Banks struggle with complexity

The term CRM may be a kitchen-sink phrase, but according to one executive, in the context of banking, it is simply an opportunity to make things work better.

Chuck Hounsell, a Toronto-based senior vice-president of e.Bank at TD Canada Trust said his organization uses CRM in order to ensure that when customers interact through any of the financial institution’s channels, they can be identified effectively.

“We want to know enough about our customers so that they only have to tell us their story once,” he said.

With more and more customers relying on different avenues – including telephone, personal and online banking – to manage their financial transactions, it is crucial that both information and experience are consistent.

“That’s the key element to serving customers properly,” Hounsell said.

According to a survey conducted this past summer by the Strategic Counsel for the Canadian Bankers Association, 67 per cent of respondents agreed that technology and the Internet are changing the way they manage and conduct their personal financial affairs. Additionally, 88 per cent of those surveyed think that future technological advances made by Canada’s banks will improve their banking experience even more.

Neil Hendry, a Montreal-based musician who has been banking online for three years, said that while he uses his financial institution’s Internet banking site for most of his transactions, he’d like to eventually eliminate all other forms of contact with his branch.

“It would be nice to do away with written cheques altogether,” he said, adding that he is currently unable to make changes to his RRSP deposits online, a service that he would consider beneficial.

Warren Shiau, an analyst at IDC Canada in Toronto, said that Hendry’s complaints are not unusual, but notes that these sorts of issues rarely have anything to do with a bank’s CRM solution.

“Whenever I hear any complaints about online banking it’s always about a limitation of service and a restriction to what you can do, but there’s an actual reasoning behind this,” he said.

Online banking is designed to process basic transactions as efficiently as possible, Shiau said, noting that banks are striving for a high transaction volume. This naturally slows down when more features and functionality is added.

According to Hounsell, his department struggles with balancing customer requests with maintaining an ease of use.

“Everybody’s got a different request, but every time we create something else, we’re almost always adding a complexity for somebody who simply wants to see basic goods. It’s a never-ending debate,” he said.

While Hendry said his banking concerns are centred on a combination of functionality and service, Shiau said it is technological limitations that prevent banks from giving customers everything that they want.

The way that financial services are set up in Canada, big banks each have a retail banking side, credit card operations, brokerage operations, insurance and trust services all under one banner. These conglomerations started as individual banks and brokerages and trusts, and so when put together, each had a lot of systems that had to integrate, Shiau said.

“As much as possible, banks want you to feel as if you’re dealing with one system, but in reality there are different back ends and it becomes difficult to offer seamless service to the customer,” he said. “This is always going to be a large roadblock in giving customers total availability of different financial services in an online environment.”

According to Hounsell, his bank’s CRM system seems to be on target, as most of his customer’s complaints have to do with lesser concerns.

“When we do a new release of Web banking software, there are invariably bumps. It’s not like money’s disappearing, but we get complaints about things like the font being too small or the print looking funny,” Hounsell said.