Financial services are going digital. Digitization will change the way financial institutions organize themselves to relate to their customers, and it will dramatically change how customers experience financial services. These changes will be especially profound for traditionally underserved customers who are the targets of financial inclusion efforts.
The good news is that digital delivery models make it possible—and profitable—for banks to serve many people who were previously excluded because their incomes were too low or their locations too remote to reach through high-touch models. The high operational costs associated with physical buildings and staffing only makes sense if the branches break even and provide a satisfactory return within an acceptable timeframe. Low-income customers with thin credit histories borrowing small amounts of money have long presented a challenge to the analog way of doing business. Thus, serving the underbanked customer segment through digital channels presents an opportunity—by lowering operational costs and increasing customer engagement—to transform financial inclusion into a sustainable business. Additionally, digitization allows thin-file customers to have their creditworthiness assessed through alternative scoring models that incorporate other types of behavioral records.
When done effectively, the returns to digital transformation can be significant. For example, DBS Bank, a financial services group in Asia named “world’s best digital bank” by Euromoney in 2018, has seen digitization contribute to rising shareholder value. DBS customers who process more than half their transactions remotely bring in more revenue than traditional customers. Two-thirds of DBS’s gross profit currently comes from digital customers. A DBS staff member told us, “The cost-to-income ratio for digital customers is just 34 percent, compared to 55 percent for traditional customers. The return on equity from digital customers is, impressively, at 27 percent.” Numbers such as these make it attractive to reach new customer segments. But if the transition from face-to-face to digital is to succeed, financial institutions will need to understand and address the special characteristics of these segments and get the digital customer journey right—for both their own operations and the customers’ experience.
Walking vs. Flying
For customers, the difference between a traditional and a digitized customer journey can be as dramatic as the difference between walking and flying in an airplane. The traditional customer journey includes traveling to branches to talk with a customer service representative, assembling pages of paper documents to meet KYC requirements, and then waiting for days to receive decisions. With digitization, customers can discover and apply for products on their phones and receive funds into mobile wallets, all in a matter of minutes.
The difference between a traditional and digitized customer journey can be as dramatic as the difference between walking and flying in an airplane.
In order to produce such a streamlined journey, financial institutions must address technical and operational challenges and regulatory issues. And, as we discuss in this report, the journey they construct needs to work well for customers—especially when those customers are new to their services. Digitization can bring enormous gains in speed and convenience to customers, but it can also create gaps as it shifts from familiar, person-to-person interactions to interactions that take place on a digital device.