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Understanding tomorrow's customer relationships

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Philippe Penichou, Head of the Payments & Cash Management International Network, Global Transaction Banking

Digitalization should allow banks to focus on what really matters – their relationships with their customers

The current crisis has emphasized the need for unfailing support between a banker and their client. The challenge in developing that relationship now lies in reconciling the closeness of the connection with the digitalization of banking services.

These two concepts are diametrically opposed, since digitalization implies a ‘dematerialization’ of exchanges and therefore less human interaction. Differentiation between banks is going to be seen in the degree of support and personal relationships they are able to develop with their customers while also advancing their digital services.

Close customer relationships are at the heart of Societe Generale's mission, as is innovation. We invest every year in order to look to the future and enable our customers to do so as well, and proximity and innovation are historic strengths that differentiate us in the banking sector. Even though our clients could choose another bank for a similar product, they choose us, because of the relationship and trust we have established with them.

However, trust is not innate. It must be built and nurtured over the long term, based on expertise and closeness to clients.

At a time when a pandemic is affecting all our social interactions, maintaining trusted relationships between bankers and clients has never been more essential. Trust is one thing cannot be ‘dematerialized’ – it is the foundation that holds companies and banks together, and the crisis has once again forced both parties to seek innovative solutions to maintain it.

The role of the banker, once a facilitator and administrator of banking services, has been transformed by this. As time spent on administration has been optimized and reduced, it leaves much more room for bankers to focus on trust.

What APIs mean for relationships

Application programming interfaces (APIs) are pushing banks to evolve quickly and accelerating dematerialization, and their widespread use marks both a turning point for treasurers and an opportunity for banks. By opening their systems to new entrants – internal or external – banks have begun to gain the agility they historically lacked.

An example of this happened during lockdown within Societe Generale, as we implemented an electronic signature service for mandates in record time. As a result, many services that allow us to continue to serve our clients with cash management solutions have been launched in recent months.

Agility and ubiquity are now expected – by everyone and for everything – and that attitude will revolutionize our industry, as banks are forced to think more intensely about how technology can impact their relationships with clients.

However, while technology is the cornerstone of access to banking information, the objective must not be limited to individual innovations, or even groups of them – whether instant payments, SWIFT gpi, APIs or virtual accounts. It must instead be the development of the entire corporate treasury and banking ecosystem through new services, and the rethinking of existing cash pooling structures and tools accordingly.

Banks are investing unprecedented amounts in improving cash management tools at a time when new technologies will change the way treasurers and bankers manage their liquidity, offering treasurers what they have always wanted: a 360-degree, accurate view of their cash position.

But despite all the hype about artificial intelligence, robotics and algorithms, I remain convinced that only personal and interpersonal relationships can deliver a quality experience for our clients.

While technology contributes significantly to providing solutions, expertise and the relationship between bankers and our clients remain the key to providing the right investments and advice to help them adopt effective solutions that create value.

Now more than ever, it is our job to develop relationships and to develop solutions. Times and tools are changing; services and solutions evolve. But one element remains absolutely the same: trust. And trust cannot be dematerialized.

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