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Customer Experience Takes Center Stage at Bank Automation Summit

By: Karen Oakland, VP Financial Services Marketing at Smart Communications


Automation has always been seen as a pathway to greater operational efficiency, but most banking operations and IT people I met at the Bank Automation Summit this month are aiming at a different higher purpose: better customer experience – for both external clients and internal employees and teams.

We were delighted to sponsor this spring event and get back to meeting with banking executives face to face in Charlotte, N.C. I was particularly excited to discuss trends in automation around commercial lending in a panel alongside Daniel Seay, SVP of Wholesale Transformation at Fifth Third Bank, Ahul Verma, CIO of BMO Personal and Business Banking and Chris Gufford, General Manager of Commercial Product at our partner nCino. We talked about a variety of issues and best practices, including how banks are looking to remove friction to meet changing customer expectations for speed of delivery.

Seay noted that the biggest area of focus for Fifth Third is leveraging third-party services and data in smarter ways to support faster turn times. We also discussed the importance of taking a hybrid approach, empowering clients to interact digitally while still supporting the human element provided by relationship managers.

Panelists discuss trends in automation around commercial lending In addition to the panel discussion I was a part of, I also enjoyed several of the other sessions led by banking executives. Here are a few highlights and takeaways from the sessions:

Using Automation to Make Banking Seem Effortless

John Elton, CIO for TIAA Bank, said he views the goal of process automation as making banking transactions easier so that they feel almost effortless to clients. “We need to take a look at the industry to change our focus from looking at single departments to looking at all of the interactions in the process and the customer journey,” Elton said. That’s one reason the company has an enterprise Center of Excellence focusing on automation projects.

The team breaks down customer expectations into five key areas of focus:

  1. Safety and security
  2. Availability
  3. Performance
  4. Speed to market
  5. Cost

Customers know when something is inefficient, Elton stressed. Even if they can’t see inefficiency in the back office, they can feel it. Echoing the comments from Seay of Fifth Third Bank, Elton said turnaround time is a key part of improving that customer experience, especially for areas like commercial lending that require a lot of documentation and data collection. Improving business processes around new customer acquisition is a priority for the bank this year.

Eliminating Human Error and Reducing Banking Compliance Risks

Changing the culture of a bank that’s been around for 200+ years isn’t easy. But that’s just what Dominic Cugini, CIO of Service Digitization for KeyBank, has been doing to help the bank look and operate like one that was born digital. Like TIAA Bank, the team has focused on removing human error from repetitive tasks through Robotic Process Automation (RPA). “We had people rekeying data from system to system. To maintain data quality, we need to keep digital data digital,” Cugini said.

In automating processes around the Paycheck Protection Program, the KeyBank team was able to squeeze what he estimated was nine years of work into just two weeks, putting approximately 160 automated bots in production in that time. “RPA saved our bacon,” he declared. Current focus areas for RPA include looking at automating fraud reduction and reducing overall security risks to the business.

Improving Employee Experience Equally Important

In addition to external customers, internal employee experience is also a key focus area for banking automation, as noted by Ami Iceman Haueter, VP of Research and Digital Customer Experience from MSU Federal Credit Union. “Identifying pain points from the people perspective is important,” she said. “Simplifying their day-to-day so they can do less monotonous work.” The company has invested in an internal chatbot named “Gene” that has created significant efficiency in employee-to-employee communications, she added.

Some of the biggest applause came for Cugini as he inspired attendees with a line from basketball great Michael Jordan: “Some people want it to happen, some wish it would happen, others make it happen.” It takes mental strength to create and manage change in organizations, he noted. But for people who push back and say they don’t have time to innovate, or they think a process is too complex and difficult to change, he says: “Great – you know what happened to the dinosaurs.”

If you’re comfortable with a mask or otherwise feel safe, I hope you’ll take the opportunity to head out to meet with your peers at a conference this year. We have a full events calendar in the next few months that includes DocuSign Momentum in San Francisco, Digital Banking Summit in Austin, Texas, and Financial Services Customer Experience in London. And of course, we’re excited to meet you at our annual INNOVATE conference in Nashville May 18-20. Stay tuned for INNOVATE dates for London and Sydney later in 2022.