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Aruba, October 28, 2017 - Financial institutions of all sizes around the world are joining the digital revolution. In our work and research at the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion and the Inter-American Development Bank we have seen some best cases of institutions shifting toward digital as well as some failures. 

1.               Make sure you actually want to digitize.
Some institutions are digitizing because they have undertaken extensive research on what value digitization will bring to their institution. These analyses involve things like cost reduction, increased access, increased efficiency, better record-keeping, or all of the above. But others are digitizing, more or less, because they see their peers doing it. Remember when your mom told you not to jump off a bridge just because everyone else was? The same applies here. There are some institutions that will do just fine without pursuing a full digital strategy right now. And that is ok. A good rule of thumb here is you’re likely better off not digitizing at all if you are only going to “phone it in.”
2.               Determine what cannot be digitized.
Forthcoming research from CFI finds that even in a digital age there are particular touchpoints and processes that customers require real human beings for. For example, when something goes wrong, and it will, customers want to interact with a person to get the issue resolved. Have you ever called a customer service line and been frustrated that the chatbot or touchtone phone menu is not understanding, or even answering, your question? Financial services users in emerging markets feel the same way about specific points in their financial journeys. Find out what these look like for your customers and keep those human interactions sacred throughout the digitization process.
3.               Ensure that digitization is a mandate from the top.
If senior leadership is not pushing for digitization across the organization, it will likely not happen. For instance, we found in CFI’s research on partnerships between fintechs and financial institutions that ING requires all partnerships with fintechs to have a “sponsor” at the top – thus establishing buy-in at two levels of the institution to ensure the partnership receives the attention it needs to move to implementation. We see institutions like Bancolombia lean toward innovation when their CEOs get involved. And incidentally, Bancolombia’s president, Juan Carlos Mora Uribe, previously served as the banking group’s head of innovation. Such senior support signals that digitization is a priority for employees.
4.               Build digitization into your key performance indicators
Moving toward digital systems, processes, and touchpoints simply cannot be one item in an institution’s long to-do list. It has to be built into performance metrics of individual employees and reported in key performance indicators to investors and the board. If digitization is a determinant of success or failure of the institution, it will happen. If it is a process that would be nice to have, the legacy systems and processes of the institutions have a higher likelihood of keeping it from success.