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The retail banking landscape is becoming increasingly crowded with new offerings from ambitious fintech companies and, increasingly, the Silicon Valley tech giants like Amazon, Facebook and Apple. These players are gaining a growing share of the space between traditional banks and their customers, meaning that banks are now competing with a league of new players.

The British Bankers Association forecasts that by 2020, customers will use their mobile to manage their current account a total of 2.3 billion times a year; more than internet, branch and telephone banking put together.

So, how can retail banks stay competitive? Can they actually learn from the fintech, big tech and social media pioneers that are threatening their central standing as the number one go-to provider of financial services? Could they actually go on to beat them at their own game when it comes to digital customer engagement through banking apps?

The simple answer is, yes. Even despite the fact that competition in the market will intensify once PSD2 comes into force in 2018. The forthcoming regulation will further enable non-banking, data-rich giants like Google and Facebook – as well as innovative fintechs and developers – to lure customers to their own sophisticated and engaging financial management and payment services apps using data from their traditional bank competitors. However, banks still have the competitive edge when it comes to access to customers’ (and financial) data at scale, which they can use to enrich the engagement experience in digital banking.

That said, banks must move swiftly in order to exploit this advantage, while ensuring that they focus on doing so in a sustainable way. To drive long term meaningful engagement with customers, the emphasis must be on using data to enhance user experience. For most banks, this means investing in enriching transaction and financial product data that will enable them to customise their engagement with users. Customers need to feel like their bank understands them and encourages them to form habits that drive real value and impact. They also want to feel that the time they pass on a banking app is time well spent.

In addition to providing a clear and insightful overview of customers personal finances and more advanced features there are many other interesting ways to keep your customers more engaged:

  • Proactively feeding insights that inform and educate: this could be in the form of recommending a product or giving financial advice that is relevant to a user.
  • The motivation of a card-linked offer – a type of personalised digital coupon via a third party that customers opt in through their bank, which then allows them to earn instant rewards – is an effective way of encouraging users to make small savings on a day-to-day basis.
  • Enabling community reinforcement by encouraging users to share progress with peers can also be a helpful way to gamify their saving efforts.


In a post-PSD2 world, banks will no longer be able to rely on the inertia of lifelong customers. 73% of millennials say they are more interested in new financial services offerings from the likes of Amazon and Apple than a traditional bank, so it is essential that banks aim to foster long-term relationships with their customers via their digital platforms. In our lives we have a few critical moments when dealing with money. Our first job, first line of credit, renting and perhaps buying our own place, first child and then maybe investments and considerations for a comfortable retirement. Long-term retention is not just about frequent engagement, but about building up trust and being there for customers with the right advice at the right time in a person’s life, such as:

  • Guidance on budgeting during university
  • Advice on pensions and savings after securing a first job
  • Recommendation or insight that renting can be expensive and perhaps it could make sense to look at buying an apartment in the future


If a bank can show its customers that it knows them well and earn their trust, they’ll be more likely to win customers’ loyalty in the long run.

Personalisation of every customers’ banking experience is tied closely to this idea. Everyone has a different relationship with their finances, yet most banking apps look more or less the same. A bank should provide a digital environment that caters to an individual’s needs and shows them that it understands them. Banking apps should serve different financial behaviours – from those who are more conscientious and “good” with money, to those have lower measures of impulse control and tend to struggle with getting to grips with their finances – and help them develop better financial habits no matter what their personality type.

The countdown to PSD2 is on, and so is the race to meaningfully engage with users between traditional retail banks and their technology rivals. The bank that can offer a data-driven, personalised digital environment that helps people gain the most valuable insight into their current financial situation and motivate them to improve it through a seamless user experience, will be the provider that wins ongoing loyalty from its customers.

The best banking apps should provide a digital environment for continuous dialogue with its customers, that goes beyond the transactional to the emotional. Financially stronger customers will be happier customers, which will, in turn, keep your bank top-of-mind when it comes to other financial services that a customer might need. Get meaningful engagement with customers right, and it might just be the silver bullet for banks when it comes to keeping the big tech challengers at bay.

Bragi Fjalldal,

CMO, VP for Product and Business Development


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