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Why Syniverse believes the bank in your pocket is more than a local branch

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Since 2008, over 10,000 U.S. bank branches have closed, but could mobile be the catalyst behind the resurgence of community banking?

Back in the day, there used to be a bank on every high street – before ATMs, websites and mobile apps chipped away at the bank’s branch network. But could personalized notifications be the ticket to make banking locally relevant again? Syniverse’s Cullen Talley thinks so…

The futurist Brett King famously said: “Banking is no longer a place you go to, but something you do.” He should know. He was the co-founder and CEO of Moven, a digital bank that has done much to disrupt the US banking sector.

Moven doesn’t have its own branches, just an app. And most people would be fine with that. Who wants to queue at a branch anyway? As an indication of this, US banks have closed an estimated 10,000 branches since the 2008 financial crisis.

But maybe something important was lost in this change: community.

The truth is, banks used to be squarely at the center of every town and city. Today, less so.

So is it possible that mobile – which accelerated the movement away from branches – could be the thing that revives this community spirit?

Cullen Talley, ‎VP of global financial services strategy at Syniverse, thinks it could. He believes banks have a chance to regain some of their local relevance with the clever use of mobile wallet as channels of distribution, such as Apple Wallet, Samsung Pay, and Android Pay.

“There’s a real opportunity for wallets to go beyond payments and this is what will give banks back some footprint,” says Talley. “Retailers are starting to understand this, so why not banks? They could use geolocation to engage customers when they’re shopping or when they’re attending local community events. Obviously, they would have to be careful about how frequently they do this, but I do think they can use messaging to regain some of the daily contact they used to have.”

Mobile Banking Engagement

Talley sees these platforms as much more than just a way to let users store multiple payment cards. Though the original purpose of the mobile wallet was for payments, he says banks now have the opportunity to extend their presence inside wallets by sending notifications within geofenced locations, managing loyalty campaigns, generating offers and more.

Wallet notifications can be distributed through text message, email, bank apps, social media, in-branch promotion and even direct mail. Once a message is sent, the recipient is able to save it to their mobile wallet instantly through clicking links, texting shortcodes and scanning QR codes.

Syniverse’s work with mobile wallet is an extension of its existing mobile expertise in global messaging and mobile campaign management. It’s pushing hard into the wallet space to ensure banks have another distribution channel for engaging their customers. Though the company concedes that the wallet channel is still in its early stages, and generating promotional offers is only one aspect of boosting engagement.

That’s why Syniverse’s wallet services support a variety of uses, including rewards program information. Here the gap between payments and rewards is bridged by allowing consumers to conveniently manage everything all in one place. This eliminates the need for consumers to use separate apps to manage accounts.

Wallet is just one part of the firm’s wider remit to help enterprises do more to promote mobile banking engagement with customers. The company originally worked with mobile operators, but now that every company is looking to take control of its mobile communications, it’s started working directly with industry verticals – including financial services.

The first stage of its work with banks is often hygienic: establishing how many of the phone numbers on a database are correct, for example. “Before you really get moving on mobile banking engagement, you need to know if your data is any good because after all, people change their numbers all the time,” says Talley. “We worked with one bank that had six million contacts, and 40 percent of them were incorrect.”

With a solid and verified database in place, a bank can then start using its analytics systems to create new opportunities from messaging. In the past, alerts were mostly transactional – ‘here is your account balance’, etc. – but now, says Talley, they can do more.

He says: “Banks have gone from branch to ATM to interactive voice response (IVR) to desktop to, finally, mobile. That process of offloading was all driven by convenience for the customer. But now banks are finding that customers really like mobile engagement. That’s surely a reason to look beyond transaction-based communications.”

Western Union is a case in point. It runs a customer loyalty program, which offers rewards to customers using services such as sending online and in-person money transfers or paying bills. The problem came in reminding customers to sign in and redeem these rewards. To do this, people had to call a customer service agent or log in online. Most didn’t.

Mobile messaging solved the problem. Western Union worked with Syniverse to send opted-in customers a ‘reply to redeem’ SMS. By texting a dedicated code, customers could see what they were entitled to. The new text strategy kept the loyalty program top of mind, and also reduced costs.

Of course, the Western Union project is based around SMS. And for many years, mobile messaging meant SMS.

Not anymore. Now, there are dozens of messaging options, from Twitter to Facebook Messenger to iMessage. Customers want choice, and this is why Syniverse offers a ‘messaging as a channel’ service – to give financial services companies the ability to provide it.

However, not all do. “Banks can be guilty of looking inward when it comes to technology,” says Talley. “People are spending time in these channels, but banks are a little behind where their customers’ attention is.”

Whatever the channel, the next phase of mobile banking engagement could well be post-human. Most financial institutions are now looking at how AI-based service bots can answer customer queries. They can ‘talk’ to customers to resolve basic issues in natural language. It’s potentially a nicer experience than navigating menus, using IVR, or waiting for a call center agent to answer.

And Talley believes banks have some innate advantages here. “AI seems to work best when it has a reasonably small number of issues to address,” he says. “Most bank queries can be grouped into the same bucket – far more than with retail, for example – so that could help banks make progress here.”

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