markets, Standard Chartered Bank, argued that while digital tools and technology have undeniably unleashed a wave of opportunities and brought about benefits to his profession, the human touch will remain of relevance, especially when complex transactions and larger deals are involved.

“Sales is the oldest profession in the world and digitalization will continue to be a big part of that but won’t replace it,” Tom said. “The bigger the deal size gets, [the more] you need that human connectivity.”

Technology: an enabler rather than a silver bullet

The panelists were unanimous that the use of technology will continue to increase moving forward, mentioning opportunities related to increased efficiency, automation and improved customer experience.

Ian from Kenanga said the bank’s new robo-advisory and savings products, which it launched just in February, have already seen strong uptake, showcasing clear demand for affordable, fully digital experiences.

Targeting first-time investors and the mass market, the Kenanga Digital Investing (KDI) offering focuses on accessibility and affordability, applying low account minimums and affordable fees. KDI also moves away from long forms to simply requesting new customers to answer just three questions to get started.

Nigel Stewart, Managing Director of OneSpan Australia & New Zealand, said that providing a fast and seamless digital onboarding experience has become essential for financial institutions, noting that many effective digital tools and technologies were available on the market for remote document signing and identity verification.

“Identity verification is something people are struggling with. What we are doing at OneSpan is that we are building that into the overall digital agreement process where it’s integrated natively into a transaction … That takes a lot of the friction out of the process and it’s something you think is quite unique in the industry,” Nigel said. “The second area where I see customers struggling with is static forms, PDFs … I think if those two technologies can be integrated, so identity verification and smart forms, in one complete format, it will go a long way to helping that whole digital-enabled [experience]”

Rohit Nambiar, Group Chief Executive Officer, Tune Protect Group, said that all of his company’s sales force relied on digital tools in some way.

A South East Asian digital first insurance firm, Tune Protect provides a range of general insurance solutions through multiple distribution channels. One key area the company has been focusing on is embedded insurance where the company partners with third parties like concierge services providers and car rental companies to offer its insurance products.

Moving forward, Rohit believes that while physical insurance agents won’t be going away, their role will change significantly. “The way things are moving now in insurance… with agency 2.0 … I do believe that in the next five to ten years there will be far lesser number of agents in the industry but generating far more value than they did earlier,” Rohit said.

Automation technologies, such as machine learning and robotic process automation, have the potential to free up a lot of time for finance professionals, elevating their role by allowing them to focus less on transactional activities and more on analytics and insights. McKinsey estimates that about 50% of the overall time of the workforce in finance and insurance is devoted to collecting and processing data.

“There are massive opportunities [in improving the onboarding process],” Rohit said. “For the banking and financial services industry, it’s complex because unlike other industries, we are not talking to one database or one system. We have to check anti-money laundering (AML), sanctions, terrorism, blacklists, credit, etc. There’s a lot we can do in terms of how using data in the industry and simplifying onboarding. And it’s not just finance, it’s also health, background checks, and more.”

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This article was first published by Fintech News Malaysia on September 19, 2022.