If the world’s largest conferences and exhibitions like the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and EMERGE Virtual Cannabis Conference can go entirely digital, then it’s only fair to assume that other major industries have the technical capabilities of doing the same when it comes to industry scaling, digital banking and improving our credit scores.
With CES 2021 just about wrapped up, there is still much to talk about from a variety of industries, particularly when we are talking about finance. Of course, one of the hottest topics included how digital money, like Bitcoin in combination with blockchain technologies will continue to revolutionize our daily lives. However, one thing missing, even from CES, was an even more fundamental question–why are we still dealing with traditional banking services when we still cannot walk into our traditional bank branch and interact? Thanks, COVID-19.
But in all seriousness, why is that? The customer service and accessibility to our traditional money services has been severely hindered, and honestly hasn’t improved over the past year. This is problematic because it’s costing consumers more money than they are prepared to shell out, or even have available to them due to the lingering effects of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
COVID-19 Has Accelerated the Woes of Our Troubled Financial Sector
In what we hope to eventually see in 2021, is a post-COVID-19 world, where businesses can return to operating at either a break-even point or profit. Of the many industries affected by the coronavirus pandemic, the financial sector continues to be a major instrument of our stream of commerce that suffers but hasn’t gotten any better.
Think about it–whether we are talking about COVID-19 or the growing popularity of digital money like Bitcoin (estimated just over $36,000 at the time of this piece), traditional banking continues to be a major disadvantage to the everyday consumer, but also to the everyday small business.
We spoke with Think360.ai, a rapidly growing full-stack data science company, which believes that migrating traditional banking services to the cloud (yes, we felt the disturbance in the force as we said that) could actually be the answer to the industry’s biggest problem: the need for small to midsize institutions to compete in the “new normal” against challenger banks. The company specializes in providing Data Science as a Service (DSaaS) for customers across the Banking, Financial, Retail, Oil & Gas, and Pharmaceutical sectors.
Why Are ‘Challenger Banks’ All the Rage Right Now?
Surely you’ve seen TV commercials advertising online digital banks, like Chime, among others, which seem like the golden ticket for easy banking. These “challenger banks” as they are commonly referred to, are simply startup digital banks, which are considered to be “challengers” because they compete against incumbent banks. Challenger banks, often confused with “neobanks,” don’t have physical branches and are growing in popularity by acquiring millions of banking customers, now more than ever thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Chime has very quickly become one of the US’ most prominent challenger banks, currently valued at $5.8 billion as of June 2020. The US-based bank, often seen on TV commercials has opened over two million fee-free online checking accounts, competing directly with institutions like Wells Fargo and Citibank.
In comparison, the UK, where these banks seem to be more popular, already have millions of customers with banks like N26, Revolut, and Monzo. N26 is undoubtedly one of Europe’s most successful challenger banks, while Revolut, also located in the UK, just launched in the US, becoming one of the largest challengers.
“Challenger banks offer a range of services, either in partnership with traditional banks, or operating completely independently from those traditional institutions,” Das explained.
“Right now, with all the friction and sub-optimal customer experiences, we will begin to see challenger banks become ubiquitous,” says Amit Das, the company’s global CEO. But Das says the next step for the industry is to provide a broader definition of how we anticipate “challenger banks” operating in our digital landscape.
“It’s time we broaden this definition to be a way of imagining a different future of banking. Decades ago, Capital One was considered to be one of these banks, because it thought differently. And in the innovations that even larger banks will want to pursue, (especially in a post-COVID-19 world), we are likely to begin seeing these institutions like Capital One begin to challenge their own legacy.”
Challenger banks can be categorized as either neobanks, or those who put digital services first, and for want of a better word, avenger banks, who put traditional services first, at the risk of getting disrupted on their own turf.
Yet, why do they garner quick loyalty with Gen-Z and Millennials? Welcome to the digital age, where challengers and big tech are focused on fixing broken customer experiences, at a competitive cost, using superior technology through the cloud, A.I., smartphones, and social media. While older infrastructures prefer assisted interactions (think the Walmart of “X”), new-tech innovations prefer faceless models–think the Uber of “Y.”
COVID-19 has been attacking our way of life for over a year now, ushering in an era of new normal for banking customers, young and old. “There is no longer this ‘in-person’ interaction needed,” Das explains, emphasizing that “they are accessible via web and apps, allowing for consumers to bank entirely remotely. They are challenging the status quo of standard brick-and-mortar banks–and yet, there is a long way to go in providing absolutely seamless customer experiences.”
So what are these brick-and-mortar institutions to do? It’s time to do away with the archaic infrastructure and recognize that our digital landscape will eventually force our way of life onto it, whether we are ready for it or not. COVID-19 is proof of that. “To keep its customer base, these institutions must begin providing similar options and services as the new normal. It’s time to adopt a digital banking model.”
Which is what brings us to Think360’s KWIK Banking solution. One of the biggest challenges today, according to Michael Amend, the Vice-President of Americas for Think360, is the act of physically bringing customers to the business outposts, such as branches, retail stores, healthcare clinics–the list goes on–but also delivering traditional services in a traditional empathetic way.
“How will a small bank that has traditionally been driven by tight-knit relationships and networks in local communities provide its services, if it cannot look them in their eyes? Amend asks.
“By allowing institutions to bring assisted video-driven experiences through a bank executive, KWIK Banking provides a closed-loop A.I. video platform, which is able to integrate any CRM data, offering on-the-fly OCR/document handling capabilities (for you lawyers out there), create auditable and labeled conversations for future references (for you accountants out there), and enable humanized customer service on digital channels. Oh, and without losing control over consumers’ privacy considerations.”
A bold statement to make in 2021, but perhaps it truly is a gamechanger. Re-exploring the previously addressed issue surrounding traditional banking and challenger banks, injecting artificial intelligence, or A.I. into the financial sector would allow for challenger banks to emerge and expand. “Imagine being able to service customers outside your branch network. Imagine being able to serve customers at a fraction of the cost that you incur today. Imagine being able to digitally test out new products and receive immediate customer feedback.”
Credit Bureaus Have Become a Double-Edged Sword
Yeah, they shouldn’t, but they still do. It’s as if these credit bureaus have set consumers up for absolute failure, showing little to no remorse for the troubles COVID-19 has brought upon each of us.
Let’s break down the issue’s consumers are facing right now with bureaus. According to Das, today’s credit agencies are convoluted, describing them as a “double-edged sword”:
“They have always had a valuable role to play in risk assessment and becoming one of the pillars of financial inclusion and equality. However, in recent years, they’ve come under a bit of fire for three reasons–failing to prove their presumed unbiasedness, hacks and breaches in their antiquated infrastructures, and driving unintended financial exclusion due to the date they ‘claim’ to look at.”
And he is not wrong. What data do these bureaus look at? Who knows? “I am not sure when this happened, whether it was overnight or gradually, but bureaus as regulated entities, have become less a source of unadulterated information to make decisions and into a profit center to make money from the consumer.”
As both Das and Amend emphasize every day to their clients globally, it is time for this antiquated and bastardized model to change. “With COVID-19 still at large, many consumers have lost jobs, taken repayment holidays, and have had to increase their credit line utilization. Yet, nobody fully understands how this pandemic will impact their credit score and for how long.
However, one thing is for certain, at least according to Das. “It will exacerbate the difference between those that are financially stable, high-income segments, and those who have gone through hardships.”
We also spoke with Andrew Rossow, an internet attorney and law professor, who teaches and speaks regularly on A.I., digital money, and blockchain technologies. According to Rossow, earlier this summer, he had to cash out his 401K, or request an “early withdrawal” as commonly referred to, without penalty, simply to pay off his outstanding credit card debts, attributed to law school debt among other things.
“Nobody wants to cash out their 401Ks and retirements this early, but you do what you have to do when those who are supposed to look out for our best interests don’t…especially in a global crisis that we are all suffering from,” Rossow said. “Thankfully, I’ve been able to reinvest back into a 401K after quickly paying off close to $25,000 in credit card debt, fortunately, an amount significantly lower than most of my colleagues.” Rossow owns and operates a media consulting agency out of Tampa, Florida and Austin, Texas, helping the everyday entrepreneur keep their brand alive throughout the pandemic.
And to Rossow’s point, Das added that with credit scores being somewhat antiquated in their approach, with this “overdependence on liability” or credit side data, these bureaus cannot factor in as much of asset-side or income-side data. “They do not and cannot factor in responsible spending behavior, for instance, as a way of bringing more people into the fold.”
If there’s anything to take away from the past year of financial hardship, it’s that it will be interesting to see these bureaus credit models change and adjust to what we hope to be a quick post-COVID-19 world.