“Your trust in a product, service, or innovation will succeed or fail based on your relationship to it.” -Ben Pankonin

Technology may have changed how we engage with one another, but the purpose remains the same—to connect and have new experiences. We depend on human connection and community interactions as a species, and brands need to remember this as we move forward in this digital age of modern technology.

Ben Pankonin, CEO and Co-Founder of Social Assurance,  discussed this subject and how financial brands can use technology to expand their reach and engage with communities  on a recent Banking on Digital Growth Podcast. Ben is passionate about building stronger communities through the financial organizations that Social Assurance serves.

Why Community is Important

Before the pandemic, many brands were focused on using technology to build and grow their brand, but the human experience kind of got lost in the process. There was such a focus on the tech that we forgot about how important people still are.

It is the human condition to want to connect with other humans. And now that the pandemic is ending and things are returning to in-person situations, we are seeing and remembering how important community is and how important people are.

"When communities work well, you have this serendipitous nature, where you feel like the person you just ran into solves the exact problem you're thinking about, " says Ben.

And this can happen in the business community, in a local community, or in a personal community. Anywhere you go, and anyone you communicate with has the ability to make a difference in your life and relate to you or offer you something unique to help you solve your problems. And this is the beautiful thing about people and communities coming together and why it’s so important.

So when you think about technology, it’s all about how you use it. And if you use it correctly, it actually has the power to amplify connection and community.

How Technology Enables Financial Brands to Expand Their Reach

Rather than removing the human element and the human touch, technology can help financial brands achieve more by connecting with more people. People like to talk about this being the age of AI (Artificial Intelligence), but really it’s more like the age of abundance because technology, such as AI, has the power to help banks and credit unions reach new heights and new potential by enhancing what humans are capable of.

One mind is good, Ben shares, but when you can connect one mind to another and another and another—all of which come from different walks of life, different paths, and different experiences—it allows you to bring all of that together into these serendipitous moments where you can connect and create something spectacular and new.

Think about community banking and credit unions—these financial institutions that have been around for a while now—and their purpose or idea was to bring that personal, community touch into banking. But now, with technology, this idea of community and what brands are capable of has completely transformed. The idea of community banking can be taken to a whole new level.

With technology, people know that they can connect internationally. They know how great it is that we are more aware now of what’s going on in the world, but this has also caused them to take a step back and reevaluate their lives. And so now we are also seeing a lot of credit unions and banks follow this trend by refocusing their efforts on connecting more with customers in their local communities and attempting to be more impactful in smaller, more niche ways that suit their local customers.

Building Trust With Your Customers and the Communities You Engage With

One important thing to remember when using technology is that as good as it may seem, it can still fail. So when it comes to connecting with customers and communities, the key factor is to focus on building trust. If you don’t work to understand your customers and the community that you engage with, whether local or global, they won’t feel that connection or have that trust established that encourages them to continue working with you when something goes wrong.

And something will go wrong—it always does—because technology isn’t perfect. So you need to build those connections and relationships with your customers to ensure that they are willing to stick with you through the good times and the bad. When there is trust and a relationship is built, things don’t seem that bad when they fail because it doesn’t feel like a complete letdown. It’s more like failing gracefully.

Of course, the question is, “but how do we connect and build relationships?”

There is this fear or concern that you have to be strictly professional and on-brand because you work for a financial institution, but this is a very limited way of thinking. There is a certain professionalism that you want to maintain, yes, but you also want to show your customers and your community that you are humans just like them with flaws, interests, and needs.

So having your employees establish their own personal brand is sometimes more important than having them strictly stay “in character” according to the bank’s brand. If you want to build those connections, relationships, and that trust, you have to be willing to open up to your customers on a more personal level. Because when they feel that connection and have that person or that team that keeps them coming back and that makes them feel like they matter, that is what will make them loyal, even when the technology fails or something else goes wrong.

Pairing Restraint-Driven Thinking With Technology to Achieve Success

Technology is an excellent tool because it allows us to expand our capabilities and our reach, but if brands broaden their scope too much, they can end up losing focus. So while technology is useful and can certainly be used to help financial brands expand their reach, it’s important to be mindful to find that balance and reign yourself in on occasion.

This is important for brands to remember when it comes to technology and their marketing efforts as well. If you’re spreading yourself too thin and wasting resources putting content in places where people are no longer looking, it’s a waste of time and money. Just because you can do all the things with technology does not mean you should do all the things. It’s about using research and analytics to find what is trending and what works best for your brand and your company.

Everything is about balance—balancing the digital with the personal human connection, balancing the expanded reach with the niche offerings, and balancing the overall marketing capabilities with using certain channels that are more useful and beneficial to reach your target audience.

Constraint-driven thinking can help a company narrow down its focus and have more success in this sense. And the pandemic has sort of reminded us of this, in a way. It placed a lot of limitations on companies, which forced them to find new and creative ways of doing business. It’s not good to work under stress all the time, but finding the time or perhaps making it a yearly or quarterly goal to have a constraint-driven brainstorming session can potentially help financial brands achieve more things and learn new ways to utilize technology to have the greatest impact.

How to Overcome Potential Roadblocks Moving Forward

Again, with technology, it’s really easy to get caught up in all the things a brand can do that they sometimes forget about what they should do. So the key to avoiding setbacks with technology is to always remember to bring it back to the human condition and human behavior. What are your customers doing? What do your customers need? How best can you utilize the tools that are available to you to connect and build better relationships and develop more engaged communities?

Everything comes back to connecting with people and building a community. This is especially important for financial brands. Many people see banks as just a means to an end. They don’t often connect with their banks or have good relationships with them, but they should. The more people connect with their banks, and the more banks work to connect on a personal level with their customers and their communities, the happier everyone will be.

If financial brands want to retain loyal customers, they have to build trust and provide something special that separates them from any other bank. Otherwise, if something goes wrong or something fails, nothing is stopping your customers from banking with another brand just down the road.

A great place to start is by asking your employees what they think. They are closest to your brand and can potentially relate to your customers, so their perspectives and opinions are valuable. Ask them what they think about digital—about what it is, what it means, and how it can have the most impact on the community.