Two years into the pandemic, it’s clear that COVID-19 has driven yet another acceleration in digital transformation. Successive lockdowns have forced us all to adapt, shifting our lives indoors and online in new ways, and igniting a great leap forward driven by context and our collective expectations. That leap forward will endure long past the end of the pandemic.  

That’s not surprising though; digital transformation has always been fuelled by evolving expectations. Businesses have consistently innovated to meet customers where they are, as far back as the launches of the first “Instabank” machines of the 1970s, self-directed investing in the late 1980s, and online banking in the mid 1990s. Those experiences were clearly the start of our digital journey, which today is ultimately focused on helping our customers make real financial progress. 

Of course, that transformation is well underway across every industry. Companies are embracing digital as a unique opportunity to simultaneously drive growth, loyalty, and efficiency, and asking what it will take to win as the environment continues to evolve. It’s a question I ask myself every day as our bank navigates its own digital journey and helps countless customers do the same.  

Meeting evolving customer needs

Clearly that answer starts with a deep understanding of our customers; we are ultimately focused on meeting their evolving needs and expectations. The problems digital technologies set out to solve have changed, because the people who rely on those technologies have changed. Once upon a time, going digital was “just” about enabling customers to transact on their terms, efficiently and safely. While that journey remains critical, “simple and digital” experiences are table stakes today. Looking forward,  businesses must consider if they are as comprehensive, personalized, contextual, and connected as they need to be.  

A comprehensive digital experience begins by recognizing that customers are on their own personal journey, and expect to engage with businesses on their own terms. The days of “shop window” digital experiences are over, and entire operating models must be digitally enabled. This means “digital everywhere”, moving beyond the routine to the more complex, and extending “beyond the glass” – customers know when something is truly digital. Think of the difference between a retailer that makes returning an online purchase a laborious, protracted ordeal, versus one that offers an intuitive and instant “one and done” process; you know the difference, and so do customers.  

A personalized digital experience is one built for, focused on and responsive to the customer. The power of data is that it helps businesses stay hyper-relevant, giving us a clear understanding of an individual from the start to serve them better, faster, and more completely. Think of the recommendations you receive on your favourite streaming platform; in our case, we’re using data and insights to curate bespoke experiences that help our customers make real financial progress, and grow increasingly sophisticated with every interaction. 

Executing a digital strategy

A contextual digital experience is rooted in the understanding that every transaction is a product of the environment around it. Treating a friend to a meal and paying a monthly bill might cost the same, but they feel different. This is the opportunity presented by digital in an increasingly connected world — delivering experiences in the customer’s context, in their financial life and beyond.  

Finally, every digital strategy must put a premium on connection. Paradoxically, the more digital we become, the more customers crave human interaction — without compromising on the ease and simplicity of their digital experience. For instance, 88 per cent of Canadians trust their bank to offer secure digital services, but in-branch banking remains a valued option. It is crucial to have knowledgeable employees to provide advice with expertise and empathy, even as we adopt technologies like AI. 

Within those sectors that can go digital, success belongs to those who have embraced the  transformation. Perhaps the biggest lesson from this last phase is that our work is never done, and there is no such thing as a digital goal so much as there is a digital mindset: a willingness to listen and learn, adopt new approaches, and continually improve. This comes with the modesty that nobody can predict the future and that, ultimately, the customer is always right.  

Apparently, some things don’t change at all.

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Mathew Mehrotra
Mathew (Mat) Mehrotra is the Chief Digital Officer at BMO Financial Group, responsible for driving the digital transformation of the bank’s Personal, Business Banking and Wealth Management businesses. Prior to this role, Mat was Head of Digital Product Management, where he launched and scaled BMO’s Agile transformation in partnership with technology, establishing cross-functional teams to design, develop and deliver industry-leading digital sales and service experiences for BMO’s North American Personal Banking customers. In this role, Mat led the integrated team to drive market-recognized leadership in digital sales, accelerated digital adoption, award-winning innovation and improved overall digital competitiveness. Mat joined BMO in 2010 and has taken on progressively senior roles within BMO’s Digital and Office of Strategic Management teams. Before joining BMO, he worked as a Consultant at Monitor. He holds an Honours Business Administration degree from the Richard Ivey School of Business in London, Ontario. Mat is currently a member of the Board of Directors of Good Shepherd Ministries in Toronto, which serves over 450,000 meals and shelters over 1,500 individuals per year. As a Board member, Mat plays a key role from a governance, fundraising, sponsorship and advocacy perspective, in addition to helping the organization leverage digital to drive more significant, sustainable and consistent donations.