Within the world of banking, there’s a continuum between the fully offline way of doing business of the past, and the fully digital experience that we see in some retail banks. But for wealth managers like Van Lanschot Kempen, it’s always been about finding a balance between the two. And that’s what we call omni-channel service: digital tools should enhance the client-banker relationship, not replace it. But what do we mean by that?

Omni-channel is about striving for the perfect marriage between human interaction and digital channels (which may or may not also involve a human being) to create a seamless user experience. From a client perspective, that means opening an app on your mobile phone to check the value of your portfolio, video chatting with your banker to ask questions, logging in on your laptop to look at transactions, meeting your banker face-to-face for some personal interaction (Covid rules permitting!) and everything in between. The challenge is to make all these different interactions coherent for the client – so that if they’ve had one conversation via the chat function in the app, they don’t have to repeat themselves when they call customer service a few days later. This may sound simple, but it has a huge impact on the design and development of your channels. The point of omni-channel service is (perhaps rather obviously) that the client chooses the channel they prefer at that moment in time. So from a design perspective, you need to ensure that the banker is only one click away.

The flip-side of offering a seamless user experience is that you also need to make sure convenience and security work in harmony. So while on the one hand, you want to be able to offer a multitude of channels in as accessible a way as possible, on the other hand you also need to be confident that the person interacting with these channels is, in fact, the client they say they are. Until now, that’s meant the client jumping through a lot of hoops: we’ve all been through those long and complicated lists of security questions, only to realise that we can no longer remember the answer we’d given five years ago. But there’s now plenty of biometric technology to improve this: at Van Lanschot Kempen, we’ve just deployed voice recognition technology that allows the client to record a “voice print” that then makes the security questions redundant when speaking to customer service.

These technological advances are great for security, but you also have to get past people’s perceptions. For instance, clients used to have to use a physical token to log into their portfolios online, but now they can use the mobile app instead, which is not only more secure but also more convenient. There’s hesitancy from some clients to switch to the new system, though – and that’s purely down to perception. Another example is internet banking, which many clients are happy to do on their computers but not on their phones. The irony is that mobile apps – especially on an iPhone – are at least as secure as internet banking.

Another pre-condition for a seamless client experience is automating internal processes, which might not be the first thing that springs to mind when thinking about digital tooling. If a client wants a new product, they don’t want to wait two weeks to receive a physical contract in the post. They want instant fulfilment, automatically generated documents, and digital signing capabilities. This takes investment, of course, but it not only improves the client experience – it also leads to cost savings on manual labour. Automation means scalability: we can serve more clients in a better way for less money.

To do this, employees also need to be given the right tools and have the right data. Typically, a banker has to use five or six systems to navigate all the information relating to their client portfolios. It’s important to bring all that under one roof. That not only allows you to communicate more effectively with your client; it also means you can make targeted cross-sections of your client base to whom you can personalise messages, articles or information. And data is key to all this.

Data is becoming even more important when you look at new forms of investment like ESG and impact investing. Here, we need to process lots of new types of data – there are different indicators to measure every different aspect of environmental, social and governance impact, and unlike financial indicators there are no standards as yet. And while the EU is legislating to introduce a common taxonomy, at the moment we still have multiple data vendors, each using their own definitions. Our challenge is to figure out how to incorporate this data in our investment process and then report on it. Smart algorithms can sift through investment candidates before a human being makes the final selection. Again, it’s about finding the right balance between man and machine.

And while technology and data are hugely important in the “machine” side of the equation, people are still crucial in the “man” side. The banker of 20 years ago was primarily an investment specialist. Nowadays, the investment part is becoming more commoditised and is increasingly being delegated to the asset management domain. For bankers themselves, their job requirements are twofold: They need to understand what motivates their clients, tailor their financial services to those objectives, and communicate why a proposed solution is the optimum one. They also need to be more tech and data savvy, so that they can make the best use of modern tooling, smart filtering techniques, and so on. At the end of the day, when it comes to striking that fine balance, wealth management is still a people business.