HK managers should use digital technologies to connect with customers

Phygital strategies can help financial service firms provide services that combine physical and digital capabilities

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 January, 2017, 3:44pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 January, 2017, 8:24pm

Hong Kong managers of financial services companies need to recognise when their customers want to speak to a person and when a robot will do or even be preferred.

Nearly seven in 10 consumers globally of banking, insurance and financial advisory services are willing to use robo-advice – computer-generated advice and services that are independent of a human advisor – according to a new report by Accenture. Yet, a high number of consumers still want human interaction for their more complex needs. This presents a challenge for managers who need to figure out how to blend a physical presence with an advanced digital user experience, as they look to integrate robot and human services.

The global Distribution & Marketing Consumer research by Accenture, which includes a survey of more than 32,000 consumers in 18 countries and regions including Hong Kong, found that the vast majority of customers are willing to exclusively receive robo-generated advice for certain banking and insurance products, in addition to investment products – where the trend first emerged several years ago.

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For example, 77 per cent of the respondents from Hong Kong said that in the future, they would be willing to receive advice about which type of bank account to open in a way that was entirely computer-generated, without any input from a human advisor. Seventy-eight per cent of the Hong Kong respondents said they would be willing to get similar advice about which insurance coverage to purchase.

What we have learned from this study is that consumers see several perceived benefits around robo-advice, including speed, lower costs and less chance for human error. Managers expect to benefit from internal cost reduction by providing customers with a ‘robo’ option. But managers should recognise that our research found that consumers also expect first-class human interaction.

More than half of Hong Kong consumers still want human interaction – especially to deal with complaints (60 per cent) and advice about complex products such as mortgages (54 per cent in Hong Kong). So this is where the focus of getting humans to customers should be emphasised. Successful financial services firms in Hong Kong will therefore need a “phygital” strategy that seamlessly integrates technology, branch networks and staff to provide a service that combines physical and digital capabilities at the customers’ whim.

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On some level, nothing has changed here. Leave a customer on interminable hold, while elevator music plays in the background and a voice recording message interrupts every 15 seconds saying that the customer is next in queue or some other version of “please be patient” and the business is sure to infuriate the customer. It is important that bank managers think through how they reach out to customers – this doesn’t mean a bank branch needs to be on every corner. Sure, convenient locations of branches is an important point for consumers to get face to face time, but even that will change as options develop to speak over video or as bank staff become more mobile to meet customers.

Getting the balance right will matter in Hong Kong, where banking options ranging from local banks to multinationals, give customers options. With increasing competition from non-traditional competitors, (think Alipay, Tap & Go, WeChat Pay, and Octopus for payments) it is fair to say that the age-old adage of putting the customer first has never been more important. The companies that use digital and people best, are the ones poised to win.

Alex Trott is managing director and head of distribution and marketing for Asia-Pacific for Accenture Financial Services; Piercarlo Gera is senior managing director of Accenture Financial Services