The pandemic drove an unprecedented wave of interest in online financial services, seemingly both out of necessity and curiosity.
On the one hand, individuals who may have previously relied on financial services that were provided in person were suddenly forced to switch to virtual platforms. As brick-and-mortar banks closed their doors, their virtual counterparts were the only option.
On the other hand, the combination of widespread lockdowns with an increased focus on problems in the global economy seems to have changed peoples’ relationships with their personal finances. For example, online investing platforms across the board seem to have onboarded waves of new users since March.
Regardless of the reason, the fact is that users are interacting with fintech platforms on a more widespread level than ever before.
As a result, financial services companies are upping their game when it comes to their B2C fintech offerings, building out new products and services at a record pace.
However, as the virtual fintech world increasingly dominates the methods in which people interact with fintech platforms, the number of products and services is only as good as a platform’s presentation. People who previously handled most of their financial business in-person may feel put-off and alienated, or even confused and defeated, by something like a banking app.
This is why developing and maintaining a ‘human touch’ in fintech is more important than ever. As financial companies increasingly move their B2C operations online, how can customers’ interactions with fintech platforms maintain a personal touch?
“Trust and Relationships Are Built between People, Not People and Machines”
Adam Smith, chief executive of Saxo Markets Australia, told Finance Magnates that he believes a human touch in the virtual fintech world is ‘extremely important’.
Part of the reason for this is because Smith has seen what can happen when things go wrong: “in Australia, some of our biggest companies were so severely impacted by the pandemic that their offshore operations were suspended, leaving many customers in the dark and unable to contact them,” he said. “This eroded trust, which is a key ingredient in any relationship, slow to build up, and can be lost in a second.”
However, now that the most immediate crisis seems to be over Adam says that “Financial Services are now running the same risk if they lose sight of the importance of the human connection.
“Trust and relationships are built between people, not people and machines. Without a human side to fintech, consumers are less equipped to make informed decisions about their money or data, or feel empowered and confident in adopting new technologies.”
It is also important to remember that for some customers, the human interactions involved with certain financial activities are a part of the value of the experience.
Eric Anziani, chief operating officer at Crypto.com, told Finance Magnates that for example, “one of the reasons why senior citizens still walk to the bank twice a week and queue in line is not because they are incapable of obtaining money in any other way: it is because they value the human interaction and the personal touch that comes from banking face to face.”
“That’s an important point to bear in mind when designing fintech platforms: your mandate to automate processes doesn’t have to come at the expense of dehumanizing the experience. Maintaining customer support who can assist users when they get stuck, while demonstrating that there are real people behind the platform who actually care, is imperative.”
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Starting from the Top Down
What are the specific elements of design that must be taken into consideration when engineering ‘human touch’ into a fintech platform?
Leena Iyar, chief brand officer of business interaction management platform company Moxtra, told Finance Magnates that at the most basic level, customers and users need to know that their data will be protected on fintech platforms. For fintech platforms that interface directly with banks is also a matter of concern on the institutional side of things.
“Due to the highly personal nature of the information and the greater cybersecurity risk inherently involved, the first key to propelling customer service efforts is that fintech solutions must prove to banks and clients that their security and privacy are top-notch and of the highest priority,” Iyar explained.
“A lack of well-thought-out functionalities can present risks for clients and banks.”
Part of this includes customization: “fintech solutions must prioritize putting settings in place that tailor permissions for roles that mirror banking operations,” Iyar said. “By enforcing these boundaries within the solution a precise management system is created which provides a higher quality of service from the top down.”
Almost Human: Artificial Intelligence Plays an Increasingly Important Role in UX
Beyond top-notch security, users need to feel like there is someone, or rather, something, available to answer their questions and offer support whenever they might need it.
Ivan Kot, senior manager at Itransition, told Finance Magnates that “customer experience personalization today requires real-time processing of ever-growing client data,” which is “an impossible feat for an employee, but an easy task for artificial intelligence (AI).”
Therefore, AI is playing an increasingly important role on fintech platforms, specifically when it comes to customer relations: “the fintech industry increasingly relies on machine intelligence to sound ‘human’ in customer interactions,” Kot explained.
To a certain extent, reliance on AI to bring a human touch onto fintech platforms may be effective: “due to the recent advancements in NLP and machine learning, the modern chatbots and digital assistants can understand customers well and hold natural-sounding conversations with them,” he continued.
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These developments have led to a proliferation of AI-powered chatbots on fintech platforms. “Today, AI-powered chatbots and digital assistants are in charge of providing financial assistance and customer support in many fintech platforms,” Kot said.
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“This arrangement has proven to be a win-win solution so far: clients are pleased with 24/7 availability, speed of service, and level of personalization, while enterprises can save employees time and effort for more complicated tasks.”
Moving beyond Chatbots
Still, there is no better way to develop a ‘human touch’ than to have actual human beings available on-demand.
“Moving forward, banks must look beyond generic websites and chatbots, and search for ways to provide a personalized experience to clients through virtual interactivity,” Moxtra’s Leena Iyar told Finance Magnates.
For example, “in response to clients being unable to meet in-person with their wealth management teams, fintech platforms need to ensure their solutions have features that allow clients to connect to their relationship managers on-demand,” she said.
This is particularly important when it comes to fintech apps that essentially act as ‘virtual branches’ for banks: “banking-client relationships are complex and typically involve several parties on both sides, and solutions must allow for a heightened level of responsiveness and transparency of services,” Iyar explained.
“Banks have a complicated network of moving parts, therefore, one of the biggest challenges is developing a virtual banking ecosystem that organically delivers services to users, while simultaneously scaling as a bank-as-a-platform.”
For banks, the ultimate goal should be that “each client should feel as though they have an extension of the bank available through digital channels.
“Banks can deliver this service experience by offering a collaborative solution that merges in-person and digital experiences, through capabilities like secure messaging, digital signature, and a seamless tracking of finances, transactions, and banking communications in real-time,” Iyar said.
“By having the ability to manage all internal and external interactions in one digital space, banks are offered a holistic view of their corporation portfolio, while simultaneously providing an enhanced UX,” thereby “nurturing long-lasting relationships with clients.”
Leveraging User Bases to Create Communities
In certain cases, fintech platforms can also leverage their user base to create a sense of community within their online operations.
Social investment app eToro, for example, is one of the oldest examples of this: social interactions are an essential piece of the platform, which was founded in 2007.
“When we founded eToro, we wanted it to become a community where people could share ideas,” explained Yoni Assia, the platform’s chief executive, to Finance Magnates.
Therefore, “we built the platform as a social network for traders and investors, where they can execute trades, but also see what others are doing and talk to each other.”
The social aspect of the platform has also been leveraged to develop certain products and services.
For example, “we brought the idea of copy [trading] to the masses, and it remains a key feature of our multi-asset platform today. It allows you to copy trades of investors you pick in proportion to the amount you choose to invest and you can stop at any time,” Assia explained.
While the same kind of community building and engagement may not possible on a banking app, per se, financial companies must consider how they can create secure ways in which their users can connect with and support one another.
Engineering ‘Moments of Delight’
Even where social interactions are not necessary or possible, Crypto.com’s Eric Anziani told Finance Magnates that the UX of fintech platforms must go beyond basics such as simplicity and ease-of-use: they must consider their users’ emotional reactions.
Specifically, “from a design perspective, you need to be asking ‘how can you simplify the user experience and create moments of delight?’”, Anziani explained.
Therefore, when it comes to something like simplification, UX designers must perform a ‘delicate balancing act’.
For example, “if you display too many choices on screen, there is a risk of overwhelming your users, while stripping things back too far risks leaving users uninformed,” he said.
“Essentially, you’re looking to guide them through the process, whether that’s signing up, ordering a new card, or sending funds to a family member, using subtle cues and prompts that are built into the user interface. You also want to ensure the completion of important actions are recognized and celebrated. Keep it clean and make it rewarding.”
Which platforms do you see doing a good job of maintaining a ‘human touch’? Let us know in the comments below.”