From Survive to Thrive: The Pursuit of Digital Transformation Maturity

by Janice Diner, CEO Horizn

“We were able to use Horizn simulators to make sure all of our contact center employees and the branches were able to take advantage of it.“

Ravi Vakacherla , Chief Transformation Officer, People’s United Bank

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The transformation to digital was put into overdrive by the pandemic and the immediate needs of banking customers worldwide. It’s the number one priority of financial institutions globally for 2021, says Janice Diner, Horizn founder and CEO. In the following essay, Diner explores the pace and scope of this change and the demands it is placing on organizations to adapt quickly. The essay is based on a webinar hosted by Horizn VP Sales, Steve Frook, that featured Jim Marous, co-publisher of The Financial Brand and owner/CEO of the Digital Banking Report, in conversation with Ravi Vakacherla, Chief Transformation Officer at People’s United Bank (a Horizn client).

We’ve finally turned the page on 2020, yet COVID continues to disrupt every part of our daily life, including our business life. Financial institutions globally have had to suddenly move from branch-based interactions to digital interactions.

Consumers can now bank everywhere, anytime they like. But it’s not always a smooth journey. In many cases, consumers are saddled with old technology and old processes that make it hard for them to engage. Many organizations have employees who don’t understand their bank’s digital capabilities. As Jim Marous, co-publisher of The Financial Brand, recently described it to us, the result is “for all intents and purposes, ‘fake’ digital.”

“The number one trend [for 2021] is that organizations are looking to digitally transform. That wasn’t even a listed item last year.” – Jim Marous

He shared with us his team’s research on the top trends for 2021. Number one is the need for organizations to transform themselves digitally. As recently as last year, this wasn’t even on the radar for many organizations. Back then, the focus was on customer experience — though the two naturally go hand in hand. Successful digital transformation means building a better customer experience. But to do so takes work.

So-called “digital maturity” is still low, unfortunately. As Jim told us, only 17% of organizations have begun an official digital transformation. And nearly half of those haven’t delivered as desired. Some organizations say they’re partly deployed, while many remain in the design phase.

“Digital transformation maturity is the foundation. It’s the key to employee engagement, customer engagement, and success.”

Change today is happening faster than ever. “We can’t wait for things to stop before we move forward,” Jim says. “We need to move forward in sync.” Digital transformation maturity is the foundation. It’s the key to employee engagement, customer engagement, and success. But how can an organization achieve it? And how can it do so at the speed the industry now demands?

Business Transformation Office: New department, new focus

We asked Ravi Vakacherla, the Chief Transformation Officer for People’s United Bank (a Horizn client), to join the webinar. An industry leader in the transformation journey, People’s created a Business Transformation Office in August 2020 to address the challenges and opportunities ahead. As Ravi puts it, “new department, new focus.”

“What COVID has done for us is two things: acceleration and realization. The realization of how important digital transformation is and how urgent.” – Ravi Vakacherla

“What COVID has done for us is two things: acceleration and realization,” he says. “The realization of how important [digital transformation] is and how urgent.” Yet the Business Transformation Office represents more than just digital. “We wanted to create a unit that’s focused on employee experience, customer experience, providing better products and services and digitization, optimization and automation.”

The unit represents a move away from legacy banking, with its countless steps and time-consuming authorizations. “If you ask me what’s the first objective, it’s employee experience,” Ravi says. “Happy employees make for happy customers. And all employees cannot be expected to be in the shoes of every customer’s journey. So making sure our employees have the knowledge and the tools to serve customers in the channel that they want digitally [is key]. Digitization is a significant part of it, including digitizing the backend, the back office, the employees themselves, in addition to the applications.”

A platform for digital confidence

For years, we at Horizn have helped organizations with digital transformation, helping to build education and engagement platforms for consumers and employees.

“COVID really elevated the need for the Horizn platform,” says Steve Frook, our VP Sales. “If you think about all the innovations and capabilities that exist within a mobile app, all of a sudden, you had customers trying them out for the first time and having a lot of questions.” Designed for both customers and frontline staff, our platform helps everyone become digitally fluent, digitally aware, and digitally confident.

“Tools like Horizn are significantly helping us with adoption,” Ravi says. “We might have launched a great new feature, but we can’t expect customers to then read a 14-page manual or watch a 24-minute video of the entire mobile banking app only to find the little piece that they want. Being able to focus on their specific problem and then — whether it is the employees or the customers — being able to help them in that point of need. That’s a key part of it.”

“We were able to use Horizn simulators to make sure all of our contact center employees and the branches were able to take advantage of it.” – Ravi Vakacherla

He describes the launch of People’s AlwaysChecking tool, a digital identity monitoring service. “We were able to use Horizn simulators to make sure all of our contact center employees and the branches were able to take advantage of it.”

Onboarding new clients is a vital part of the engagement process. “One of the things that we do with our platform is we encourage our financial institutions to monitor certain transaction types,” Steve says. “Imagine if you walked into a branch to make a bill payment and got a message from the bank that evening to say, ‘Thanks for coming into the bank to make a bill payment. Did you know that you could utilize your mobile app for this? Here’s how.’ I think it’s really the ‘here’s how’ component that is absolutely critical.”

The most adaptable survive

The Horizn platform is just the beginning of the customer journey. What starts with a phone call leads to a walkthrough by staff, then a follow-up to answer questions. We work closely with our bank partners to make sure there’s a right strategy for the segment. Personalization is the point.

“This training of employees and making sure they’re all digitally fluent becomes part of our DNA.” – Ravi Vakacherla

Bringing frontline employees up to speed is an ongoing process, Ravi says. “And the most adaptable survive.” The goal, he says, is to create systems and put processes in place to be adaptable and make transformation second nature. “This training of employees and making sure they’re all digitally fluent becomes part of our DNA,” he says. “It should not take as much time as it would to get a PhD to be comfortable with your products and services.” The more intuitive the training, he adds, the more seamless an always-on model can be.

Our bank partners make us smarter

“One of the big benefits with Horizn,” Steve explains, “is that we’re working with over 30 different financial institutions of different shapes and sizes globally. Over the last six years, Horizn has built up a ton of knowledge on best practices. So we’ve become extremely good at helping financial institutions implement our platform, helping them with strategy, and sharing all of the best practices that we’ve been fortunate enough to be part of. That elevates their speed and gives them a hand to build a world-class employee digital platform.”

Ravi can speak from experience. “When we’re working with companies, they fall into two categories: vendors and partners — vendors who stick to the four pages of the contract and the statement of work, and partners who understand what we are trying to do and be in it together with us. I would definitely put Horizn in the category of a partner for us.”

As Jim Marous explains, partnering with Horizn has had some clear advantages. “Number one: it’s scalable. You don’t have to be the biggest financial institution in the world to be able to get these capabilities,” he says. “Number two: you’ll avoid missteps. And number three: the customization capability.” He urges organizations to partner with fintechs and solution providers like Horizn, “those partners that go along with your basic thought patterns and what your goals are and what your culture is to go forward.”

Simple rules for 2021

As we begin 2021 in earnest, what does the future look like in financial services? For Ravi Vakacherla, it comes down to two areas: improved employee experience and improved customer experience. “I think one of the biggest fallacies of transformation is thinking about big, sexy projects,” he says. “Transformation is one person at a time. It’s like a physical transformation of a person, of anything. It doesn’t happen because you set a goal; it happens because of discipline.”

The ultimate aim, he says, is “frictionless engagement” that solves customer needs in the real world as opposed to needs the banker imagines. “Sometimes we, as bankers, have so many complicated features and multiple variations of little bells and whistles that only make a difference to the banker, not necessarily to the customer.”

“The important thing is making sure we are weaving our products and services into the customer’s life.” – Ravi Vakacherla

In the end, he says, it’s about simplicity. “The important thing is making sure we are weaving our products and services into the customer’s life,” he says. “No homebuyer starts by saying, ‘I want to apply for a mortgage.’ They start by saying, ‘Hey, we got married. We had children. Now, we want to buy a house. How can the bank help?’”

If 2020 provided a single lesson, he adds, it’s the need for systems, processes and a mindset attuned to adaptability. “That’s the biggest learning from 2020: learn to be adaptable.”

“It’s either going to be as busy and as transformational as last year, or it’s going to be epic — even more than last year.” – Jim Marous

As for the year ahead, says Jim Marous, “it’s either going to be as busy and as transformational as last year, or it’s going to be epic — even more than last year.”

With the majority of organizations launching new capabilities at a faster rate, the focus more than ever is on helping financial institutions get non-digital customers digital, and getting digital customers to do more online. It’s a journey Horizn has been on from day one. We’ve been fortunate to partner with many innovative organizations. And we look forward to helping even more partners keep up with the pace of change that the new world demands.

This essay is based on a recent webinar hosted by Horizn. Watch the full video

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