“The more we invest in the employee experience, it translates over to better member experience, better digital experiences, and more of a focus on what truly matters, which is the people.” -Tom Novak

Brands don’t have a technology problem; they have a people problem. Technology is readily available, and while financial brands might still be hesitant to take certain digital risks, it’s the human element they need to keep the focus on. The more brands invest in the employee experience, the more it translates to a better member and customer experience through digital experiences.

Tom Novak, VP and Chief Digital Officer at Visions Federal Credit Union, joined the Banking on Digital Growth Podcast to discuss the importance of the human experience to advance digital transformation and propel financial brands forward.

Digital Transformation Begins With Transforming People

The key to taking any brand to the next level through digital is to avoid losing sight of the human element within the business. The employee experience, the member experience, and the customer experience are all intertwined, and if you focus solely on the technology and the digital transformation and lose sight of the people, then you aren’t transforming your business at all.

"You can't have one do well and not the other do well. You can't have a disparity. And really the more we invest in the employee experience, it translates over to better member experience, better digital experiences and more of a focus on what truly matters, which is the people, " Tom shared.

The digital experience combined with the human experience is what leads to growth and transformation. If your brand offers some cool, new digital experiences and services, that might draw attention and bring you new business for a short while, but eventually, the excitement over the newness will fade. And if you don’t provide quality human experiences to back up your digital, people won’t feel that connection or a reason to stick around.

Employee relationships, member relationships, and customer relationships are all just as important, if not more so than a company’s relationship with the technology it utilizes. The key is to find a balance, to find a way for these two things—the human experience and the digital experience—to work together and complement one another. That is how you transform your business and take it to the next level.

And what is often overlooked is that the employee experience is where financial brands need to start. Your employees’ experiences and how they interact and engage with your company and the technology is what will determine the outcome of the customer experience and the member experience. Your employees are like the bread and butter of your business, so if they aren’t happy and having a good experience, then neither will anyone else. And this also means that your digital initiatives won’t come across or won’t have success either.

A successful digital experience starts with an investment in people because people are what really matter—not technology. Technology is this cool and powerful tool, sure, but without quality people and satisfactory human experiences, the tech falls flat and will ultimately fail. You can’t have one without the other in today’s world. It is necessary to have both to truly succeed.

Taking Calculated Risks to Achieve Progress

When brands are looking into digital innovation and automation, aside from maintaining that human-centered approach, it’s also important to continually keep digital at the forefront of your mind and what you’re doing. The only way to move things forward is to keep trying and keep innovating, and unfortunately, financial brands are known for being hesitant in that regard.

The finance industry always seems to be a step or two behind because brands are afraid to take those risks with digital. But taking calculated risks is necessary to transition banks into the future. If you stop your brand from implementing new technologies and new processes out of fear, you’ll get left behind.

If you think back to when digital first started gaining traction, no one knew what to do or how to adopt these new tools and systems. It was all a risk, but companies knew that there was no stopping this digital revolution from happening, so they knew they had to go digital if they wanted to continue to grow and make money.

But now, a lot of financial brands have put on the brakes. They’ve gone digital, and they assume that’s enough, but it’s not. Technology is continually evolving, and it’s necessary for banks to continually evolve with it. But just like it was back when digital was new, no one wants to be the first to take the next step again.

We are at this precipice where technology has advanced again just over the past two or three years, and everyone knows that it’s time to be innovative again, but no one wants to be the first because they have a fear of failure. So a lot of banks and financial institutions are just sitting around waiting for someone else to light the way, but running your business this way will ultimately result in getting left behind.

So to move forward, banks have to continually be learning and adopting new technologies and new services and processes to keep up. They need to focus on making digital and technology a core competency and try repeatedly until they get it right. And over time, that tension and that fear of the unknown will resolve.

Even if mistakes are made along the way, that is part of the growth process. It’s all about failing forward and learning from our mistakes until we find the solution that works best for our company. Not every decision will be perfect, but brands need to be more comfortable taking these calculated risks with digital to have success now and in the future.

How Financial Brads Can Achieve Continuous Growth and Transformation

As brands start to think about their digital growth journey and the human experience and how to get started, there are three things to focus on:

1. Education

For financial brands to move forward, they need to question everything and seek answers. They need to be more curious and inquisitive. The only way to advance our companies and our capabilities is to continually seek knowledge and educate ourselves.

"Don't question things for questioning sake, question with purpose, try to understand the why, and also answer some of your own questions as opposed to being so dependent on so many others to answer the question, " says Tom. 

The idea is to question with purpose to add value to the conversation. And this is more of an internal process. This is how brands can improve the employee experience and even the shareholder experience; by asking questions and encouraging their people to learn and seek answers and think outside the box.

2. Partnerships

Collaboration and partnerships are the second key factor in building those human connections and digitally transforming a company. There is a lot of hesitation with banks around partnering with some of these modern, digital companies and fintechs because they think these organizations are trying to steal their thunder. And while there might be some companies out there trying to replace traditional banks, plenty more want to partner with them.

Traditional banking services will always be needed, but it is also necessary for banks to find a way to offer their services in a new and transformative way. And they often can’t achieve that on their own. A lot of financial institutions lack the technology and the resources needed to advance their capabilities, which is why it’s necessary to take those risks and partner with the organizations that can help them with that.

Banks cannot move forward on their own. Growth and development and innovation are best achieved through teamwork and collaboration. Financial brands can bring that traditional human element, and fintechs can bring the digital experience, and together they can take the human and the digital experience to whole new levels.

3. Forward Thinking

This third notion is not so much an action for brands to take but more of a warning or something to be aware of. Financial institutions are behind and are notorious for always being an industry that is late to the game. And this isn’t said to create hysteria but rather to inspire action.

Financial brands must start developing more forward-thinking approaches and practices if they want to remain relevant. There are numerous other companies, like fintechs and neo banks, as well as players in other industries that are doing a much better job of serving their customers and members. And that’s because they haven’t been afraid of innovation and taking risks.

The only way traditional banks and financial institutions are going to continue to exist in the future is by being quicker to adopt these technologies and digital trends as they come. If you just sit around waiting for someone else to show you how it’s done, you’re going to find yourself getting left behind. So a forward-thinking approach is a must if you want to carry your brand into the future.

Alignment and Connection is Key

What everything ultimately boils down to is alignment and connection between the digital experience and the human experience. Brands are seeking to have the newest and the latest technology, which is an essential part of moving forward, but if the human connection is missing, it’s not going to work.

Start by creating a positive experience for your employees. Financial brands need to focus on the people side of things and getting those internal experiences in alignment with the technology that is being used. Only then can you provide quality digital experiences for your customers and members that allow for growth.