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How to Begin the Journey to “Phygital”

By Ashish Garg, Chief Executive Officer, Eltropy

March 2023

As a CEO in America who immigrated from India, I’ve learned from experience the vital importance of adaptation. One way people adapt is in the way they communicate.

In India, for example, when people walk down the street and pass someone, they typically don’t make eye contact or say hello. This is a social faux pas. However, when I moved to California, I quickly learned that the opposite was true. Many Americans regularly smile at people they pass on the street. Contrary to what I thought when I first experienced this, this doesn’t necessarily mean that an individual who smiles at you is interested in you like it would mean in India. In America, I had to adapt to how I learned to communicate.

Let’s take this to our conversations in the digital world. Today’s digital age requires a continual shift to keep up with the increasing demand for digital exchanges in virtually every aspect of our lives. As leaders in the financial services industry, we will only survive if we can adapt to our customers’ evolving digital communication demands.

Traditionally, we communicated with our bankers in person or over the phone in financial services. For the longest time, those daily in-branch visits and phone calls to our community financial institutions (CFIs) were sufficient to meet the needs of our members and customers.

However, with the rapid pace of technological advancement, those traditional methods have quickly become outdated. The Covid-19 pandemic – and consumers’ subsequent adoption of all things digital – has pushed industry after industry to adopt text messaging, video, chat and other methods of digital conversations.

This is particularly important for the financial industry. Progressive banks and credit unions have successfully transitioned to a platform of digital conversations to complement in-person (in-branch) interaction when needed.

It turns out the in-branch (the physical) and the digital worlds must harmonize to deliver the Amazon type of experience consumers demand to be successful. This is what I call “phygital.”

Is there still time for those financial institutions off to a late start? If you’re a CFI leader, do you realize how positively a well-built phygital conversations platform can impact your institution? Hopefully, the answer to both of those questions is yes.

Here are some overarching reasons to move to a phygital communications strategy now.

The Benefits of Going ‘Phygital’

One of the most significant benefits of a digital + physical conversations strategy is the positive impact it will have on your member experience. Many CFIs are thriving through the proper use of text, video, secure chat, co-browsing, screen sharing and chatbot technology – supported by data and analytics. Plus, your Gen X and millennial members are all digital natives anyway, and a digital strategy is a must to win them over.

Imagine, through a co-browsing conversation or a back-and-forth conversation via text with a loan officer or financial advisor, a member receiving personalized financial advice, recommendations or alerts to help make informed decisions. Whether in person (in-branch) or digitally, it’s all about the urgency required and each member’s preference and situation.

Another significant advantage of phygital is increased efficiency and cost savings. By automating routine tasks and processes, CFIs can reduce the time and resources to serve their members and customers. Electronic signatures – including notary services – are just one example.

Finally, a well-thought-out strategy that combines physical with digital can also enhance security and compliance. Digital channels provide a secure environment for sensitive financial information and transactions. This reduces the risk of fraud and identity theft and helps meet regulatory requirements – like retaining customer interactions and transaction records.

Four Simple Steps to Begin the Journey

With just a few simple steps, CFIs can begin transitioning to a phygital strategy without too much extra effort. Consider incorporating the following into your efforts:

  1. Evaluate current digital capabilities and identify gaps: An excellent way for a CFI to begin is to assess their existing digital infrastructure, identify areas for improvement and create a simple road map for adopting new digital technologies. This includes investing in digital channels such as mobile, online banking and digital conversation tools (text, video, secure chat, co-browse, etc.) if they don’t already have them and integrating them with existing physical channels.

  2. Train employees: CFIs should train team members regularly to ensure they have the necessary skills to operate in a phygital environment. This includes training on new digital platforms, processes and policies – and customer service and sales training for in-person interactions.

  3. Focus on data and analytics: Sometimes overlooked but almost always offering a gold mine of information, member data and analytics can provide valuable insights into customer behavior, preferences and needs. The data can be used to improve customer experiences across all channels.

  4. Articulate goals: Finally, to ensure the successful deployment of a phygital strategy, CFIs should establish clear goals and objectives, communicate effectively with their members and employees, and continuously monitor and measure progress.

Could there be unforeseen challenges during the transition? Of course. You may encounter resistance from employees and customers, there may be data privacy and security concerns, and it could require significant investment in technology and infrastructure. To overcome these challenges, CFIs can create a culture of innovation and collaboration while being sure to prioritize privacy and security above all. And don’t forget along the way to seek partnerships with fintech companies to leverage their expertise and technology.

As the CEO of a growing fintech company, I came to this country smiling as I learned how Americans communicate. I smile now as I encourage my colleagues across the financial world – particularly the leaders we serve alongside in community banks and credit unions – to fully embrace the digital age and start the journey towards a systemic, digital + physical communications strategy. The benefits are clear, and the simple steps to begin are not complicated. If you act now, trust me, you’ll be smiling, too.

About Eltropy

Eltropy enables credit unions to communicate with members over text message in a secure and TCPA-compliant way. Using Eltropy’s platform, lending, collections, sales, marketing, service, risk management, internal communications and other teams at credit unions can leverage text messaging to boost member engagement and enhance the member experience. Eltropy also integrates with IT systems, such as Symitar and Corelation, and provides member engagement insights.