Digital or Bust: Banks of Tomorrow

Mobile Money

Banking has an image problem. And with the next generation of consumers wondering if banks really matter, the only solution is much-needed innovation.

Having lived through the Great Recession during their formative years, the so-called Millennials view the industry as the old guard—irrelevant, out of touch, and in desperate need of a shakeup.

A three-year study by Viacom’s brand consulting division Scratch revealed that those born between 1981 and 2000 overwhelmingly believe banks have the highest risk of disruption—likely from outside the industry.

All top four banks were among the ten least favorite brands of the 10,000 respondents. Over two-thirds think that in five years, the way they access money and pay for things will be totally different and a third predict we won’t need banks at all. There’s also little faith that the incumbents have the wherewithal to evolve. Over half are counting on tech startups to overhaul the system.

“I don’t see a difference between my bank and all the others,” said one respondent of the over 200 interviewed. Consequently, 71 percent would rather go to the dentist than hear what their bank has to say.

Such an aggressive stance isn’t particularly surprising. While banks have been slow to transition into the digital age, in part due to a complex web of regulations and cumbersome legacy platforms, Millennials have been equally slow to accumulate wealth, thanks to a stuttering economy, and are generally skeptical of the system after the crash of 2008.

As such, it’s never been more pressing for banks to invest in the future. Moreover, the adoption of digital technologies is the key to restoring profitability and shaping new business models, argues a recent industry report by Accenture:

Most mainstream banks simply aren’t using technology smartly enough to deliver the transformation they need. At the same time, some of their pioneering peers have recognized that every business is now (or should be) a digital business, and they are starting to position themselves as digital winners.

The benefits are obvious, concludes the report. Faster and smarter payments allow for better operational efficiency, freeing up valuable working capital and reducing business cycle risks. More accessible and cost-effective distribution platforms create opportunities for new customers and new markets, including the 2.5 billion that remain unbanked. And innovative new products and services open up new revenue streams, like online gaming and micropayments.

So if Millennials think banks are boring and out of style, they’re missing the bigger picture. While the sector has been slow to adopt new technologies, the current players still have the resources, infrastructure, and perhaps most importantly, the experience to strategically position themselves in our digital future. What’s clear is the increasing need for real change and the growing opportunity for potential first-movers.

Photo: The Gates Foundation