Desjardins: Moving fast to keep up with client expectations 29 June 2021

Mathieu Staniulis, Chief of Omnichannel Transformation at Desjardins, describes his bank’s digital initiatives that keep pace with the customer. 
What does digital mean for your institution? 

At Desjardins, being a cooperative financial group, digital is about being people-focused and giving our members and clients what they need, providing the exceptional service they expect and doing so on their terms. It’s about using technology to better serve our members and clients, creating simplified interactions and transactions, fast processing from back end to front end, automated advice, enhancing our relationships with them and being always accessible, no matter where they are.

What were your institution's digital priorities prior to the start of Covid and how have these priorities evolved since the start of Covid?

Our digital transformation was already in acceleration mode pre-Covid. We have been working on a digital transformation program for approximately four years. We divided our objectives into three customer journeys (everyday banking, homeowner experience and long-term financial well-being). We also run projects to improve our channels (online experience, the branch network and our contact centers for example). And finally, we have projects working on our foundations as an organization (processes and systems). 

In 2020 we started to define our 2021-2024 strategic plan that was aiming at accelerating our digital transformation. Then Covid hit, and our members and clients had to change their behaviors immediately. Because of the lockdown, people could not visit our branches like they used to. They had to find a way to manage their financial needs remotely, with our online services mainly.  We saw an immediate increase in everyday banking online, money transfers, investing and asking for a loan, and fewer checks for example. Within a few weeks, we had to prioritize emerging needs, like new online forms and mortgage payment delays, and accelerate the digitalization of our services immediately, due to strongly rising demand. It all just reinforced the notion that the transformation we were undergoing now needed to go even faster.

Which area(s) is a priority for Digitization? (e.g. Back Office, Underwriting, Branch, Contact Center)

Our strategy is clear: we focus on what will make a difference from members and clients’ perspective. From the back office to the front end, we will always focus on what will have the biggest impact for our clients.  

Our members and clients want to do more business online and they want it to be simple. Our main strategy to do so is to make sure mobile is set up as the main hub of interaction between us and our members and clients. It means to be able to do most of their banking with their mobile, and reach out to our advisors through their mobile as well. 

What are you investing most heavily in? (e.g. core banking, RPA, CRM, Cybersecurity)

Our core business, which represents about 80% of our volume, is made of the most common client journeys – in everyday banking, financing, insurance and investing. While we are investing a lot in those spaces, we concurrently need to be investing in modernizing our core systems as well. It’s all about finding the right balance.  

What benefits are you looking to generate from internal Digital initiatives (e.g. regulatory, cost, customer experience, empower salesforce)

Three different objectives:

1. The experience – we use a competitive NPS study that we run with Bain & Company to compare our experience with competitors in the Canadian market, with a focus on the online channel experience on a few key journeys like mortgage, loans, account opening, etc.  (Study compares at the journey level.)
2. The digital shift – we will have a clear target on online acquisition. We follow certain KPIs to help our organization go forward and meet the needs of our customers.
3. Efficiency – a metric/clear target – how much operational expense is used? Then we seek to identify a few areas where we can save calls, reduce volume by enhancing our members and clients experience online. 

What are the top risks facing banks with the introduction and acceleration of digital? Have these changed with COVID?

The risks haven’t changed, but the expectations are greater. We have to be wise and prudent with our investments. The risk is about not going fast enough for our member and clients, or failing to remain client centric in our decision making. For example, in only two weeks, we were able to develop and launch a way to postpone mortgage payments. That’s how fast we need to react to evolving needs. 

Have you found that as you become more "digital" this improves employee satisfaction and profitability?

Yes of course. If you are more efficient for your company, you are probably more efficient for the client, which improves their overall experience. In previous years, we had a discussion around whether to invest in digital or efficiency, but that is a false choice. They both need to be done at the same time. 

What are the internal barriers to employee digital adoption? Have you invested in internal digital adoption initiatives? What were they?

Transformation means change and it has its load of challenge, of course. Part of our work is to be transparent enough in the process so the employees clearly understand how it will benefit the members and clients: that’s our shared goal and everybody has to see their role in the making. For example, more transactions online will mean less transactions in branches. But our advisors will have more time for value-added activities. Consequently, as the members and client experience improve, they become satisfied with their financial institution, which benefits everybody in the end.  

We have created ambassadors of change. We run a survey to evaluate how comfortable they are using our new digital solutions, trying get a pulse based on customer needs. A lot of people’s day to day activities are changing, and have been changing for many years, and will continue to change. So now, it is up to us to explain the next changes and the important role our employees will play in our future strategy. 

If employees have a good knowledge of online services and functionality, this is valuable to us. If we want clients to shift online/digital, then we need our frontline to lead the way. We need them to view it as a challenge to embrace for the organization’s success.

Does your bank have the required digital skills amongst existing staff, or have you had to recruit for these skills?

We are relying on training, to ease the transition towards new digital solutions. In back office functions for example, they need continuous training to learn about new solutions and new ways of doing their daily job. 

In our branch network, it’s a transition. A decade ago, their day to day was completely different. Now they are pretty advanced and they adopted many new digital solutions. They play a key role in this transformation by facilitating the channel shift with our members and clients, and we expect this role to be even more important in the near future. 

In our contact centers, their work evolves around technological tools so that is less of a challenge. They also have a key role in easing the channel shift as we rely of them to act as technical support.  

We are also investing in the people that are developing the digital platforms - marketing, CMS, digital tools, etc. – all of these new tools and jobs. We need to bring people in who can push forward these initiatives. 

Have you considered partnerships to accelerate time to market for digital initiatives?

We do. We are in a highly regulated environment and we have to find the balance between encouraging innovation with smaller players, while ensuring security and compliance. That’s why we have a FinTech Development Group: to facilitate communication between internal teams and external FinTech players. The group has strategic capital to invest and can help speed up the growth of innovative businesses that we’d like to work with on existing and emerging issues.

For example, they will help find fintech companies and solutions that will fulfill a need for business sectors within the organization. They facilitate experimentation, build partnerships with other fintech players and make investments with Canadian and global reach. With them, we are learning how to make this kind of collaboration work efficiently. 

What is your planning time horizon for Digital initiatives? (e.g. 1 year, 3 years?)

It is going to be perpetual, but we have a clear target for our 2021-2024 strategic plan. A few years ago, we started it as a digital transformation, now it’s a clear omnichannel transformation. When we say omnichannel, it’s not only a trendy word: we want a better coordination within all the channels for our members and clients to benefit from a seamless experience. 

How do you demonstrate an ROI in digital? How is your bank defining digital success?

We track costs that we can lower when we go digital. At the end of the day, it can be very difficult to isolate and measure. You can save money in one area only to have a new workload pop up in another area. Ultimately, we want to keep customers loyal, so they stay with us longer, buy more products and refer us to their friends and family.

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