Article Financial Services
25 June 2024

Customer Experience in Financial Services Conference – Key Themes and Takeaways

Just back from two days at 'Customer experience in financial services' conference, Managing Director for Enterprise Simon Hull reflects on the main themes from the event.

Key Insights

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Great CX starts with understanding the customer

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Segmenting based on needs & preferences is key to personalise experiences

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Language and emotion is key to how we communicate

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There is value & importance in channel choice and omni-channel experience

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AI has great potential, but people like to talk to people

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Great employee experience makes for great CX

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Consumer Duty is vital to driving a customer-centric culture

The Arena International 4th Annual ‘Customer Experience in Financial Services’ Conference was a fascinating two-day event held on June 18th & 19th. Customer experience leaders came together from across the UK to share success stories, insights, and words of caution about the direction of CX in Financial Services.

The UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI) 2024 was released in January and shows that customer satisfaction is falling across UK industry and is at its lowest level since 2015. In just the past year, the banking & building society sector fell by 0.9 points and insurance by 2.1 points.

The conference offered a great platform to bring together leading thinkers in the industry to debate the current state of customer experience and the path to a brighter future, with attendees across banking, wealth, insurance, fintech and more.

The key debates centred around how we understand customer needs, how we communicate, the mix of digital and human channels we use, the role of AI, and the regulatory and competitive forces shaping change.

Below are the key themes I took away from the talks and discussions.

1. Great CX starts with understanding the customer

Customer experience starts with understanding the customer, so it was no surprise that this was a big topic across many of the sessions. As an industry, we constantly strive to understand our customers more deeply to create the most personalised, simplified, relevant products and service experiences.

There are many tools to help us do this:

  • Customer research – to understand our customers, we need to go out and talk to them; this is where customer research is invaluable. For example, Jo Phillips at Aviva Wealth talked of the importance they have placed on customer research in understanding the mass affluent segment, speaking to 2,000 customers, doing behavioural profiling and building pen portraits that drive the direction of their product.
  • Behavioural science—Adam Flitton of Allianz Suisse and Tim Bennett of Killik & Co. covered Using behavioural science techniques to understand how customers think and their behavioural biases in a fascinating session. This helps us understand how they are likely to behave in certain circumstances, with biases often leading to suboptimal choices, and how we can help them modify their behaviours to achieve better outcomes.
  • Customer feedback – Feedback can give great insight into the real experience that customers receive. There are traditional methods, such as surveys and focus groups, but digital channels and analytics offer more real-time and actionable insights. A great panel on this (featuring Lisa Elliott of LBG, Alessandra Canavesi of AXA and Darren Wake of CustomerSure) discussed the importance of capturing feedback in the moment through digital channels and aggregating feedback across all channels, including call centre logs and web chats. Theresa Smith of Nationwide also spoke of the importance of front-line employees listening to and understanding the voice of the customer.
  • Real-time analytics – Digital channels also enable us to capture detailed information about customer journeys to understand how customers interact, the devices they use, the paths they take, real-time issues and pain points, and whether they reach a successful conclusion.

To gain a rich understanding of customers, we must use all available methods and tools, aggregate this data, and use analytics to drive actionable insights. These insights can drive big choices in product development and real-time actions to support a customer’s successful outcome.

This is a dynamic area as customer needs and expectations evolve rapidly in a digital world and are influenced by other digitally advanced sectors such as big tech.

Key takeaway:

Great customer experiences are built on a deep and continuous understanding of the customer. Many techniques are available to understand customers’ needs and pain points better, how they think and make decisions, how they feel about your brand and services, and their real-time experiences. The secret is to combine all of this data to create a deep holistic customer model and real-time actionable insights to improve customer experience and outcomes.

2. Segmenting based on needs and preferences to personalise experience

A natural follow-on from understanding the customer is to ask how we use this understanding to create more relevant and personalised products and service experiences.

A panel session featuring Janthana Kaenprakhamroy (Tapoly), Katalin Varga-Toldi (OTP Bank), Philip Michell (Davies Group), Shimona Pinto (Moxo), and Beatrix Benito (GlobalData) examined how we design unique customer experiences. We think of hyper-personalisation as a one-to-one concept, and there are certainly ways to create elements of an experience unique to an individual, but segmentation also plays an important role.

We need to consider customer segmentation, which does not necessarily follow traditional demographic lines. It’s more relevant to look at areas such as how different customers behave in certain circumstances, their upcoming life events, their level of financial literacy and communication preferences. Segmenting in this way helps create a bias to action and support for specific customer characteristics.

Understanding and predicting customers’ life stages and upcoming transitions is also important. Katalin Varga-Toldi discussed the concept of reboarding—the fact that we need to effectively reboard customers at different stages of their lives as they become different people with different preferences and needs. We need to start communicating with them differently, for example, as they transition from childhood to adulthood. Not paying appropriate attention to this can result in customer churn.

Key takeaway:

Segmenting customers based on their needs and preferences rather than their demographic characteristics helps us to design experiences that provide the right support and are oriented around improving customer outcomes.

3. How we communicate – the importance of language and emotion

Once we deeply understand customers and segment them based on their needs and preferences, we can focus on the best way to interact and communicate with them.

Personalisation continues to be a buzzword, but creating highly personalised experiences is a fine balance that can feel intrusive if not done correctly. Janthana Kaenprakhamroy covered data-driven personalisation in her talk, stressing the importance of transparency and value exchange when customers share their data.

It’s important to understand and pay attention to customer emotions and aim to decrease their stress when they make financial decisions. It was noted that dealing with emotion is a task for people, not machines.

When we communicate choices to clients, it is important to understand behavioural biases, communicate clearly, and support customers in making the right decisions, as described above. Adam Flitton explained behavioural biases and how understanding them can help us compensate for them in customer interactions. Some great examples from Adam include argument dilution – when faced with a list of benefits or risks, we don’t aggregate them; we average them. So adding smaller benefits or risks to a list causes us to underestimate the real benefits and risks.

Harry Ashbridge at Monzo covered the importance of the language we use to shape an experience. Historically, serious, formal, and complicated language has been the norm in the industry, but this has been ineffective in building customer trust and understanding. Simple, natural language that is low on jargon creates trust and improves customer experience. Our language should also reflect our brand voice, a point well made by Charlotte Broom of JPM.

Education is also a big part of our communication with customers. Jo Philipps and Tim Bennett spoke of the importance of focusing on education to help people invest confidently and simplify life’s financial decisions.

We must also seek to engage customers, and interesting points were made about how frictionless experiences should be. Adam Flitton told us of research that indicates too little friction can reduce satisfaction. It has been found that asking customers for some information (rather than magically having it already available) creates engagement as they feel more part of the process.

Key takeaway:

Great communication should be personalised but not intrusive. We should use simple and natural language to build trust, focus on helping customers manage emotions, and educate them on their choices.

4. Connecting with customers – the importance of channel choice and omni-channel experience

Many speakers championed the importance of human interaction for a great customer experience, including thought-provoking sessions by John Glenane (Capventis) and Adrian Harvey (Elephants Don’t Forget).

There was a general feeling that we were undergoing a shift back to a preference for talking to people. This is also tied in with Nationwide research, which shows that customers of all ages still value branches, which is a big reason why they have embraced branch expansion plans.

With the rapid shift to digital channels during and since the pandemic, customers perhaps now realise they really value person-to-person communication. This was coupled with some scepticism about AI’s impact on customer communications, with a few speakers stating, “No one likes talking to robots.”

The major theme of these debates was choice—customers do not want to be forced down any particular channel; they want choice. Customers will be happy with digital self-service to perform some actions, and they will be happy to talk to an AI assistant some of the time, but for others, they will want to talk to a person on the phone or face to face. The preferred channel will vary based on the unique customer and what they are trying to achieve.

To give customers a choice, we must create omnichannel experiences with all channels working harmoniously. This means that when customers transition between channels, this is done seamlessly. To achieve this, we need to think holistically about experience design and have highly interoperable systems and data platforms that elegantly manage the complexity of channel transition.

A good example is the use of tailored dashboards and customer insights for customer service teams so that when a customer reaches an agent, they are armed with the information and insights needed to pick up where they are in their journey and be ready with the right advice and next best actions to move them swiftly to the right outcome.

While we strive for a seamless and frictionless omnichannel experience, the point made above about appropriate friction is also valid. There are many reasons why adding an element of friction is important, particularly in areas where we need to ensure that customers are confident in the decisions being made.

Key takeaway:

Empowering customers with choice in how they interact and the channels they use creates the best experiences. Customers should be able to use different channels for different tasks and actions and still receive a customer-centric and seamless experience.

5. AI has great potential, but people like to talk to people

AI and Gen AI were inevitably prominent topics across both days. Several talks took a practical look at current applications and use cases, and most speakers touched on the subject in the context of customer experience.

A key point was to see AI as a tool and understand what it is good at to use it most effectively. In essence, AI is great at finding patterns and making predictions, and Gen AI has huge natural language capabilities that enable it to listen, reason, and communicate in a human-like way. However, we should be cautious about putting AI directly in front of customers, both due to potential risks (bias, hallucinations etc) but also because this may actually be detrimental to the experience from a customer point of view.

Jason Maude of Starling discussed some pattern-detection-style use cases, such as customer identity verification during onboarding and fraud detection. Jason also mentioned that while Starling uses people-based call centres, chatbots have a place as long as they do not pretend to be people.

For direct customer interactions, the consensus was that AI can reduce friction in parts of a customer journey, but there generally also needs to be a human in the loop. AI can be great at spotting patterns and making predictions but is not so good at interpreting how these patterns and predictions should be used. This is what humans are really good at. Humans can also take on emotional load and make customers feel listened to in a way that a chatbot can’t.

Alan Ranger at Cognigy provided a great example of this. In a customer service agent context, AI can automate and reduce friction by picking up calls, validating customer identity, and capturing initial information (no more hanging around on hold). However, to resolve anything but the most simple issues and also to provide better service, the customer really needs to talk to a person. This is where the AI agent can elegantly hand over to a human and become a co-pilot to support the issue resolution.

Ed Winfield at Content Guru made similar points and highlighted how AI agents could reduce end-to-end call handling time with immediate pick-up and handover to a human agent, and automate many post-call wrap-up tasks like call notes and CRM updates. This is a win-win for improving operational efficiency and customer service.

Key takeaway:

AI offers tremendous potential to improve customer service by removing friction, and we should look to maximise its strengths. However keeping humans who can manage emotions front and centre of customer experience is extremely important for customer trust and satisfaction.

6. Great EX makes for great CX

As we are talking about people being front and centre to great Customer Experience, it’s really important that we pay attention to great Employee Experience. A panel featuring Shauna Sheedy of the Bank of Ireland, Amna Mujahid of GlobalData and Tiago Ferreira of Nedbank gave this topic great coverage.

They defined EX as “the sum of all interactions an employee has with an employer” and outlined the key dependency between EX and CX. They also stressed the need to understand employees’ unique personalities and characteristics and support diversity to provide the optimum working environment. Areas such as neurodivergence and the differences in needs and behaviours across generations were considered particularly important.

Mahari Hay talked about diversity and inclusion in the workplace, the strides Lloyds Banking Group has made in this area, the great work their B.O.L.D. network (Black Organisation For Leadership & Development), and the advantages this can bring for customer experience. Monica Hovsepian of OpenText also gave an insightful and engaging talk, covering the importance of trust as the root of great customer experience and how every employee is responsible for delivering this.

Digital enablement is also a great way to support employees and improve their experience. Many of the examples above, such as AI co-pilots and information-rich dashboards, help to reduce friction and improve efficiency, making employees’ lives easier and enabling them to have more rewarding interactions with customers.

Key takeaway:

Amidst the hype of digital experience and AI, employees still hold the key to great customer experience. A happy and motivated workforce, diversity and inclusion, and the right supporting tools drive great EX and CX.

7. Consumer Duty is helping drive a customer-centric culture

The conference centred around how we can better understand customers to improve our engagement with them and their outcomes. This goes hand in hand with what is expected of firms under the FCA’s Consumer Duty regulation.

Keith Richards talked about the fantastic work of the Consumer Duty Alliance. He recapped the purpose and makeup of the regulation, stating that it is both a collective responsibility and a collective opportunity. Keith also touched on signs of positive progress, such as companies making customer outcomes and their measurement much more prominent in their purpose and operations and taking actions such as updating pricing models and fee structures.

One of the challenges discussed by the Consumer Duty panel (featuring Keith Richards, Adrian Harvey, Nkilika Amobi of Standard Chartered, Stewart Lancaster of Close Brothers and Stephen Walker of GlobalData was getting customers to open up about their problems and support needs. This ties in nicely with some of the other themes of the conference, such as the importance of human interaction, creating a safe environment, and using empathetic and informal language to build trust.

The panel also discussed the importance of inclusive design and service design in mapping the entire customer experience and how it is supported by people, processes and technology. The role of digital and humans across the experience journey should be understood, and we need to ensure staff are properly equipped with training and tools to support vulnerable customers.

Complying with Consumer Duty often requires us to introduce appropriate friction to support better customer decisions and outcomes. Harry Ashbridge told us of Monzo’s interesting gambling block feature, for example, that enables customers to send themselves messages in the future to deter them from gambling. Jenny Briars also told us LV= also has a vulnerability tool that helps its support centre staff provide the right support for customers based on their characteristics and needs.

Key takeaway:

Consumer Duty is helping to drive positive change in customer-centric culture and shared responsibility for customer outcomes across the industry.


I came away from the conference feeling we are at a critical moment of opportunity for customer experience in Financial Services. Falling satisfaction scores seem to indicate that we haven’t kept pace with customer expectations and perhaps not quite got the right channel mix across digital, human, and AI.

However, the industry clearly has a major drive to embrace a customer-centric culture. A more refined understanding is developing about how we can truly know and segment our customers based on needs and preferences, communicate with them as humans and individuals, offer them a choice of channels and interactions, and leverage AI tools appropriately.

The coming years promise to be an exciting time for the industry as we put these ideas into practice.

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Simon Hull
Simon Hull
Managing Director