In this series we’ve looked at a range of important subjects for banks looking to grow and gain competitive advantage in 2021. All are connected to Accenture’s latest Global Banking Consumer Study.

But in every post we have encountered, in one way or another, the same challenges and questions. If a post-pandemic world is also a more digitalized one, how can banks preserve a human connection with their customers? And if they lose that connection, what might happen to them?

We can’t escape this subject because it’s one of the biggest challenges banks must tackle in the immediate future.

So to round out this series we’ll take a closer look at it, joined by my colleague Anne Mai Bertelsen.

Anne is the Global Banking and Payments Industry Lead within Accenture Interactive. She has more than 20 years of experience helping payment and banking companies re-imagine their client experiences, and she is also a co-author of the Accenture Banking Consumer Study.

The specter of commoditization

Taken to an extreme, losing the human element from your connection with customers means commoditization.

And, as Anne puts it, “becoming a commodity is the death-knell of a brand.”

But many banks risk just this in a world that’s more digital than ever, where a slick app interface becomes so commonplace that it no longer stands out in the market.

The way to push against this is to provide differentiated experiences. This is easier said than done in any industry, but it’s especially difficult in banking, where many products and services are fundamentally similar between competitors.

Anne’s number one tip for differentiation? Empower the experience.

“The way that the best brands get a differentiated product out there is to make everything about the product feel unique—from how you articulate the value proposition to the experience you deliver from awareness through onboarding,” she says. “It’s not about the product, it’s about that human connection.”

The alternative to trying to stand out from the crowd is to become a utility—a vendor of banking services—and build a business around that and as we have seen through the launch of Google Plex banking in the US some banks are happy to be a product vendor in someone else’s digital customer experience. So, not every bank will need to maintain a customer-facing brand; those that cannot will still be able to thrive through strong, smart partnerships.

The exclusion issue

Anne raised another challenge connected to losing the human touch as banking becomes more digital: the growing exclusion of underserved customers.

“Too many banks are leaving big chunks of people outside the fold. If you want to be human-centric, start thinking about customers who have been underserved. I like to say ignored or neglected. It’s not about the unbanked necessarily, but rather your customers who need products and services you aren’t providing them today.”

As an example of the potential of this market, she pointed to the launch of Greenwood. Named after the Oklahoma Community known as “Black Wall Street” before a White mob destroyed it in 1921. Greenwood aims to serve Black and Latino retail customers and business owners. Within 100 days of its launch in late 2020, the bank attracted more than 500,000 customers and raised $40 million in funding.

This wraps up my series on our Global Banking Consumer Study. We covered a lot of ground, including:

You can find the full post on each of these subjects by clicking the respective link above. You can also find the full Accenture Banking Consumer Study here.