Balancing Form, Function and Wow with Sabeh Samaha

  • At the user experience level, community financial institutions are competing with every other organization, financial or otherwise. That’s why FIs need to meet consumers where they are and provide a seamless and enjoyable banking experience.
  • If you want to stay relevant in an increasingly competitive banking space, you need to introduce technology that is not only functional, but also enjoyable.
  • Today’s consumers move at “the speed of impulse” and expect more from their FIs.

Community FIs are having the digital expectations of their accountholders set by organizations both inside and outside the financial space. In terms of user experience, you’re not just competing with Chase and Citi; you’re competing with Starbucks and United Airlines. So how are FIs supposed to keep up with these high customer expectations and stay competitive in an increasingly tech-driven landscape?

In the latest episode of the Digital Banking Podcast, host Josh DeTar welcomed Sabeh Samaha, the President and CEO of Samaha & Associates, who believes that customers move at the speed of impulse and that FIs need to be rapid, effective, and secure to stay competitive.

What is the speed of impulse?

According to Samaha, consumers move at the speed of impulse. “That little screen provides immediate feedback. And so, even in our space in banking, with maybe two or three touches of the screen, you’re in your financial institution essentially,” he said. “We have to be there offering not just really good functionality, but also a pleasant one. So it’s not just the picture; it’s the frame. We have to be able to offer and project the confidence, if you will, that the user is where they want, and so the speed of impulse is essentially that.”

Consumers expect more from their financial institutions.

It can’t be stressed enough. If financial institutions want to stay relevant, they need to deliver outstanding customer experiences. Loyalty plays a much bigger role now, and it’s one of the essential factors for consumers when choosing their banking provider. “A tasteful, sophisticated approach, if done right and designed right, can also speak to the user in a way that makes them more welcome,” said Samaha. “You don’t want to be too salesy. That’s not good in our world. In our world, loyalty is big.”

An effective and enjoyable member experience can make all the difference.

Much has been said about the need for Fis to leverage their data to customize and guide the accountholder experience. However, doing so effectively requires restraint. “That’s where, sometimes with AI, I struggle a little bit with the member experience,” said Samaha. “Our team has to slow things down a little bit because it’s very tempting to cross into overselling because you have so much power now available —  the ability to categorize groups and then from the groups cross-sell.”

Samaha said that temptation to oversell is very real. “It can easily cross into becoming an imposition,” he said. “But again, you could take a really good offering and completely destroy it by offering it the wrong way, or you could take something that’s maybe average and highlight it in a nice way to turn it into a superstar. And so, the objective is to take all the right offerings and project them in a way that is maximized. And so, crossing over from the impulse to the effective, that’s where the challenge lies.”

Form is just as important as function.

User experience isn’t just about functionality. Good functionality is table stakes. Your technology must also look good and feel good. “I like to have a lens of the beauty of the technology — meaning that once the user decides they have a need and they need to fulfill that need, I want them to walk away feeling good,” noted Samaha. “That’s the key, that’s the ultimate — to get to a point where they complete their transaction and exit feeling good or not feeling anything and moving on to the next thing and not having any frustration or negativity.”

The banking sector needs more standards.

A standard is only a standard if everyone uses it. Unfortunately, many so-called standards fall short in this area. The fact that both RTP (Realtime Payments) and FedNow are both adopting the ISO 20022 standard is promising, but there’s a long way to go. “Technology should have more standards. That would be nice,” said Samaha. “I think, in certain areas, there are standards. But in our industry, there just aren’t any right now, not at the core level, not at the third-party level in general; they’re just honored. And so, from an interoperability perspective, if you wanted to have a core system that suits you really well and then you want it to have a group of third parties that would interact with that core really well, and then, you wanted to add some other fintechs that would do that — that’s going to be challenging. That’s going to be really challenging. ”

Banking and the Metaverse

Is the metaverse the Next Big Thing or just a passing fad. Answers vary, but for there to be any real progress, some issues need solving. “Being on the more defensive side, I worry about impostors and that kind of thing, but again, security would be nice,” said Samaha. “I think a lot of the tools can be put in place for that to work. You can merge some of the technology to make it happen. If we’re talking about being able to virtually walk into a virtual branch to transact, what’s missing? The animation? We already have that. We have digital banking that does just about anything, and if you add a video conferencing layer on top, there you go. You can have people talking to people either in person like this — like you and I, right now, seeing each other — or we can animate them both and make peanut butter.”

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