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The COVID-19 pandemic has changed nearly every aspect of day-to-day life for everyone, including your financial institution. Consumers visited branches less and logged into online banking more. Even as businesses begin to reopen and people resume their routines, consumers have come to rely on the convenience of ecommerce.   

But banking online doesn’t just mean logging into a digital portal to manage money. It also applies to the very start of a customer or member’s banking experience: opening an account or applying for a loan. It’s important that you, as a local financial institution, have the technological capacity to digitally onboard both new and existing clients entirely online. 

Defining digital onboarding.  

Digital onboarding is the process of acquiring new account holders or borrowers directly through your online or mobile channels. A person can select an account or loan, submit an application, be approved, provide or receive funding, and get follow-up communications (like a welcome message or cross-sell opportunities). From start to finish, it’s all online. 

Plenty of neobanks have made a name for themselves by offering completely online experiences. Institutions like Ally and SoFi are known for their online-only focus and distinct lack of traditional physical branch networks. It’s a new way of banking to be sure, but the all-online-or-nothing model is something you probably want to avoid.   

Instead, seek a balance between old and new. As a community institution, moving completely online isn’t an option — maintaining personal relationships is just too important. But it’s also important to offer the option for people to open and apply for products digitally, especially in an era where anyone can do practically anything online — from ordering groceries to arranging rides. 

You should always meet people where they’re at — and they’re online now more than ever. While there are clear challenges to moving the process to a digital frontier, they’re not impossible to overcome with proper partners that have perfected client onboarding financial services.  

The four parts of the process. 

When we think about the onboarding process, there are four areas of focus: your website, an end-to-end experience, accessibility, and the follow-up. Let’s run through each. 

1. Your website comes first. 

Your site isn’t just a billboard that advertises your institution online. It’s a branch in its own right. Creating a branded website that’s easy to navigate and effectively positions your offerings is an absolute priority. It’s likely to be a consumer’s first encounter with your institution, so you need to make it count. 

It’s no secret that poorly designed websites lead to higher bounce rates (when a user visits your site but leaves). If your website looks out of date, new visitors are likely to have concerns — ranging from convenience to security. A modern website with an appealing design will work wonders to keeping users engaged and establishing your institution’s credibility, both of which are key for increasing conversion rates. 

2. Make sure it’s an end-to-end experience.

Imagine shopping online, finding the product you want, and entering your payment information — only to be told you need to get on the phone or get in the car to complete the transaction. It’s a frustrating experience for consumers; they want the product as soon as possible (hence the success of Amazon Prime).   

The same applies to your online account opening. Consumers want their products from the get-go and want to complete the process in one spot. In this digital age, consumers are hard-wired to expect two things from every digital experience: convenience and speed. Just like a shopping cart on Amazon, they can and will abandon a new account application before completion if they encounter roadblocks. Research even suggests that 90% of new account applications are ditched.   

A seamless, quick, end-to-end application experience makes for more satisfied clients and better conversion rates. Anyone who applies should be able to start and finish the process in one go, in one place, in as little time as possible. Not only do you keep the consumer engaged and increase acquisitions — you’re also making an invaluable first impression on new account holders. 

3. Make it accessible from any and all devices. 

To emphasize an earlier point, meet consumers where they are. How they want to handle an application is completely up to them. They should be able to do it from a computer, tablet, or mobile device if they so choose. 

Without a doubt, a mobile-responsive onboarding experience is a must. But you can also tailor your application process to a specific device, like providing the ability for applicants to enter personal info by taking a photo of their driver’s license.   

Pre-fill capabilities, social media sign-on, and text notifications to alert applicants about incomplete data or approval goes even further in adding convenience and engagement to the onboarding process. Be sure to incorporate these capabilities as you build out your onboarding experience.   

4. Never forget about the follow-up. 

When it comes to customer service, treat digital onboarding as you would at a branch. Add a personal touch. If someone was to open an account or loan in person, you wouldn’t walk away the second the process is finished. You would offer a welcome package, whether it’s a gift, a brochure, or something as simple as candy. 

The same idea applies digitally, but it has even more potential.

Digital onboarding is packed with cross-sell opportunities. If a consumer opens a checking account, you can point them in the direction of a savings account as well. Maybe someone recently applied for a mortgage — why not introduce them to a home equity line of credit?   

After they’re onboarded, you have an opportunity to deepen your relationship with a customer or member. A follow-up communication should always include a thank you or welcome message. Introduce your institution’s brand, offer contact information, and be prepared to send cross-sell opportunities their way in the weeks following account creation. Just be sure to personalize them. 

Online is ongoing.  

When all is said and done, your digital onboarding experience must be smooth, simple, and accessible — just like it would be at a local branch. The benefits are two-fold: you’re boosting your acquisition rate and making a phenomenal first impression. All in one go.  

Plus, by having the option to digitally onboard, your institution is prepared for the future. If branches need to be closed for any reason, from natural disasters to routine renovations, you have an online option at the ready to keep business running like usual. Once this pandemic has passed, you’ll have a new channel to leverage from here on out. 

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