Cashing In On The Hidden Value of Onboarding

Today, 60 percent of Americans feel banks fail to keep up with their needs. Another 57 percent believe traditional financial institutions will not exist as they do today within their lifetime.1 And millennials cite the world’s four leading banks among their 10 least loved brands.2

Based on millennial standards alone—which is an objectively safe barometer considering that in 2017 millennials will have more buying power than any other generation3—financial services just might be the unlucky winner of an unwelcome distinction: the market’s most endangered species.

It’s for this very reason that financial tech (fintech) firms are cropping up exponentially, seeking to take advantage of consumer mistrust and dissatisfaction. Between the US and UK alone, there are now more than 4,000 such companies, and investment in the sector has increased from $1.8 billion to $24 billion worldwide in the past five years.4

And for fintech firms, the window of opportunity just got flung wide open: In December 2016 the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said the agency would for the first time start granting banking licenses to fintech firms, giving them greater freedom to operate across the country without seeking state-by-state permission or joining with brick-and-mortar banks.4

To put it mildly, the financial services industry is increasingly competitive and being progressively commoditized. The players in this industry, especially those that are large, established and rooted in traditional product and service offerings, must differentiate.

Customer Experience (CX) is a powerful key to differentiation, capable of moving financial services institutions off the endangered species list and into growth mode. In our extensive CX work with financial institutions we’ve identified one critical period in the customer journey that is often mismanaged or overlooked: onboarding.

In the B2B space, we believe that providing customers with a positive onboarding experience offers a clear path to differentiation and is crucial in establishing a mutually beneficial, and valuable, business relationship.

To prove this, we conducted a survey of over 200 business buyers of financial services products in the US to determine which onboarding activities are most likely to boost retention, product or service add-ons and referrals. The resulting data paints a powerful picture of the industry today, and provides guideposts for B2B financial institutions seeking actionable strategies to achieve experience-based differentiation.


The distinct period of time immediately following the finalization of a B2B, typically marked by activities such as purchase, activation, setup, training, user adoption, account initiation and first statement.


North Highland B2B Market Research, October 2016

It takes 12 positive customer experiences to negate the poor impression left behind from one unresolved, bad experience.5

Financial services executives clearly understand the importance of the onboarding experience. In a separate North Highland sponsored research report with Harvard Business Review, more than 80 percent of executives said that an increased focus on onboarding offers moderate to significant positive impact for revenue, client retention and client referrals over the life of the relationship. Another 85 percent agreed that successful customer onboarding will help to ensure long-term customer loyalty.6

What is less clear is how to improve a process that is rife with technical challenges, numerous cross-functional touchpoints, and sometimes long lead times between sales and initiation. This important piece of research focused on the needs and expectations of B2B financial services customers gives institutions the clarity to ensure the onboarding period is designed to maximize client retention, increase customer referrals, and positively influence enterprise revenue potential.6

Our research revealed three key findings related to the B2B financial services customer’s onboarding experience, each of which we explore in this piece by dissecting our research findings and providing actionable advice and “best in class” examples.

1. Financial services customers crave customized, high-touch onboarding activities:

Financial services customers value two things in their onboarding experience above all else: empathy and ease. At the heart of delivering on these value drivers are highly tailored onboarding experiences, heavily focused on high-touch activities, such as dedicated support and assigned sales representatives.

2. Financial institutions are underutilizing customer insights, leaving critical revenue driving and customer experience benefits on the table:

“Being understood” is cited by customers as one of the most important characteristics of an onboarding experience. Yet only 13 percent of financial services customers agree that “institutions know my organization inside and out and they tailor and customize their onboarding approach to the unique needs of my organization and our employees.”

3. The most common and critical onboarding issues could be remedied with improved communications and functional alignment:

Service or support quality and/or timeliness (40 percent) and product functionality (36 percent) are the most commonly cited issues by business customers during the onboarding period. While seemingly technical in nature, at the root of these issues is poor communications and/or lack of organizational alignment. In onboarding particularly, these issues contribute to missed expectations, confusion, distrust and dissatisfaction.

These negative experiences are extremely difficult to overcome, regardless of long-term performance and support, once the onboarding period has been tainted.

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