Enabling Technologies

The Inevitable Move to Screenless

Building a Killer App for Consumer Satisfaction

The launch of Apple’s latest iPhone SE potentially signals a shift in the direction of mobile interfaces, as the phone’s screen takes a step back to the four-inch screen of the iPhone 5s. Combine this with the promise of a more smartphone-independent Apple Watch 2, and we may be seeing the beginning of a radical shift in consumer experience – one with powerful ramifications for FS firms.

We are also seeing an indisputable rise in “screenless” interfaces, as Siri continues to improve and products like Amazon’s Echo gain traction. Just when many banks are beginning to succeed with mobile banking, consumer desires and expectations are shifting again. Soon, people will no longer be satisfied to see balances on their watches; they will want all the functionality of their mobile apps – and more – on their wrists, or available through a simple voice command. 

These changes are unlike anything that FS executives have experienced before. The move from online banking to mobile was, for the most part, about shrinking the screen. The rise of the connected consumer, wearables, the smart home and smart cities, on the other hand, means that communications and informational interfaces will be built-in to everyday experiences.

A financial brand’s links to its customers will continue to melt away in this environment. Your car makes its own lease payment and pays for its own gas -- eliminating the need to see a bank’s website, open a mobile app, or use a card. In this and many other cases, the “owned screen” goes away. Firms will be relegated to manufacturers of generic products and services that meet functional needs.

Consumers, meanwhile, will be left to build custom financial solutions from components provided by financial firms.  Unfortunately for most financial firms, consumers will most likely look to tech providers – the experience aggregators – to assist them with this task. Financial brands will provide the elements (through APIs?) that consumers will use to build their own personalized experiences – think PFM (personal financial management) interfaces like Mint on steroids; or perhaps think of the Apple Health app that pulls data from a variety of different devices and non-Apple apps.

The role of a solution provider, the trusted intermediary, will reside with the Apples, Samsungs, Facebooks, Teslas and firms that we have not even begun to think about this yet. Financial firms can claim their space here, too, but they must fundamentally change their point of view.

It is clear that financial firms can no longer be content with innovation aimed merely at optimization. To solidify a position in a connected consumer’s world, a firm must change its paradigm from one of making products that align with its own internal corporate structures to one of creating solutions that truly improve consumers’ lives. Going forward, FS firms will be given a choice – maintain the status quo and become a commodity provider of parts, or connect with consumers to understand their world and be a trusted partner.

The latter status can only be achieved by focusing all efforts on helping customers solve their day-to-day problems – to help them get their jobs done. The relationship of consumer to brand – of benefits sought to benefits delivered – is constantly evolving and is influenced by both changing consumer expectations and a shifting competitive landscape. Incorporating all of those views is critical to success.

The shift to a smaller iPhone is a small ripple in a sea of changes; yet it shows how quickly trends in expectations and competitive pressures can take a new course. The smartest firms will recognize that it is not about the screen or the app or the product name; what matters are consumers’ fundamental needs. Firms that have a structure in place to identify these wants and a process to act on them in whatever interface consumers may be favoring will be tomorrow’s leaders.

Keith Bossey

Keith Bossey is the Senior Vice President on the Financial Services team at GfK.

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