Building societies, customer-centricity, fintech and meditation

Building societies should look at what makes them different to appeal to customers in an increasingly digital financial services world, says Shaun Weston.

Building societies, customer-centricity, fintech and meditation. Image by Marcin Wiklik,

Apologies in advance for the nature of this post, which is urgency. The modern world is obsessed with urgency, oxygenated by social and traditional media, that on the one hand tell us we should meditate more, while on the other saying we are yesterday’s news and that it was all our fault for not paying attention. This post is aimed at building societies, and will try to balance between a meditative state and a state of compulsion.

ieDigital will attend the Building Societies Annual Conference 2019 in May. We look forward to a couple of days of talks and catchups about what building societies are thinking about, and where they’re spending money. While large banks often hold a conversational monopoly over fintech solutions, it’s easy to forget that there are 42 building societies in the UK formalizing their own digital strategies, driven by shifts in consumer behavior and advances in technology. At least, this is what we would hope is happening.

Just a short time ago – 2017, to be exact – Whitecap Consulting published the results of a delegate survey ahead of the BSA annual conference. Whitecap director, Julian Wells, wrote that customer needs should be at the forefront of a successful digital strategy, with the research revealing that 98% of respondents “produce a corporate plan which is reviewed annually”, while a small proportion “formally assess external factors such as customer needs and trends (54%), competitor activity and threats (56%), and technology developments and innovation (54%)”.

These statistics may seem alarming being so recent, when customer-centricity has been “a thing” for quite some time. The urgency I referred to earlier is what I’ll underline now: That in 2019, it’s imperative that these statistics are different when Whitecap et al conducts an updated survey.

What makes building societies different?

In the last couple of years, technology and regulation has opened up the opportunities for building societies to take their digital strategies to the next level. We’re talking about the potential for APIs to put building societies at the center of the payment process, for example, improving security, speed and availability of transactions. The UK regulator is fostering innovation, and it would be a shame for building societies to see opportunities disappear into the ether (or to speedier competitors).

Robin Fieth, CEO, Building Societies Association, rightly says that we are living in “times of political and economic uncertainty, rigorous regulation, rapid technological development and intense competition”, and while I would never advocate panic, I would suggest not meditating too long on what your digital strategy should be. Just get on with it, and try to keep customers at the core of your proposition for optimum success.

Meaningful innovation is the goal, not innovation for the sake of innovation. If it’s not helping your customer, it’s time to rethink the plan and focus on what makes a building society different from a bank. The differentiation is what your customer is interested in, and your grasp of fintech will determine how well you meet their demands.

See you at the BSA conference in May. Find out more right here, and get in touch if you’d like to meet up and chat about technology. Email us here, and I’m on Twitter right here.

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