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What is the preference: human or digital relationships?

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I’ve often been hired to run a workshop or presentation at a bank’s boardroom meeting. Usually, I’m hired by the frustrated digital guy who wants to convince the rest of the leadership team that it’s important. They don’t get digital, he or she will tell me, so you must make them understand, they plead. Wow. That’s a tough call. Present for an hour and get the C-team to change their minds because you can’t, I think. I know it isn’t going to happen.

I had two of these experiences recently.

One was with a large commercial bank that has a sprinkling of retail and investment banking. They told me that the bank invests less in technology than other banks of their size, because they believe commercial banking is all about relationships. That wasn’t a good start.

Now I can think of lots of examples of things happening in commercial banking with APIs, AI and Blockchain, and I outlined all of these things during my presentation. Nods, smiles, polite applause, goodbye. Harumph.

I was told afterwards that they appreciated my input, but their model is all about having enough relationship managers (RMs) in their corporate clients to keep them happy and that technology doesn’t change that. Now if they’d said this whilst I was there, I would have pushed back. Yes, you need RMs to keep corporate clients happy, but what information are you giving the RM in real-time to make sure they know what’s going on with the client? And what more information could you give them, using these latest technologies, to make them more effective? And why do you think RMs are all about face-to-face meetings when they could use Skype?

So many more questions, but it reminded me of the dumb looks I got at a Treasury conference in 2010 , when I said all their clients would be demanding apps for FX netting and pooling, cashflow forecasting and more, and it would be on an iPad. The audience pretty much ripped me to pieces but, ten years later, that’s what their clients demand and want and use. Hey ho.

I had another one with a wealth management (WM) division of a large global bank, where the digital guy said that the managers didn’t see how their RMs would be impacted by digital, as high net worth (HNW) clients want face-to-face all the time. Yawn. He wanted me to show them how digital would impact the WM and HNW structures.

So, I presented for an hour on all things digital, and that many HNW clients these days were technology entrepreneurs. Do the Mark Zuckerberg’s and Patrick Collison’s of this world want the white glove come into our rich, wood-panelled office treatment, or would they rather have an app with a human contact at their beck and call? Obviously the latter, but it’s not just the Marks and Patricks that want this, it’s everyone.

Honestly, I’ve had some amazing white glove experiences and yes, they are wonderful, but I also love it when I can deal with a concierge service in an app and get whatever I want whenever I want it. That’s what HNW people want, and it is also digitally enabled. Similar to the corporate client RMs mentioned earlier, it’s also enriching the client and the RM with information to make them more effective, personalised and focused.

I outline all this, and particularly give examples of how AI and data analytics can up the game but, in both cases, I see eyes glazing over. They don’t buy it. They get it at the head level, but not at the heart. In their hearts, in both cases, I know that the executive team truly believe the white glove human management of client relationships will always win over digital.

Now, I’m not saying they are totally wrong. My belief is that you have to have humanity in the digital experience. My issue – and that our their digitally designated leaders – is that if you don’t buy into digital augmenting the human experience and that digital can provide something that is over and above the human ability, then you will probably miss out on the opportunity that digital offers to give the client better information, service and knowledge. And if you do miss out on that opportunity, then I’m sure someone else will take it.

Just saying …

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Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog,, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...

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