How to Personalize Digital Experiences in Finance

Updated: Feb 22

The importance of personalization.

Customers have come to expect a level of personal service from companies that is the digital version of a 24/7 concierge. Think Netflix, Amazon, and Spotify, all companies that have set the bar for personalized, instantaneously responsive, and increasingly predictive real-time service across all points of contact with companies.

Why is this degree of personalization so crucial for companies? In giving customers what they want, when they want it, on a consistent and meaningful basis, companies can build deep, long-lasting, and mutually beneficial relationships. It is these enduring relationships that enable companies to withstand the pressures of a hyper-competitive, ever-evolving world.

According to the Stratus Innovation Group, these shifts in customers’ expectations are accelerating quickly — and customers are demanding that companies keep up. This is evident in the findings of an IBM report from the Institute for Business Value, which showed:

  • 76% of consumers expect organizations to understand their individual needs

  • 81% of consumers demand improved response time

  • 68% anticipate that organizations will harmonize consumer experiences

Companies that get personalization right stand to benefit significantly. Segment, a company that helps organizations create customer and employee experiences, surveyed more than 1 000 consumers and found that customers are willing to spend more money with companies that make an effort to deliver a personalized experience. Personalization also results in increased revenue for companies and achieves the holy grail, customer loyalty.

To reap the benefits of personalization, however, companies need to make sure all parts of the organization are doing their bit towards creating a consistent, coherent, and meaningful omnichannel customer experience. They can only do this by developing a comprehensive understanding of their customers’ needs, desires and expectations and, in so doing, create a 360-degree customer experience that consistently surprises and delights them in all their interactions with the company.

To achieve this ideal, Geoffrey Schwartz, director of strategy at Frog, a global design and strategy firm, suggests companies map out all the interactions they have with clients at all points and across all mediums. This gives the company a holistic view of how customers are engaging with the company, he says. This is important because customer experience is about the cumulative experiences of customers over time.

By developing a detailed picture of the journey the customer travels, each engagement they have with the company becomes a potential opportunity for the organization to deepen their relationship with the client. “With more ways to engage than ever before, companies need to ensure the apps, websites, physical products, in-person service interactions are consistent and meaningful.”

Creating a cohesive omnichannel experience.

Some companies have gone as far as co-creating customer experiences with the customers themselves. This forward-thinking approach not only makes customers feel they are an integral part of the relationship-building process but it also ensures that the way the company delivers its products and services is truly designed with the customer, not the company, in mind.

In the financial services industry, the gap between the customer experience leaders and the customer experience laggards is particularly wide, with smaller, digitally based fintech companies eating into business traditionally the exclusive preserve of the banks and insurance companies.

According to Evergage, customers are experiencing personalization from companies in other industries and are beginning to demand those same types of experiences from financial institutions. Two in five millennials feel that the offers they receive from their banks are not personalized, and 40% of consumers say that personalized service would change their loyalty to their bank.

While aware of the threat to their existing businesses, Evergage found that 79% of financial institutions consider it “very” or ”extremely” important to deliver guidance to clients in real time, 40% of them consider themselves “static” because they offer no personalizations.

With this in mind, the financial services sector is most likely to be subject to ongoing disruption, as smaller, more agile contenders make getting to know their customers’ needs and aspirations. These will include events they need to save for, assets they wish to acquire and plans they want to make for retirement.

Why are they not moving faster on the journey towards customer personalization? One significant reason is that a sophisticated real-time, personalized customer experience is only possible if the business's products and services are based on a technological infrastructure that is flexible, agile and highly responsive to changes in customer needs and demands. The system also needs to be able to incorporate and harness the ever-evolving capabilities offered by emerging technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, and predictive data analytics.

From Monolithic to Microservices.

Over the last decade, it has become increasingly apparent that traditional monolithic technology systems are not built to offer a competitive level of customer personalization. These legacy platforms are cumbersome, expensive, and risky to keep up to date. Built on a one code basis, a monolithic system is developed as a single unit, and over time customized technology is added and integrated into the system to meet the changing needs of the company as and when they arise.

Critical pieces of the technology platform are tightly coupled and highly interdependent, so it is difficult to make a change without affecting the entire architecture. This results in a system that challenging to scale and has little operational agility. Also, if one part of the system goes down, the entire network goes down.

Many traditional large financial services companies operate on monolithic systems, which means they cannot respond quickly to customer behavior, preferences, and choices.

A good example of this is that banks still show customers the products and services they already have on their website. In contrast, companies that make use of technology designed to personalize customer experience serve up websites that are specifically tailored to offer personalized guidance in real time, taking into account the customer’s previous activity with the company.

Companies that making the most progress and having the most success at achieving customer personalization are those that operate on a system of microservices. These are independent applications that are developed, deployed, and maintained separately to deliver on specific business requirements.

Why are microservices more suited to do the job? In a survey, titled Guide to Microservices: Speed, Agility, and Flexibility, DZone explains that microservices break down large tasks into simple, independent processes that communicate with each other via APIs. Developers adopt microservices architectures to help solve common, complex issues like speed and scalability, while also supporting continuous testing and continuous delivery.

In essence, microservices give a company the ability to be nimble and responsive to customers and allow them to be faster to market with services the company has identified will enhance a customer’s experience or meet a specific need. In so doing, companies provide a seamless experience across multiple channels, such as mobile applications, point-of-sale systems, social media, Internet of Things devices, virtual reality, digital assistants, or chatbots.

Given the immense potential offered by microservices to achieve personalization and considerably enhance customer experiences, many companies are leaving their monolithic systems behind in favor of microservice-based systems. This trend was captured in the Chef Survey 2017, which found that 67% of respondents had re-architected monolithic applications into microservices or planned to do so.

Microservices give companies many ways to change how they do things, even those that are hesitant about making a wholesale move away from their existing architecture to a microservices-based system. In these cases, no big bang is required, says Arish Ali, CEO, and co-founder, Skava.

“For the enterprise that wants to take advantage of modularity but isn't ready to rip-and-replace their entire legacy platform, there's great news. Microservices can be deployed alongside a monolith to replace components of the platform gradually.”

He adds that critical pieces of the legacy platform can be replaced systematically until a new system has been built around the old. This allows an enterprise to stay innovative (replatforming implementations can take years) with minimal risk, says Ali. "The result is a modern, flexible architecture that's easier to maintain and grow with the business, instead of another inflexible monolithic system.”

Customer personalization is here to stay – in fact, it is well on its way to becoming part of everyday business. Companies who respond proactively to this by ensuring they have the technology architecture in place to adapt quickly and responsively are far more likely to win the hearts and minds of their customers than those set in their ways or hesitant to make the changes needed.

Microservices offer a valuable bridge for those companies ready to take the first step in leaving the past behind and positioning themselves for a more profitable future.