Angela Norman

Do relationships suffer if they are partly conducted online?

Technology has transformed our lives in recent years, but lockdown and social distancing have given most of us a crash course in digital skills. As the coronavirus took hold, we all had to learn quickly how to speak, see each other and even gather in groups while miles apart.

p>Today, lenders need the digital infrastructure to respond to such seismic changes at speed. Fintech firms have been better placed than most to do so. Newer organisations are not burdened by dinosaur legacy systems. Starting out with streamlined processes from the very beginning, a number of fintech lenders have created the most efficient onboarding platforms, automated practical steps and created a digital ecosystem that can be adapted quickly when circumstances demand. 

Yet, while Recognise Bank was always designed to be driven by the latest technology, our mission is to put the human touch back into banking. Little did we know that the pandemic of 2020 would mean we launched into a world that is more virtual than ever before. We have had to ask ourselves whether that alters our founding principle. Do relationships suffer if they are partly conducted online? 

The experience of the pandemic has taught us otherwise. Communication can take many forms and still retain humanity and a level of intimacy — even if it takes place remotely. Our fundamental philosophy at Recognise remains to be relationship led and digitally enabled. I believe new digital tools can reinforce lenders’ relationships with their clients — though they will never replace face-to-face conversation.   

The fundamental things customers want from a lender remain the same: good products, transparency, customer service and the ability to talk to a known and trusted individual. In recent times, this last element has been lacking in banks’ relationships with their customers. Too often a business owner will be pushed to a call centre or find a funding application results in a soulless ‘computer says no’ outcome. Customers expect the best tech to handle their day-to-day transactions and process applications efficiently, but they also want recognition, expertise and understanding of their enterprise from an experienced relationship manager. That is true if they speak to that individual in person, on the phone or via a digital device. 

What is essential is establishing that human contact from the very beginning, whether that customer comes direct or via a broker. Visiting a business’s premises and meeting clients face-to-face achieves this quickly, though it has been difficult during the pandemic. We at Recognise still work with our valuers and legal partners to do this where possible but arranging meetings via video calling platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams has opened up a host of opportunities to talk to business owners at the times and places of their choosing. What matters is that customers know that time is available for them. 

Understanding your customer in this way has value because it enables a lender to offer a business a solution genuinely tailored to their circumstances and needs. If you take time at the first enquiry to get to know who you are talking to, you are far better placed to create a bespoke offering, tailored pricing, and a flexible product that reflects who they are and what they want. 

One lesson of the pandemic has been that tech can never replace true human contact. But it can enhance the relationship between customer and lender and, when used well, give business owners a better feeling of control. 

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