Financial Institutions Must Embrace the Ecosystem Model

by Nick Calacanes 0

Since the early 1930s, when the term “one-stop shop” was coined by a Nebraska car repairer, offering consumers one place to meet several of their needs has been a successful strategy across industries. The concept is just as relevant today, as busy consumers gravitate to the simplest, most time-saving paths. As those consumers become more digitally-minded, however, their expectations of the one-stop experience are radically different. It’s one of several new marketplace realities forcing the rapid digital transformation of all business.


The financial services industry is not immune from this consumer desire for seamless, integrated access. Increasingly, the banked public demands simple, streamlined and intuitive access to all the products and people, apps and accounts necessary to manage their money.


Complicated Web of Financial Tools, Simplified


Not only do consumers expect on-demand interaction with these financial tools; they expect the tools are also talking to one another, automatically and behind the scenes. And quite often, they are. An increasingly open system, driven by machine learning algorithms, smart devices and connected networks, makes it fast and easy to share data. This is allowing firms of all kinds – startup to legacy – to give financial consumers exactly what they are asking for.  


Consumers aren’t necessarily concerned with how or where they access that one-stop shop. In fact, 61 percent of banking consumers told Accenture they don’t care so much about which channel they use to communicate with their financial institution. Their primary concern is that they can get what they need quickly and easily.


In the same survey, a chilling commentary on today’s banking system: 50 percent of Generation Y consumers would happily bank with Google, Apple, Facebook or Amazon if they offered banking services.


What does GAFA (an emerging moniker for the four powerhouse tech companies) have that today’s financial institutions don’t? They have become digital ecosystems.


‘Plug and Play’ Evolution


Gartner defines a digital ecosystem as an interdependent group of actors sharing standardized digital platforms to achieve a mutually beneficial purpose. That’s a fancy way of describing a group of firms and/or technologies all working together to provide consumers with a single exceptional and seamless experience. Think one Amazon account for access to everything from audio books and movies to grocery delivery and credit cards.


To keep that experience fresh and exciting, digital ecosystems rely on a dedicated, data-driven feedback loop and a continuous scanning of the environment for new partners/technologies. When found, these partners/technologies are easily added because of the flexible way in which the ecosystem allows for “plug and play” evolution. Every player in the ecosystem is equal, with newer partners having just as much say as tenured counterparts. The result is rapid innovation infused with an authentic sense of what’s best for the end-user.


Financial institutions may not act as digital ecosystems today. But that’s not to say they can’t evolve to become more like GAFA. In fact, credit unions are one segment of the financial services marketplace that is in a fairly superior position to do exactly that.


Credit Unions Ahead of the Game 


No strangers to collaboration, financial cooperatives have both a history and a comfort with innovative partnerships. Many of the networks to which they are connected (payment processing, lending tech, ATM, shared branching, etc.) are taking on the calculated risks of digital transformation on behalf of credit unions.


They are building and leveraging APIs, sophisticated data management and architecture strategies, developing omni-digital solutions and delivering with a single sign-on to a seamless and secure ecosystem with credit union member experience at the forefront. The result is a scalable set of technologies and services that connect credit unions – and other providers – to one another for the betterment of the consumer experience. With deeply valuable functionality, clear access to data and business intelligence across platforms, this ecosystem of providers has a 360-degree view of the consumer, allowing them to serve the member more intuitively. Importantly, it connects consumers to unique, purpose-driven providers that know what their members need often before they know it themselves.  


Transforming for the digital consumer isn’t easy for legacy organizations like financial institutions. There’s really no way in today’s rapidly-changing, highly regulated and increasingly competitive environment for a financial institution to do it alone. And, if the end game is to become the next great ecosystem for digital consumers, there’s really no sense in going that route.


Strategic partnership, co-creation and collaboration are tried and true methods for achieving scale, expanding into new markets and innovating quickly. Mix them with modern disciplines like digitalization, bimodal IT and organizational agility, and financial institutions will be on their way to becoming the digital ecosystems today’s consumers love.

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