The next chapter for banking, make it interactive

In a recent study a team from Accenture found that 79% of consumers view their relationships with financial institutions as purely transactional, not advice-based (Source). That’s bad - we’ll get into why - but it also makes a lot of sense.

As people gradually stopped visiting branches, financial institutions could no longer have the conversations they needed to have in order to provide that additional, advice-based service. Online banking platforms were built that allowed financial institutions to engage with their customers in very basic ways. Check balances. Deposit a check. Move money. Pay a bill.

See a pattern? People come in, transact, and leave. 

The problem? Financial institutions lost that personal touch. No, "Why are you opening that new savings account?" or "Looks like you recently had a bump in pay, congrats! Have you considered the implications that will have on your ability to continue contributing to a Roth IRA?" The advice-based relationships with their customers that made financial institutions so valuable in the first place - besides being a safe place to store money of course - have been lost.

The Accenture study I cited earlier also made the following statement, “It is easier to cut ties when there are no strings attached.” Transactional banking is banking without strings attached. Interactive banking provides a different experience to customers depending on what they tell you and their circumstances, much like the experiences the best front-end bankers provided when people were visiting branches on a regular basis. Interactive banking helps create a relationship, a connection between the individual or business and the financial institution. Today’s FinTech’s and large brands are developing relationships with their customers via the digital channel in amazing ways and banks and credit unions can too.

The best waiter I ever had

To understand the importance of interactive banking I'd like to get a little vulnerable and share a personal experience.

I struggle with new restaurants. It's hard for me to branch out and try new foods. A great waiter often makes or breaks my new restaurant experience. On our anniversary, my wife and I went to an incredible french restaurant. The menu read like a poem - totally romantic, but rough for people like me. When the waiter approached us I said something like, “Hey, this looks amazing, but it’s hard for me to make sense of the menu. What are your most popular dishes?” The waiter looked at me and said, as best as I can recall, “Do you prefer something hearty, light, or in between?” I answered “I’m feeling like something a little light this evening for the main course since we’re planning on a yummy desert.” That said, the waiter gave me an excellent recommendation. That’s interactive banking. 

Someone - a company or individual - comes to you for banking. You have a huge menu and they’re probably drowning in its contents - for many people the options might as well be written in french. However, the right questions can help simplify their choices and get them on the right track. Each time they come back, your financial institution is sitting there, waiting to lead them toward a brighter financial future.

Since I sold my startup - Unbill - to Q2 Holdings in January of this year, I’ve been considering the problem of transactional banking relationships and working with the brilliant folks at Q2 in order to solve it. We’ve done a ton of research and we’re learning some fascinating things.


One of the first things we noticed was that consumers think in terms of moments. When they create a new savings account “Savings 1,” what they’re really doing is planning on buying a car or going on a great vacation. When these customers hit $1,000 in that account they were actually half-way to reaching their goal - they hit an important milestone. That’s cause for celebration!

With this new understanding, we had to go revamp how accounts are created. Many accounts are created with a specific purpose. By honing in on that purpose we put ourselves in a better position to have a positive interaction with this customer. Rather than blasting consumers with an ad for buying a car, we whether or not they’re actively saving for a car and can insert the right message at the right moment of the car buying decision. The same is true with parents saving to put their kids through college, a business preparing to take a risk and build out a new location, and much more.

The importance of moments and milestones was a key takeaway in our research, but the next thing we found is having an even more profound impact on how I view the next wave of financial services technology.


This idea of letting our customers tell us about a moment or milestone in their lives is really a small part of a much broader concept. By letting us into their lives, our customers are enabling two-way communication - interactions. Here are some interactions I believe financial institutions should be having with their customers in the digital channel.

In order for you to be a financial all-star, you need to do the following (the real recommendations will likely differ by financial institution, but I’ll provide some here)

  • Setup direct deposit - nice work, you’ve already done that!
  • Did you know that only 50% of Americans can come up with $400 in a pinch? Don’t let that be you. Become an all-star by starting to set aside a little every month for your rainy day fund.
  • Consolidate your debt and refinance if possible (Insert interesting stat about how much Americans lost last year because of high interest rates)

Mind if we ask you a few questions so we can better serve you? If person clicks “Yes,” you ask the following:

  • Do you have children? If yes, are you already saving for college?
  • When do you plan to retire?
  • We noticed your net worth is significantly higher than the average American, have you considered identity protection?

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. These teaser comments and questions are the beginning of a critical interaction. These interactions are crucial for us to provide contextual and interactive online banking experiences.

Note: Artificial intelligence and machine learning in banking get really excited when they are tied to these concepts.

When we have these conversations in the digital channel - the channel that more and more customers are using to interact with their financial institution - we can also convert them in the digital channel, which is extremely powerful! If conversion cannot happen within the digital channel, we can lead them toward an offline conversation with the information gleaned from them at our fingertips.

If we provide no value besides the storing of money - which is important - we will continue to see the companies like Amazon, Apple, and innovative FinTech’s erode our customer-base in the coming years. Through interactive banking we can strengthen relationship with our customers and make more money.


Lastly, I’m dedicated to pushing financial institutions into a much brighter future. If you’re still reading this I will make one big assumption. The last 5-8 minutes reading this article wasn’t a complete waste of your time. Assuming that’s true, can I ask a favor in return for a few minutes of good content? Join the conversation with me. Tell me if you think my take on interactive banking is crazy. Tell me if you think it’s the way of the future. Tell me where these concepts need to be adjusted or what questions you would like answered in the digital channel.

Looking forward to hearing from you!