But for banks and insurance companies it has created new challenges. The cost of financial products is now largely similar, meaning brands have to use the customer experience as a point of differentiation from the competition.

To find out more about how financial services companies are adapting to the digital age I spoke to Aaron Fuller, head of data and digital at MetLife in Australia.

1. What factors do you think are most important for the digital customer experience in financial services?

It’s important to establish a definition of what CX (customer experience) is as opposed to UX (user experience), as they are sometimes used interchangeably.

CX is how your brand is perceived across all channels and touchpoints, so designing a great CX extends beyond digital.

In comparison, UX is one of the parts that make up the overall customer experience. The term generally refers to the online component, such as the UX of a site or the online sales process.

All departments within a business can have an impact on the CX, however most organisational structures don’t take that into account and that is something that needs to change.

I would challenge all CEOs to request a CX audit across all channels and departments to see how consistent and holistic that experience is.

I’d guarantee that 99% of CEOs would be shocked with the results.

2. How can this state of affairs be altered?

Over the next five to ten years we’ll continue to see a greater focus on the customer experience. The CEO needs to be in charge of defining the CX as it ultimately leads directly into sales and profit.

You can’t charge a marketing team with defining the overall customer experience, then leave the customer service team to define the experience within its own touchpoints, and so on.

It can’t be siloed like that, the strategy has to feed into a broader plan that’s defined at a higher level.

Within financial services we’re seeing more companies audit their overall CX.

The key reason for this is that digital has led to a commoditisation of our products and services, so all prices are within a few dollars of each other.

The main differentiator now is customer experience, but that has to be carried out across all channels, not just with an amazing website.

3. Which financial services companies do you think are offering a great customer experience?

In Australia there are three that stand out:

  • Commbank.
  • AAMI.
  • Westpac Bank.

Commbank has been leading Australia for the past few years. It was the first to bring in a mobile payment system, Kaching.

Products such as PayPass have since caught it up, but Commbank was definitely one of the innovators when it comes to banking and digital tech.

AAMI led the way among insurers. It redesigned the backend systems and upgraded its quote system using responsive design.

It has made what is a complicated and quite dry process into a very seamless and simple experience, regardless of device.

Finally, Westpac was the first bank to truly adopt human-centred design. It threw out any assumptions and looked at how people were using touch devices and how they were talking about banking.

It put these lessons into a new banking app, which is extremely intuitive and user-friendly.

Two years ago Westpac found that 17% of credit card applications were done on mobile, despite the fact that it didn’t have a mobile site. The company is now catering properly to this audience.

4. Financial services companies must hold a huge amount of data on customers. How easy is it to utilise that data for personalised communications?

There are two different sides to this. In general insurance (e.g. cars and home) people are largely required to have these products by law.

Companies dealing in this area have had more success in leveraging data, but due to privacy laws there’s still a lot they can’t bring into their main data warehouses.

AIA is the best example of a big insurance company that’s doing good work in personalisation through its quarterly newsletters.

These are personalised at a fairly high level, so customers get articles and content that are relevant to their interests and the products they hold.

However, in life insurance most companies choose not to engage with their customers.

In Australia 95% of people are seen as underinsured, and any communications post-sale will actually act as a trigger for them to cancel their policy.

They might have been paying their policy for a few years without thinking about it, then if times are tight and they receive a marketing message they might decide to cancel it.

5. So how do you overcome the fact that people only want to be contacted once a year, around renewal times, or even not at all?

In my opinion we need to get better at using third-party data for more subtle forms of digital marketing, rather than email and telesales which can often have a negative result.

If you already have the customer’s email address then you can combine that with other data to create custom segments in Facebook or other ad platforms.

We can then deliver targeted messages, whether that’s by video or display ads, with a creative that’s specifically relevant to that customer’s circumstances.

Programmatic marketing can be an important tool for long-term engagement, instead of just being seen as an acquisition tool.

6. How feasible is it for finance companies to do agile marketing bearing in mind the amount of industry regulations?

The ability and appetite to do agile marketing within big banks is quickly emerging.

I know NRMA/IAG have just adopted quarterly UX design testing as a BAU task (business as usual) rather than as one-off projects.

A new group of users is recruited each quarter to attempt a number of different tasks, then the products and innovations teams work in real time to create solutions to any UX issues that are uncovered.

This includes anything from updating some web copy, to form design, to alterations to the site structure or navigation.

As a result of this kind of work, we can see that the retainer model for UX agencies is evolving so companies have an ongoing relationship rather than commissioning one-off projects.

This is particularly prevalent among companies with bigger budgets as it does require a high level of investment.

However if you dip your toes into agile UX testing as a BAU activity, with the processes and metrics mapped out upfront, you can quickly see a return on your investment.

So in summary, for agile testing to work there has to be ongoing investment in UX tests and it requires the involvement of external customers.

7. How much does the online UX impact sales of financial products? Does it ultimately come down to cost and the terms of the contract?

Again this comes back to the commoditisation of our products. In the next five to ten years CX will only play a bigger part in how customers perceive companies and the better the experience, the more business will come your way.

Price will always be a huge driving factor, but by making sure the experience is consistently best-in-class versus the competition means you’ll be able to achieve the most amount of value from your customer base.

Though to be devil’s advocate, it’s also true that having the greatest CX doesn’t guarantee success, but it is a very important factor.