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Three Surefire Ways to Boost the Digital Banking Experience

Written by

Gerhard Giese

September 21, 2021

Gerhard Giese is Industry Strategist at Akamai Technologies. He started at Akamai in 2010 and is now manager in the Financial Sector, responsible for customer advisory, information sharing and consulting. With more than 20 years of experience in the security field, Gerd has accumulated in-depth expertise in network security as well as distributed denial of service (DDoS) mitigation and data theft prevention. He continues to interact directly with clients as a trusted security advisor, to identify the most pressing challenges for online businesses. In addition, he regularly delivers talks at industry conferences and works as an independent consultant for federal state authorities such as The German Ministry of IT Defense. Prior to Akamai, Gerd was a senior network engineer at McAfee. Gerd holds CISSP and CCSP certifications and is a certified ethical hacker.

 

The year 2020 disrupted just about every industry, including retail banking. Locked down at home, consumers were abruptly forced to do all their banking over the internet. The sudden transition profoundly impacted banks and created unprecedented demands on online infrastructure. Some banking sites were overwhelmed by traffic and slowed to a crawl. Some sites crashed altogether.

Web traffic volumes for an Akamai financial services customer before and after the March 2020 lockdown (the green bars represent daily customer traffic and the blue line represents web performance) Web traffic volumes for an Akamai financial services customer before and after the March 2020 lockdown (the green bars represent daily customer traffic and the blue line represents web performance)

“I think we’re going to study this for years and years,” said James von Moltke, Deutsche Bank’s CFO, responding to a question from Euromoney about the way 2020 changed the world’s way of doing business.

The pandemic fundamentally reshaped consumer habits and banking operations. On short notice, banks needed to find innovative ways to remotely serve and support their entire customer base, en masse. Many consumers who had traditionally done all their banking in person (such as technology-averse customers or visually impaired individuals) found themselves using online banking services or mobile banking apps for the first time, requiring financial services organizations to expand their online customer service capabilities: 

  • Technical support professionals needed to assist a wave of first-time users

  • Financial sales representatives needed to remotely execute mortgages, car loans, and other high-value transactions normally carried out in branches

  • Bank managers moved to offer credit assistance and debt relief to furloughed workers stuck at home

  • And to make matters worse, many bank employees were also working from home, creating a myriad of network performance, security, and service quality challenges for IT organizations

In Q1 2020, we saw one of the most prominent spikes in average traffic going through the Akamai edge network; after that, not a single day was below 100 Tbps, with the latest spikes going up to 200 Tbps In Q1 2020, we saw one of the most prominent spikes in average traffic going through the Akamai edge network; after that, not a single day was below 100 Tbps, with the latest spikes going up to 200 Tbps

Fast-thinking banks ramped up video chat services to engage homebound consumers, rolled out virtual banking assistants to free up customer service resources, and enhanced online banking sites and mobile apps to streamline customer interactions and expand self-serve functionality. In addition, most banks scaled up their internal communications and collaboration tools, web meeting platforms, and contact center solutions to support the influx of home-based employees and agents.

Take the case of One Community Bank, a $1.3 billion-asset institution in Wisconsin that was forced to close its lobbies in March 2020. The bank adapted by encouraging online banking, by implementing video conferencing and texting solutions, and by expanding its electronic signature technologies. As President and CEO Steve Peotter explained to Independent Banker magazine, “That was a very dramatic change for all our retail banking staff. We worked with many clients to download our app. [We] walked them through how to deposit a check and when they can expect to see it.”

Usability, availability, and security are the keys to success in the post-COVID world

The pandemic forever changed society and dramatically accelerated the pace of digital transformation. Employees now realize working from home — avoiding long commutes and watercooler distractions — improves productivity and quality of life. As a result, many businesses, including many financial services organizations, plan to support work-from-home options in the post-COVID era.

In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the move away from cash. And we find that in some countries — including in my own country, Germany, and in Sweden — more and more people don’t carry cash anymore. There will come a moment, and it’s approaching fast, when instead of declining card usage, merchants and shopkeepers will say, “Why keep accepting cash for those few people who still need it? We’re going to stop accepting cash.”

A 2020 UK Finance Payment Markets report confirmed this trend. While cash use has been declining at a rate of around 15% a year since 2017, this rate doubled in 2020, with the number of cash transactions falling by 35%. COVID-19 did not instigate the decline of cash, but rather accelerated what was already happening. After almost a decade of decline, cash payments in 2019 were only 43% of what they had been in 2009, while debit card usage has almost tripled.

Now, more than ever, consumers realize they can accomplish many everyday tasks — including most financial transactions — over the internet. People who were once intimidated by online banking or distrustful of mobile apps now see that they no longer need to visit a branch or use an ATM for routine financial transactions.

As reported in the Financial Times, “the pandemic has driven a 35% increase in the number of checks deposited digitally, a more than 50% rise in online wire transactions, and a surge of mobile sign-ups by customers who had previously stuck to bricks and mortar and call centers,” according to Mary Mack, CEO for Wells Fargo’s Consumer & Small Business Banking.

The genie is out of the bottle. Digital banking is here to stay. Going forward, financial services organizations must embrace digital technology not only to thrive, but to survive. In a Digital Banking Report survey, financial services executives cited digital banking transformation (75% of respondents) and improving customer experience (51% of respondents) as their top priorities for 2021.

Customer experience is paramount in the digital age. Today’s digital consumers expect fast, easy, and dependable online interactions, and digital banking is certainly no exception. Sluggish web performance or poorly designed user interfaces can impair customer satisfaction and hinder the adoption of new banking apps. And service outages and data breaches can damage a firm’s reputation and impact business results. To succeed in the digital era, banks must ensure superior usability, high availability, and strong online security for their services. Let’s take a look at each of these individually.

Ensuring superior usability in digital banking

Customer experience begins with usability. Poor first impressions can drive away customers. And poorly designed user interfaces can hinder satisfaction and impede usage. To succeed in the post-COVID world, you need to deliver the right experience, for the right user, at the right time. That means designing apps that are easy to use, help improve life online, and perform well on both desktop and mobile devices.

Prior to the pandemic, many businesses focused on the coveted “mobile-first” demographic. But desktop usage rebounded during lockdown. One of our banking customers saw a 65% increase in desktop-originated traffic. Going forward, many people will continue using desktops while working from home on a regular basis. Workforce research firm Global Workplace Analytics believes 25%–30% of the workforce will be working from home multiple days per week post-COVID — and most of them will be tethered to their PCs.

Usability also includes ensuring banking apps are accessible to those with disabilities. Around 15% of the world’s population have some form of disability, and at least 2.2 billion people have some form of visual impairment. Color choices, font sizes, keyboard controls, audio captions, and other accessibility considerations are critical when designing an interface. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has developed a series of recommendations for creating accessible websites and applications. By following the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, you can better support customers with low vision and other disabilities.

Finally, be sure to balance user experience with other requirements like authentication and bot detection. Onerous captcha controls, for example, can frustrate users and hamper adoption. Use strong multi-factor authentication solutions, bot managers, or other techniques to positively identify users and weed out bad bots, without adding complexity.

Onerous captcha controls can impair user experience Onerous captcha controls can impair user experience

Enabling high availability and performance for digital banking customers

Of course, availability and performance are also critical in the world of digital banking. System outages or slow response times can lead to customer dissatisfaction, site abandonment, and lost business. A 2019 neuroscience study revealed mobile app response delays can be as stressful as watching a horror movie. The study showed that a two- to three-second response delay led to a 44% heart-rate increase among test subjects.

In the banking world, slight performance delays can have huge revenue implications. One Akamai financial services customer found that a one-second delay in page load time reduced the likelihood of a client placing a trade by 50%!

Trade executions vs. web performance for an Akamai financial services customer (the blue line represents web performance and the green line represents trade volume) Trade executions vs. web performance for an Akamai financial services customer (the blue line represents web performance and the green line represents trade volume)

You can optimize the performance and availability of your online banking infrastructure and applications by leveraging a global content delivery network (CDN). Large-scale CDN services cache content close to the user for faster page loads and better experiences. CDNs intelligently route traffic to balance performance and connect users to optimal servers. And they offer redundancy and failover to support continuous availability in the event of site failures or service provider outages.

Ensuring strong security to protect financial services customers

The pandemic was a boon for threat actors and cybercriminals. Throughout 2020, scammers leveraged COVID-19 and the promise of financial assistance, or the stress of financial hardship, to target people across the globe via phishing attacks. Many attackers took aim at the financial services industry. The Kr3pto phishing kit, for example, used fake SMS messages from financial institutions to lure unsuspecting victims. Kr3pto has been linked to 4,000+ SMS phishing campaigns, targeting major banks like HSBC, Lloyds, and NatWest.

A bogus Kr3pto SMS message A bogus Kr3pto SMS message

The wave of phishing attacks fueled an explosion of credential stuffing attacks throughout the pandemic as perpetrators traded, sold, and exploited stolen credentials. An Akamai 2021 State of the Internet report reveals there were 193 billion credential stuffing attacks globally in 2020. Over 3.4 billion of them occurred in the financial sector, representing a 45% increase over 2019.

Daily credential abuse attempts (January 1, 2020 – December 31, 2020) Daily credential abuse attempts (January 1, 2020 – December 31, 2020)

You can defend against credential stuffing by deploying a network-based bot management solution. Threat actors often rely on distributed botnets to carry out complex credential stuffing attacks. Bot management solutions let you detect and control illegitimate bot traffic at the network edge, so you can block attackers before they get to your applications or overwhelm your infrastructure.

Of course, credential stuffing is just one form of cyberattack. Web attacks (attacks aimed at web apps) and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks have increased significantly during the pandemic as well.

Attacks against the financial services industry, 2020 vs. 2019 Attacks against the financial services industry, 2020 vs. 2019

In the financial services industry, web attacks and DDoS attacks rose 62% and 110%, respectively, from 2019 to 2020. For ultimate protection, implement a multilayer security strategy that includes network-based bot management solutions to protect against credential stuffing attacks, API and application security tools to protect against web attacks, and DDoS protection capabilities to defend against sophisticated denial-of-service attacks.

Conclusion

COVID-19 fundamentally altered retail banking operations, permanently changed consumer habits, and dramatically accelerated the pace of digital transformation. Forward-looking financial institutions are expanding digital banking investments, banking on innovation to maintain a competitive edge in the post-COVID world. By focusing on usability, availability, and security, banks can optimize customer experiences, maximize application adoption rates, and make the most of their technology investments.

Read more about what Akamai is making possible for innovative financial services companies.



Written by

Gerhard Giese

September 21, 2021

Gerhard Giese is Industry Strategist at Akamai Technologies. He started at Akamai in 2010 and is now manager in the Financial Sector, responsible for customer advisory, information sharing and consulting. With more than 20 years of experience in the security field, Gerd has accumulated in-depth expertise in network security as well as distributed denial of service (DDoS) mitigation and data theft prevention. He continues to interact directly with clients as a trusted security advisor, to identify the most pressing challenges for online businesses. In addition, he regularly delivers talks at industry conferences and works as an independent consultant for federal state authorities such as The German Ministry of IT Defense. Prior to Akamai, Gerd was a senior network engineer at McAfee. Gerd holds CISSP and CCSP certifications and is a certified ethical hacker.