Financial Services: The Shift to a Self-Service Culture

25 August 2020

By Lewis Martin –


In recent years, financial services providers have transitioned to more self-service models. The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic escalated this transition, making self-service now essential for post-pandemic success.

As businesses shuttered during the pandemic, banking and access to financial services remained an essential service, from basic transactions and deposits to more complex needs like trusts or mortgages. Yet, physical bank branches had to close; Lloyds Bank, for example, closed 200 of its 1,600 locations “for the foreseeable future” and reduced hours at another 100 branches. And thus, many first-time customers discovered online or mobile banking alternatives. Now, as things creep closer to normal, the preference for self-service and digital products remains a trend that will continue into the future.

At the same time, financial service employees working remotely due to social distancing guidelines have also embraced self-service technical support. As with customers, employees are likely to continue to desire the workplace culture and technology that enables them to work where and how they want to work. We also don’t know if pandemic conditions will worsen or re-appear in the future. In short, there has never been a better time to double down on investment in digital products and self-services for your internal and external customers.

In the UK, many banks were quick to improve customer service options amidst the pandemic, adding new email contacts, call centres, and mobile chat support. These measures are important, but the firm of the future knows that it goes deeper: financial service providers must fundamentally reassess their operational philosophies and align their businesses to a strategic digital-first vision.

As the trend toward self-service continues to accelerate, the financial services industry must undertake digital transformation programmes to create a culture of self-service. In this post, I highlight three criteria to help chart your transformation – from shifting customer behaviours to creating positive employee experiences – to build a sustainable culture of self-service that drives business value and growth.

Shifting Customer Behaviours

COVID-19 has accelerated change in a number of ways, including a notable shift in customer behaviour. Over a period of just a few months, we’ve witnessed behavioural shifts that would typically have taken years. Despite the speed of change, the impact of these shifts will forever alter the financial services industry.

To help paint a picture of this unprecedented and swift change, consider these telling statistics, first from a customer perspective. Post-pandemic, one-third of retail banking customers plan to increase their use of online and mobile banking services. At the same time, only about half of customers felt their bank was “very effective” in meeting their online and mobile banking needs. Meaning, there is room for improvement, especially given that less than half of consumers plan to go back to “banking as usual” when things begin to normalise.

In general, there is a sense in the industry that the financial institutions (mostly larger ones) that invested in digital transformation pre-pandemic have fared well, while others have had to scramble to catch up in recent months. For comparison, it’s not just the financial services industry experiencing this shift; a whopping 90 percent of UK insurance policy holders prefer to self-manage their products digitally.

In a recent industry document, Deloitte identifies 10 “forces” that will impact banks. One of the ten factors is that banks will leverage the pandemic “and the conditioning of digital interactions” to shift the status quo toward more digital adoptions. Another factor is around a company’s internal customers – it’s employees. Deloitte suggests that employee experience will emerge as a defining factor and that new remote models of doing business will continue to rapidly evolve, driving further benefits for both business owners and employees.

Delivering Positive Employee Experiences

The pandemic has transformed the way we all work. With more employees working from home than ever before, technology teams have struggled to deliver a positive remote employee experience (not to mention the security and compliance risks associated with collaboration tools and home-office environments). More than a third of employees report experiencing more technology issues working remotely and nearly three-quarters say these issues are taking longer to be resolved, often waiting days or weeks for resolution.

Further complicating things is the fact that many employees from the financial services industry are now dependent on at-home technology, personal devices and home WiFi networks. Virgin Media, for example, encountered two significant outages in the UK where most users lost access to the internet for periods of time – once in April and again for about two hours in July.

Enterprise service management, at its heart, is all about putting people first, and this includes your employees. Technology leaders and service management teams must adjust to our new reality to redefine how they deliver an excellent customer experience, first internally (to support your employees), so that you can excel externally (with customers and prospects). This transformation requires your team to rethink everything – including your technology, your data, and your operations.

In a previous post, we outlined four key ways that today’s agile teams can transform service management to build a resilient environment and drive business value, including a modern, personalised customer service experience; intelligent automation; frictionless workflows; and flexible and scalable platforms. At KA2, we can help you transform your service management using modern technology, like the best-in-class ITSM platform, ServiceNow, to stay resilient and competitive (here’s a case study of how one bank leveraged ServiceNow to increase efficiency, reduce costs, improve reporting, and accelerate change).

Creating a Culture of Self-Service

Lastly, to adapt to the shifting needs of both customers and employees and create a competitive edge, today’s financial service providers must fundamentally reassess their operational philosophies and align their businesses to a strategic digital-first vision.

This means moving beyond the basics of just providing digital service solutions – the Financial Brand suggests a focus on “user experience, back-office functionality, seamless integration, and a humanised aspect to digital banking.” Not doing so can open your business to decreased customer satisfaction, especially as compared with competitors who early on in the pandemic invested in these strategic and philosophical shifts.

Bottom line: Today’s customers and employees desire to transact and work digitally. It follows that the onus is on financial service providers (and your technology team) to find ways to provide simple, safe, and exceptional self-service experiences. Many firms have moved in this direction, but often these efforts remain largely human-led and reliant on your team.

ATM Marketplace interviewed a leader in the financial services space who said that customers, “want self-service, but they want it simple. They want great customer service, but they want to stay safe.” The same applies to your team and internal customers. Not doing so puts your firm at risk of losing market share (or staff) to competitors with more thoughtful or aggressive digital solutions that enable people to bank or work where and how they want. Done right, smart and secure self-service options can ensure brand loyalty and retain your top talent.

Self-service is also a common-sense scenario at this moment: We all want to be able to solve problems independently, especially when so much else remains unknown, unpredictable, or out of our control amidst the pandemic. And the tools your employees or customers use to solve problems should come from your financial institution, not from other channels or via shadow IT approaches which introduce further security risks.

A shift toward a self-service culture is also the right thing to do right now from a humanistic perspective. First is the safety issue. While business operations will continue to normalise in the near future, the landscape has been forever changed by the pandemic. Financial services firms must keep the health and safety of its customers and employers top of mind.

The pandemic presents an opportunity to transform your financial services firm to leverage shifting customer behaviours and deliver positive employee experience, ultimately creating a culture of self-service that drives business value and growth.

At KA2, we can help you define the optimal outcomes for your organisation and help deliver a plan to bring your financial business into the future with our proven, security-driven Smarter Framework for project delivery. We have extensive experience with implementing ‘shift-left’ self-service portals, process improvements and integrations to enhance and deliver automation and orchestration across the enterprise.

Get in touch today to discuss your challenges and how we can help with our Smarter approach.