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Dinner before dessert: Why banks must digitize before they can automate

When you grow up with three siblings like I did, you quickly learn that dessert doesn’t last long, so you better dig in while you can. However, to keep us in check, my mom always had one rule: You have to eat your dinner first, then you can have dessert.

With the market getting noisier and the stakes growing higher, banks and credit unions have become much like my boisterous siblings fighting for their fair share of the pie. In doing so, they’re automating their processes to improve the customer experience–but many aren’t following the dinner before dessert rule. Banks are trying to automate before they digitize, and instead of getting a piece of the larger pie, they’re getting the crumbs left on the plate.

Here are four steps banks should take before they indulge in automation:

  1. Set the right goals before buying or building more tech
  2. Get buy-in from the team 
  3. Adopt technology that integrates with what you already have
  4. Build a solid digital foundation first



1. Set the right goals before buying or building more tech

During the Fintech Connect webinar, “Building Your Automation Foundation - Why Financial Services Organizations Should Prioritize Digitization before Automation,” the panelists discussed that banks often make the mistake of buying technology solutions to solve their problems, without thinking about the bigger picture. “Whatever digitization or automation journey you’re on, be clear on your objectives first, and then work backwards to figure out what tech you need to buy or build. Building a roadmap, assessing what you have, and filling the gaps is critically important,” says John Stewart, who heads up the Global Client and Product Commercialization team at Bank of America. On top of building a roadmap, it’s also important to consult the people who will be adopting the new technology to make sure they’re on board with it and they see its value.

2. Get buy-in from the employees who will be using the tech

On the topic of technology adoption, Ami Iceman-Haueter, VP of Research and Digital Experience at MSU Federal Credit Union, shares some insightful words: “It’s important to get buy-in from the customer-facing staff who will be using any new technology. Rather than having them work around the flaws, we need to give them tools to empower them.” Through the innovation projects she heads up, Ami has learned that starting small, getting buy-in, and rolling out the project in bite-sized pieces is more successful than introducing an overwhelming new solution overnight.

3. Adopt technology that integrates with what you already have

Innovating doesn’t necessarily mean replacing all of your legacy technology at once. John Stewart says, “When we look at technology, we look at whether it can integrate with what we already have in the walls of our organization.” In John’s view, integration is a key factor that can either help or hinder an organization’s digitization and automation goals. The right technology should augment—not disrupt—your legacy technologies and empower you to build your own solutions rapidly at scale.    

4. Build a solid digital foundation first

On the topic of digitization and automation, Art Harrison, Co-Founder of Daylight, made an important distinction. “Digitization and automation are often lumped together, but we shouldn’t conflate the two,” he says. “Automation reduces the burden of manual tasks, and digitization creates a better experience from which to base your automations,” he adds. “When you create a digital customer experience that ensures accurate and intuitive inputs, you reduce your reliance on error-prone documents and OCR solutions. With a tailored customer journey as the vehicle of data collection, you also eliminate common errors, improve CX, and transform how data is ingested—setting the table for successful automation.”

Watch the webinar replay to hear how top banking leaders are solving these challenges in their own organizations.