Omni Channel vs Omni Access

An opinion piece by Amol Bahuguna, Digital Banking Leader and Ali Nanji, Senior Enterprise Manager, Microsoft

The world post COVID 19 is no longer the same, both personally or professionally.  The unprecedented impact it has caused globally was greater than expected / predicted. However, the impact could have been far worse socially and economically if technology had not come to mankind’s rescue. Technology stepped up to enable remote working for employees, remote learning for students, and doorstep delivery for families which were locked in their homes. In essence, it allowed for people to have a good overall customer experience and this was done through using several channels which eased a lot of pressure, in one of the most critical moments of human history.

Just like healthcare, banking is one of the essential services which were allowed to operate normally. However, with travel restrictions and lockdowns, there was still a lot of disruption in banking services impacting the customer experience. One of the common terminologies often mentioned in banking has been ‘Omni channel’, which means a consistent and standardized customer experience regardless of the channel used. The industry saw this being impacted severally. Given the severe challenges faced in 2020, the word “Omni channel” is now replaced by “Omni Access”. Channels are typically what gets added into the old infrastructure like watching a movie from a VCD or a DVD, today we stream on Netflix or Amazon. We used to have channels; now we have access.

Ali Nanji, Senior Enterprise Manager, Microsoft

To define omni-access we must first learn to understand omni-channel and how exactly the banks were built. Most traditional banks were built for physical access – think branches, ATMs and tellers. The design principle had become irrelevant as the impact of the pandemic has resulted in a disruption in all industries. Businesses which relied on physical contacts like airlines, retailers, theatres and so on – have seen their businesses hit negatively and several of which are shut. Businesses which geared towards digital connectivity like logistics and delivery firms, online retailers, online streaming, and entertainment and so on – have flourished and been incredibly successful, with their market share quadrupling or even more.

Most incumbent banks that have been around for decades were also designed for physical access. It was a design focused upon access to banking through buildings and humans. However today, the design is focused upon access to banking through technology. The emergence of digital technology, social media and mobile devices have led to significant changes in the banking ecosystem and the way banking is performed, as financial institutions leverage connectedness in an attempt to be present across all channels of interaction.

With the changes in consumer expectations and evolution of advanced technology, Omni-access has been under discussion, which typically starts with a rationalized and consolidated core of customer data which can be accessed and analyzed intelligently. The information would be modern, customizable, real-time and highly-productive. Due to the pandemic and its financial impact on the banks, executives have had a seismic shift in their strategy and have moved towards more of a tactical adjustments which can be reflected in them still discussing omnichannel, which is layering a cloud and digital applications on legacy structures and taking the short cuts by avoiding to rationalize and consolidate, for larger organization wide efficiency and optimization.

For several years, one of the key challenges all banks face worldwide is by the sheer presence of the legacy systems which are part of the overall infrastructure and has been there for decades, probably functioning with few fixes but never been challenged, except recently.

Omni-access will be the key ingredient for any bank’s long term success in 2021 and beyond, with few added key themes like customer centricity, and data and design being imperative to address. The design on the interaction with the customer needs to be focused on usability experience more than the operational needs of the bank. The idea is to offer a customer fluid access to financial products and services, whenever and wherever they need them. However, the core design of the next phase of the bank must begin with the digital, the internet, networking, and cloud. Its design should be one where the bank is born on the internet, and all its products, services, structures, and models are designed that way.