If you’re thinking about how to attract new retail customers to your bank (and of course you are — it’s an issue you eat, sleep and breathe), it likely comes as no surprise that the answer lies largely in the quality of the digital user experience you provide them with.

Thankfully, creating digital experiences that provide value and drive customer growth is far simpler than most banks think. There is a catch, however: doing so means letting go of the overused and far too simplistic notion that success is as simple as just making banking solutions “easier to use.”

Sure, “easier to use” sounds nice and it certainly seems simple enough to accomplish — but what does it mean? The reality is, not much. Its ambiguous advice that does little to actually help banks reverse the fact that 65% of surveyed institutions are categorized in the non-digital account opening segment. That means that the majority of their accounts are opened in the branch at an acquisition cost of $138 rather than $77 – and that lack of a strong digital sales channel is costing banks a lot of money.

The vagueness of the discussions taking place around improving the customer experience in bankingonly adds to the problems banks face. Throwing around terms like “easy-to-use” might give the appearance of providing banks with concrete advice that they can take action on, but “easy” is a relative target to aim for. Easier for whom? What’s considered an easy-to-use experience by those that preorder coffees for their friends on an app, take an Uber to the coffee shop and then use Venmo to split the bill is vastly different than for those who have to ask their kids for help with Snapchat. Yet both of them are valuable customer segments that banks need to create useful banking solutions for if they hope to be competitive.

So what can financial institutions do to meet this mythical “easier to use” benchmark that everyone is talking about?

They need to know the secret. The same secret that fintechs have used to power their own success in winning the hearts, minds and wallets of customers.

The secret is to understand the behaviors of the customers you’re trying to attract and retain and develop banking solutions tailored to support those unique behaviors.

Yes, acquiring new customers can be complicated and there are all sorts of rules and regulations you have to follow and it all has to work together and integrate with your core platform. And all the nuts and bolts of the back end systems are fun and interesting to the technologists behind the scenes who designed them – but the reality is, no one else cares. And they shouldn’t have to. 

Think about the lights in your home for a second (something you’ve probably never done before because you just have an expectation that when you flip the switch the lights will just come on). Every light switch and light bulb is interconnected by a labyrinth of multi-colored wires that have been skillfully laid out in a precise pattern to provide electricity to the entire house. These wires are energized by a power plant which then transports this energy to buildings and rooms within buildings that ultimately enables lights to go on with the flick of a switch. 

In all likelihood you don’t care about any of that complexity and you certainly don’t need to see the infrastructure that powers your lamps — you just need them to provide you with light when you need it. That’s the definition of “ease-of-use” – removing unnecessary complexity.

The same type of simplicity should hold true for banking solutions. Customers just want a simple and effective way to open a new bank account, manage their money, understand their cash flow, pay their bills etc. The fact that behind-the-scenes banking processes are complicated shouldn’t be a burden they have to bear. They shouldn’t even be aware of it. And yet historically, financial institutions persist in designing clumsy, overly complicated digital banking solutions that reflect the inner workings of the bank, rather than the needs and behaviors of the people who are using them. It’s a problem that stems from a fatal flaw in far too many innovation processes – dismissing new ideas just “because” (fill in any old reason, like “because we have to have a button there”) instead of asking “why not?”

For banks and credit unions to beat fintechs at their own game, they’ve got to understand the different behaviors that drive each audience segment, and it starts with asking “who is using the product and what are they going to do with it?”

Acknowledging this is the first step to making the UI/UX decisions that will help you develop a solution that’s truly useful to the people who need it. Is the experience clear of clutter, such as information that isn’t relevant or necessary? Are the most common functions easy to find. Have unnecessary fields been eliminated and has the experience been optimized for different types of mobile appplications?

None of this is to say that upping your digital banking game and creating digital sales and onboarding solutions that crush the fintech competition is easy. It’s difficult to make something easy. There’s a lot that goes into it, and banks are going to have to work hard if they want to win. It just doesn’t have to be as challenging as it’s been so far…as long as you understand the secrets.

Posted by Brian McLaughlin

Brian McLaughlin is a business leader who specializes in finding innovative solutions to the complex challenges of today’s rapidly evolving technology landscape. He is Chief Experience Officer for Bottomline Technologies.