2020 has certainly been the year of new catchphrases and quotes, with the most common being, “You’re on mute.” There are certainly plenty of others that have become part of the common lexicon, such as “the new normal,” “hybrid work environment” and your favorite and mine, “they’re out of toilet paper?”

Some catchphrases have been around for quite a while, but garnered minimal attention. The concept of “digital enablement” has been discussed for some time, but it didn’t seem to get the attention it deserved – until now.

Digital processes and experiences take center stage 

digital enablementNo one would argue that our world today, in many respects, has forever changed. How we purchase products, engage our teams, function as a business, and work with clients is now different. We conduct online purchases more than ever before — and for some products, we will likely continue to purchase online from now on. We spend our days on video conferences where terms like “Zoom fatigue” have become part of our language. In our operational teams, we quickly reworked business processes that previously required physical hand-offs from one team to another. Lastly, driven by necessity, we are becoming more comfortable remotely engaging customers and prospects. Never before has the concept of digital enablement been so important. But while most business leaders would agree that digital enablement is critical, you’ll likely get very different answers if you asked those same leaders what it actually means.

Move beyond bolt-on solutions and focus on the entire value chain

First and foremost, the concept of digital enablement does not equate to simply utilizing one of the popular video conferencing tools. That’s like saying in order to transform the auto industry to electric vehicles, it’s just about removing the combustion engine under the hood and replacing it with an electric one. In the auto industry, those “bolt-on” attempts have failed miserably as automakers realized it’s not about a single component, but about fundamentally rethinking the entire value chain of the product and service. At the same time, they realized it’s also about fundamentally rethinking the entire client experience for their customers.

Digital enablement in financial services is no different. It’s not about implementing bolt-on technologies such as the use of digital signatures — the ability to sign a PDF with an electronic or digitally authenticated signature. While this type of technology certainly addresses one aspect of enabling a digital customer experience, the reality is that it falls quite short for not only the customer, but the entire enterprise. Why? The form itself was originally designed and intended to be printed, filled in by hand, signed and mailed to an operational team to process. What the digital signature capabilities have done is to simply allow the customer to fill out the same manual form on-screen, sign it electronically and email it. 

Digital enablement means asking the hard questions — ones that often push beyond status quo or what we’re used to doing — beginning with the customer. Why does the customer need to complete that form in the first place? Can we capture only the additional information needed to support the transaction? Do they need to “sign it” per se, or will typing their name or initials meet the regulatory requirements? And what about the digital enablement of the middle- and back-office operational teams fulfilling the transaction? Sure, the form likely arrives in a workflow tool, however there’s still an individual that must pull the “electronic” form from a work queue and transpose the information into a system of record to affect the transaction. Why? Why couldn’t the customer simply enter the information and have it go straight through without any human intervention or only experience intervention when there’s an exception? That’s digital enablement across the entire value chain.

Getting started with digital enablement

Becoming digitally enabled requires a fundamental shift in the mental models of how financial services are delivered, as well as taking an outside-in approach to reimagining the client experience. Rethinking the value chain means looking beyond simply automating manual touchpoints. It’s about stepping back and looking holistically at the entire process end-to-end. In order to fundamentally rethink the entire value chain, you need to know how to endeavor down the path of identifying opportunities for digital. Here are some tips to help you get started with true digital enablement: 

  • Start with design thinking from the customer’s perspective – Use design thinking techniques such as journey mapping, which maps key processes from multiple points of view: “front stage,” which is the customer view and “back stage,” the enterprise view. Taking this approach can help identify pain points and opportunities for digital enablement holistically for a given process.
  • Focus more on the business strategy to drive digital enablement – Recognize that digital enablement is not driven by technology. Technology is the enabler, not the driver. Start with your business strategy, goals and objectives, then seek those enabling technologies that help you get there. 
  • Drive change through leadership and culture – Digital enablement requires the entire organization to step back and challenge mental models and how things have been done (potentially for decades). Procuring the next best technology is only part of the battle, but ultimately the culture and leadership of the organization must drive and champion the change throughout. 

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SEI Ventures team: Russ Kliman and Jennifer Ciotti