There’s so much talk about digital growth these days, especially in the financial sector and banks and credit unions in particular. 

But what exactly is digital growth? How do consumer journeys play a role in digital growth, and how can banks maximize their growth and build trust through technology?

Joe Welu, CEO of Total Expert, discussed these questions in a fireside chat conversation with James Robert Lay. 

What Is Digital Growth?

When banks begin to take a hard look at their digital presence and how they show up for consumers digitally, one of the first questions that gets asked is:

What is digital growth?

But this is an open-ended question. Many will offer suggestions like online banking, mobile banking, and remote deposit capture. But this is just the service side of business; one aspect out of many. 

Digital growth is about acquisition and retention across the entire organization; it’s about growth activities that were traditionally built for the physical world around the brick and mortar of branches. And it’s about engagement. 

Truthfully, communication is the central key to achieving digital growth. It's how banks communicate with prospects, leads, customers, and members. And the COVID-19 pandemic showed the entire industry—in a very short period—what is possible and achievable with a digital-first, digital growth mindset. 

For some, digital growth may seem like a great technique to appeal to new customers. But digital growth is more than a marketing activity. It’s marketing, sales, operations, IT, and an entire organization transforming the way they think about growth, from a customer-first perspective. 

It’s really not about the digital side or the technology side. It's about the member or the customer, and reverse-engineering what is best for them.

Some institutions may see this as a daunting task: Where to even begin? Digital growth doesn’t happen overnight. Progress should be measured by looking at how much has been accomplished instead of how much there is left to do. 

Essentially, measure progress, not perfection on the digital growth journey.

Digital growth happens through three key steps:

  1. Triage: Discovering what can be fixed immediately
  2. Treatment: Building foundational systems and processes
  3. Transformative activities: Taking larger action

The good news is that as banks go further on their digital growth journey, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy almost, gaining momentum like a flywheel. But the first step on this journey can (and should!) be small.

Shifting Mindsets

Joe shared, “One of the things that we've learned that it's very difficult or challenging for a lot of organizations is that mindset shift that is required, not just within one piece of the business, but it's really required within the IT side of the business, within the business line itself; the executive leadership.”

Digital growth isn’t just one person or one team; it requires the entire organization to adopt a new mindset.

This requires defining a common purpose to gain internal buy-in. With all of the recent exponential change in consumer behavior, technology, the competitive landscape, and now with COVID-19, change is very hard for some. It's easy for organizations to fall into a growth gap where it becomes easy to gripe about problems without ever taking action. To prevent this from happening, they need purpose. 

Having a purpose that's greater than the traditional mission or vision statement, but one that is framed around the problems of the people is imperative to winning over a team because when things get hard, there’s always a larger purpose and goal in mind. It requires an organization-wide mindset shift. For banks and credit unions that work with consumers, it’s important to create a scenario where the bank can be a customer’s lifetime financial partner. 

Defining the Customer Journey

The central thesis of digital growth is the consumer journey.  As Joe shared, “It's so vital to understand it, to optimize it, and to continuously focus on it.” After all, digital growth is just systems and processes that are centered around the consumer journey. 

The challenge many financial brands run into usually stems from one of the following causes:

  • They haven't documented the digital consumer journey first
  • They've dabbled in consumer journey mapping but have left too many gaps

They need to be thinking about meeting consumer needs throughout the entire consumer journey. This can be addressed through a mnemonic device: BANCER (Think: Banker).

  • Build an audience with data
  • Attract leads with personalized offers
  • Nurture these leads and build their trust 
  • Convert leads for loans and deposits
  • Expand relationships by delighting customers
  • Repeat the entire process through ratings, reviews, and referrals

BANCER is about generating self-sustaining growth. Joe explained, “Ultimately, if you're running a true flywheel of growth, you have that ‘attract, engage, amaze’ [factor] happening all the time. It's creating advocates. It's creating people that really love doing business with you because you've added value in a way that maybe others hadn't. You made them feel special.”

One of the most common gaps in this cycle happens in regards to nurturing relationships, which has to happen digitally. This is where most organizations see a lot of opportunity for growth. 

Consumers crave knowledge and education-centric content. If banks can educate them on what's relevant to them through data-driven content, they can offer value and nurture the relationship. Banks and credit unions have to put the work in to build trust and add value to create the lifetime relationships they seek with consumers. 

Technology can be the tool to bring people together for good, to create value for consumers. But especially when using technology, banks have to have empathy for the entire digital consumer journey. 

In actuality, 85 to 90 percent of financial brands have never shopped or secret shopped their digital experiences, while around 70 to 80 percent plus are continuously shopping their in-branch experience. The mistake that many organizations make is that they assume that their branches are all they need to nurture these relationships. However, it's the brands that combine technology and human connection that are going to win in the future, with both the number of customers and their loyalty. 

Maximizing Technology

Organizations must maximize their technology to achieve true financial growth, which requires solid technology solutions.

But all too often these financial institutions run into insurmountable challenges. They buy technology from a third party that oversells their product. Then, after they go through their 30 days of onboarding, the financial brand and their team are left to their own devices. They end up feeling confused, frustrated, and overwhelmed. 

It's kind of like buying a car. They buy the Rolls Royce, but the Rolls Royce just sits in the garage when all they really needed was just the Lexus.

When it comes to digital transformation, financial brands need to partner with organizations and vendors that are going to partner with them for the long haul. As Joe shared, it’s about “Having that alignment with not just one vendor, but the core vendors that you have in your stack. Make sure you have the partners because that's the iteration that has to happen.

He continued. “Without that iteration, you really don't end up getting the value.”

Told Expert is a great example. They provide a high-caliber, reliable solution, but they also coach their partners, show them how to use it, guide them, and empower them so they can do more than they ever thought possible. 

Pilot programs are a great way to test solutions and gain proof of concept. No one ends up with a major investment, unrealistic expectations, and unsatisfactory results. 

Expanding Customer Relationships

Digital growth and expanding customer relationships go hand in hand. How do financial brands do this? 

One solution is through referrals, and ratings and review programs. A lot of financial brands forget to look at how much a member or a customer is influencing the buying journey of someone else. 

The ratings and stars that show up on Google can have a huge impact on other future prospects. Ultimately, these ratings can drive consumers to a website, which is the very first step in their digital journey, and they are critical to building customers for life. 

It’s also through these referrals and ratings that banks and credit unions can discover ways to drive value for customers and growth in the business. And it all happens by starting small, with the discoveries made through ratings, reviews, and referrals to find opportunities for growth and opportunities to further delight consumers.  

As Joe pointed out, “It's not just about the money of that transaction, but it's having a true customer for life.”  And that’s the true key to digital growth.

He continued, “If you think about how valuable a lifetime relationship with a customer is, it's hard to wrap your mind around [it].” We partner with these organizations. But how is everyone not given more attention to creating a customer-for-life scenario?” 

The pace of digital growth and transformation in the financial sector has exploded at unbelievable speeds. But the key thing to remember? Joe put it best. “It's still all about the customer relationship, isn't it?”

It’s a human game. It's a people game. Whenever banks and credit unions put people at the center of their strategy, the complexities of digital growth fall away and the process becomes a simple one. 

Fear shouldn’t be the thing that keeps financial brands from moving forward. The fear of the unknown, the fear of change, the fear of failure, and the fear of success will be the downfall of so many. But with the right partners and the right guidance, brands can take real action towards impactful digital growth.