SPECIAL FEATURE: The connected consumer awakes

Robyn Hall

April 17, 2013

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Charles Darwin

During the last few years of relevant stagnation in financial services, where the Industry has been concentrating on RDR, MMR and survival, there has been little investment in the online space. And whilst we have been asleep there has been a massive change and the emergence of online consumerism.

Consumers have a lust to use the internet to source data, mortgages, funds, product features, cost of products and services and then share their collective intelligence to help and guide others with real time experiences.

The problem the industry has now is that the evolution of consumer behaviour and digital technology is moving faster than the ability to exploit it.

The few businesses that have recognised this behaviour and already developed a culture and process for innovation should survive the perpetual threat.

Many Financial Services organisations have been put on a pedestal as ‘Too Big to fail’ but for varying reasons we know times have changed.

In financial services we are guilty of compromising consumer experiences for a number of static, stagnant, approaches that are driven from the corporate handbook, rather than the consumer journey.

We compromise consumer experiences for numbers, goals, minimised expenses, forecasts, etc.

We should use consumer experiences to our advantage. Whatever business, the only factor as significant as customer acquisition is customer retention.

We are all consumers of various online products and by placing ourselves in the ‘Journey spotlight’ we gain a more personal view of what is needed for the Financial Services Industry.

We need to view business without the blindfolds that many people in this industry always seem to wear.

The change dictated by the consumer is now happening so fast that no one can claim they are experts, we are all just students learning something new every day but one thing is certain change is upon us.

The consumer simply opens a new tab to compare prices, conduct research and find related reviews that detail the product or experience.

The Banks and Lending institutions are waking up out of the lending recession to find the world has changed around them.

All are guilty of lack of investment in online innovation, and because they are having to lend vast sums through the ‘Funding For Lending Scheme’ have little option than to spend a fortune to acquire the new customers to satisfy the FLS criteria.

Investment companies and some brokers have developed innovative online systems and are moving forward at a greater pace but many are left behind and have little chance of catching up unless through acquisition.

Most Insurance companies now have online extranets, but whilst they have ‘systems’ some have been developed with the blindfolds on!

Therefore the success of the system is held back by a poor user experience.

Some financial services businesses are living off the fumes of the carryover effect of what consumers know and share based on offline interactions and experiences.

Unless they’re renewed and reinforced the shelf life of the brand now carries an expiration date. It is though open mindedness that businesses can recognise the need to change and the leadership to alter course.

As we know in this digital age, consumers share this user experience whether good or bad and the true character of the business is revealed across the country by the collective experience of its customers.

How people are connecting is setting the foundation for a powerful distribution network that rivals the greatest news and broadcast networks. News no longer breaks, it tweets, or is shared, which demonstrates the efficiency, momentum and influence of the human network.

The financial services industry needs to engage with consumers in whatever form.

Sometimes through a purely online model but an alternative can be an online/offline model that drives customer engagement and delivers outcomes through a clear online strategy.

Whether an IFA, mortgage broker, major bank, insurance company or investment platform connect with the consumer, create a magical user experience to help define your brand.

Bring your business into the consumer trust zone and arrive at a new frontier of customer engagement and extend the reach of your brand and its value.

James Sadler is a former IFA of 15 years and founded Mortgage27 before selling majority shares to a venture capital business.

He is now helping financial businesses to increase their online sales and customer engagement.

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