Onboarding vulnerable customers in banking - challenges at the first hurdle

by Joanna Finlay - Consulting Manager in Financial Wellbeing, Inclusion & Vulnerability
| minute read

It has long been held that ‘ease’ is the foundation of good customer experience. The shift to digital offers huge opportunity to make onboarding experiences easier – from auto-filling forms to timely updates and the anytime, anywhere convenience. But what about those who don’t find digital easy?

In the rush to digitise services and minimise friction, have we neglected to truly understand and support customers’ needs? To find out more about how the shift to digital is impacting the customer onboarding experience, particularly for those in vulnerable circumstances, we surveyed 100 IT and Customer Service decision makers within banking in the UK.

Insight 1: Embracing the benefits of inclusive design

In our research, two thirds (68%) of respondents acknowledge that the onboarding process could be easier. When we dig below the surface, and consider the likely experience of more vulnerable customers, the other third might be being overly optimistic. Despite regulatory expectations around inclusive design of retail banking services, 96% of our respondents agree improvement is needed in this area, with 37% saying inclusive design of onboarding experiences requires a ‘complete overhaul’. If vulnerable people’s views aren’t considered and valued in the design of onboarding experiences, it’s unlikely that the end product will be inclusively easy.

Graphic showing statistics on whether people thinking their organisation needs to improve the inclusive design of their onboarding. Full transcription available.

Chart showing that 96% said their organisation needs to improve the inclusive design of their onboarding. Of that figure 37% say a complete overhaul is needed, 31% say a lot of improvement is needed, and 28% say a little improvement is needed.

The fact that 44% of senior leaders surveyed say a design overhaul is needed indicates a heightened awareness of regulatory expectations and standards among those in higher leadership positions. And it’s good news – these people hold the power (and budgets) to make the change that’s needed.

A word of caution: don’t be tempted to think of inclusive design applying only to digital journeys. Of the 100 people surveyed, 68% were confident that their digital onboarding experiences are accessible and inclusive, whereas less than half (48%) were fully confident that frontline colleagues were equipped to tailor support to customers during onboarding. Whilst there are limitations to such a comparison, not least in the definition of ‘inclusive’, there is clear opportunity to involve customers in identifying what additional support is needed and therefore what knowledge, soft skills and tools to prioritise when investing in your frontline capability.

Insight 2: Ramping up vulnerable customer disclosure

One area to prioritise is seeking disclosure of support needs in the onboarding process. It goes without saying that firms are unlikely to deliver good outcomes without tailoring support to customers’ needs and are unlikely to tailor support without identifying those needs first. 92% of respondents say improvement is needed, which is consistent with the views of the FCA and sector observers – that current disclosure levels are way under the estimated prevalence of vulnerabilities in the population.

Graphic with percentages of improvements to capture vulnerabilities during onboarding. Transcription of full graphic available.

Chart showing that 92% want improvements to capture vulnerabilities during onboarding. Of that figure 18% said a complete overhaul is needed, 49% said a lot of improvement is needed, and 25% said a little improvement is needed.

We don’t yet know how much of this is due to perceptual barriers – customers not thinking it’s relevant, fearing it being counted against them in a product application, or simply not being aware of their potential vulnerable circumstances – or whether low disclosure is due to the practical barriers to disclosing this with ease. But our findings clearly say that the latter is fixable and should be fixed. Failing to make it easy to share support needs in an onboarding journey is akin to stumbling at the first hurdle – seeking disclosure later in the customer journey means firms are playing catch-up to mitigate the risk of harm, instead of preventing it from the start.

By capturing disclosure during the onboarding process, frontline teams can be better equipped with the information needed to tailor their support in a more effective manner. This translates into a more personalised and empathetic customer journey, enhancing customer experience and creating fairer outcomes.

Insight 3: Enhancing onboarding to reflect company values

Over the last decade, the financial services sector make-over has really embraced the concept of purpose-driven culture. The regulatory landscape reflects this – the Consumer Duty stating that the interests of customers must be central to a firm’s culture and purpose. So we were keen to understand whether decision makers are yet seeing this reflected in their onboarding journeys.

Graphic which says 92% of respondents said improvement is needed to reflect their company values throughout the onboarding process. Full transcription available.

Graphic depicting 92% of respondents said improvement is needed to reflect their company values throughout the onboarding process.

An overwhelming consensus about values emerges: 92% stated that improvement is needed to reflect their company’s values throughout the onboarding process. There’s clearly a gap between internal company-held values, and what is delivered to customers. This can cause disassociation from the brand, and effort is required to align onboarding experiences to purpose and values, which would be a helpful catalyst for nurturing customer-centric change.

For firms whose strategic vision is centred on digital-first customer experiences, there’s a word of caution. Our survey found that only 50% of respondents are confident their firms can identify people with low digital confidence, and 43% don’t think their firms can digitally enable customers to self-serve. In an age where inclusion is rated highly by customers and colleagues alike, digital enablement needs significant focus.

Insight 4: Smart use of data to tailor support for vulnerable customers

The FCA has clear expectations about firms holding and using data to understand the nature, scale and impact of vulnerability in their customer base, to target relevant support, and to evidence fair outcomes. So perhaps the most interesting finding from this research is in some contradictory views about data.

On the one hand, 57% are fully confident that the data held on customers’ support needs is complete and correct. This is much more optimistic than expected, when only 8% think no improvement is needed to how their firm seeks disclosure of vulnerable circumstances during onboarding. Perhaps the discrepancy is explained in the fact that 52% of respondents are ‘completely confident’ that their firm uses other customer data to effectively identify indicators of vulnerability – although more likely this reveals again the question of definition. Most firms undoubtedly use data to identify customers in financial vulnerability, but the FCA’s definition of vulnerability is much, much broader.

Question asking how confident are you that you use customer data to effectively identity indicators of customer vulnerability? Full transcription available

Question asking how confident are you that you use customer data to effectively identity indicators of customer vulnerability? A green face shows 52% are completely confident, an orange face shows 47% are somewhat confident and a red face shows 1% are not confident at all.

And there’s the issue of how useable that data is – almost two thirds (64%) of people surveyed state they lack a single customer view across all products and channels. Within retail banks the figure increases to 71%, which is symptomatic of the challenges of legacy systems that can hinder the seamless integration of diverse customer data points, compounded by mergers and data migration programmes. Without a single customer view, the potential for data to enable tailored services is limited. This means that, whether or not colleagues should be confident in the data held, there is a gap to close in how effectively that data can be used – as evidenced in the earlier insight around frontline capability.

What can we expect from Onboarding 2.0?

Firms need to look closely at their design of inclusive experiences and the smart use of data on customer needs, right from the beginning of the onboarding process. While legacy data and systems have been a significant challenge and have rightly received much attention, harvesting timely insight from customers with vulnerabilities and enabling easy disclosure of vulnerabilities should be given focus.

Sopra Steria’s Support Point is a digital triage tool designed to capture customers’ vulnerabilities and identify relevant support. That data enables services across all channels to be tailored to customers’ needs, creating easier journeys and better outcomes.

Inclusive and accessible onboarding experiences, underpinned by human-centricity and sound data ethics, not only drive operational efficiencies and support your sales pipelines, – they are probably more consistent with your purpose and values, and will bring customers on the journey towards your digital aspirations.

For a demo of Support Point, or to explore how we can help you transform your customer experiences, contact Joanna.finlay@soprasteria.com or Kerry.nicolaides@soprasteria.com

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