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PHOTO: Fabian Blank

The fact that we live in a digital age should come as no surprise to anyone who’s been alive for the last 50 years. The shift from landlines to cell phones to smartphones, for example, has been too pronounced and well documented for anyone to be unaware of how communication has evolved since the pull-and-plug days of manual telephone switchboards.

However, while smartphones may be the most-used technological devices, technological advancements do not begin and end with them. Research reveals that the newer messaging channels such as Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp are quickly becoming the preferred methods of communication among millennials/Gen-Yers and Gen-Zers who’ve not only grown up with technology, but also helped set the trends governing its use. That includes the acceptance of chatbots and automated forms of communication that build on the latest developments in artificial intelligence (AI). These facts are as pertinent to banking as to every other industry that requires customer-to-business (C2B) and business-to-customer (B2C) communication.

Love for Tech and Innovation vs. Distrust of Big Banking

The millennials who were teens in the early days of mobile phones, Facebook and Twitter also came of age during the 2008 financial and economic crisis. Thus, this generation’s rampant distrust of big banking is only exceeded by its love of innovation, effectiveness and speed. In addition, despite their reputation for instant gratification, millennials have an affinity for quality as well as novelty, preferring products that are made to last and services that are truly useful. As technology advances, digital devices of all kinds are making it possible to meet these preferences, while also restoring a sense of personalization to the high-tech tools that could easily make life a more impersonal or isolated experience.

At the same time, technology has also made it possible for boutique banks and other financial services to compete with larger corporations, hypothetically giving big banks a run for their money. Big banking competitors include digital-only, mobile-centric banks like Ally, Chime, Simple and Varo; payment services like Venmo and Square’s Cash App; money management like Acorns, EveryDollar and Personal Capital; investment/wealth management like Betterment, M1 Finance and Wealthfront; and mortgage and loan services like Affirm, Blend, Redfin, Zillow, Better Mortgage and Rocket Mortgage from Quicken Loans. Forward-thinking banks have invested millions to leverage technology against these smaller competitors, as well as growing consumer demands for better customer service and support.

Banks Rally With Personalized Customer Experience, Better Messaging Options

Surveys by Aspect, Deloitte, Gartner and others reveal a growing thirst for a more personalized customer service experience, which younger generations define as the ability to utilize the technology of their choice when interacting with their favorite businesses and brands. Increasingly, consumers’ preferred mode of interaction is moving from email to short-form communication like social media messaging and SMS. Comfort levels involved in giving and receiving personal information has increased with the level of safety and security provided by the network.

Businesses are beginning to see the benefit of transitioning to a system that provides a single, integrated customer service hub for these new channels. Among other things, this means integrating popular social media or messaging channels like Facebook Messenger, Twitter Direct Messages, WhatsApp and WeChat, as well as SMS. Even the established live chat channel that can increasingly be found on websites is undergoing modernization, making the chat experience more like a true messaging experience, so that consumers can easily communicate with companies without having to block out time for the interaction or risk losing the individual history of each chat session.

With a fully integrated messaging system, conversations are stored for easy access, providing context that doesn’t need to be repeated every time the conversation is resumed. This, along with self-serve online banking options, will help traditional banks regain their financial footing in the wake of competition from smaller competitors, who will be hard put to provide the same degree of security and personalization.