Speed, Security and Simplicity: The Necessity of Agility for Banking Innovation

By Andy Hernandez, EVP and head of eBusiness, Regions Bank

Andy Hernandez, EVP and head of eBusiness, Regions Bank

For most of the 20th century, the way Americans banked remained — by and large — unchanged. Certainly the “Automated Teller Machine” revolution that started in 1969 delivered much-needed convenience for customers, as did telephone banking in the 1980s and the growing popularity of the debit card in the ‘80s and ‘90s. And then came Internet banking. And the game changed.

“Agile development, a proven model adopted within the industry, allows us to align properly”

Instead of a decade or multiple years between innovations, today we see fundamental digital changes and challenges on a monthly, even daily basis. From brick- and-mortar approaches of the past we have shifted to “click- and-mortar” thinking for the immediate now. And that urgency, that need to meet our customers where and when they bank, means that we at Regions Bank have to fundamentally change the way we work.

Everyone remembers the phrase “bankers’ hours” and the mild slight that is intended whenever it’s used. That too, I can assure you, is a thing of the past when it comes to Regions eBusiness, the consumer-facing site of our digital operations center. Just as our web site, regions.com is available 24-hours a day/365 days a year for our customers’ needs, so too are the men and women who support it. And our customers’ expectations of digital, around-the-clock service will only increase.

What this means is that our digital peers are not just other banks and credit unions; when it comes to what our customers expect when doing business online, our “peers” are Amazon, USAA, eBay and yes, even Apple, the gold standard for many when it comes to website design and usability. For example: a customer has a great experience shopping on the Apple web site for a new iPhone. If that customer then visits our web site, regions.com, on an older smartphone to see how much money is in her account to buy that new iPhone and does not see a mobile responsive site that meets her needs, Regions Bank is understandably judged against the experience on apple.com. That’s a pretty high bar to reach, and that’s why I decided we had to fundamentally shift the way we bring new services to market.

Digital is transforming the banking business, requiring us to move faster. Speed to market is no longer a luxury – it’s a competitive necessity, and firms must adjust their approach to development to keep pace. Previously, as a way to laser focus on the particular needs many of our platforms had, we established channel teams — online, mobile, account opening, application development, etc. We were operating in silos. This thinking has evolved, both in our own organization and our industry as a whole: it’s not online vs. mobile; it is simply “digital.” The customer doesn’t think in terms of channels; customers don’t necessarily know what that word means. Nor should they care.

Agile development, a proven model adopted within the industry, allows us to align properly. Agile, as many know, is an approach that lets self-organizing teams respond to the unpredictable nature of development through iterative steps based on continuous feedback. You test as you go in short increments rather than waiting until the end of a project. It is a departure from the traditional "waterfall" development that has been the norm for decades. “Agile” is one of those watchwords you have likely heard bandied about. But at Regions we’re not hanging our shingle on the latest trend here; we’re continually evolving, adjusting, and adopting the newest technologies and processes that allow us to serve our customers better.

The differentiator of our business is the quality of experience we create for our customers. Years ago, our User Experience (UX) group within eBusiness worked in an iterative fashion. That team — interaction designers, presentation architects, UI designers, front-end developers, visual designers, multi-lingual content strategists, researchers — all focused on assessing the experience of users, discussing a possible solution to their problems with Product Managers and other teams, then designing and continually striving to improve as a result of those discussions. While many think of UX design as the “look” of the product, user experience actually covers all aspects of how customers interact with a product – from how they physically navigate, to how useful it is for their particular needs, to how they emotionally feel while using it. And those needs change and evolve, so today our UX works both within and outside the agile process

Shifting our model has also allowed another positive change: decoupling strategy from execution. This allows a dedicated group of our associates to focus on innovative, forward thinking ideas so we can better position ourselves to make strategic decisions. Our roadmap moves beyond “playing catch up.” Tactical demands often focus much of our energy on execution, yet we recognize strategy is important. Correspondingly, we must devote even more focus to it. Ongoing and crucial strategic decisions need to be made on a constant basis and require proper due diligence. For that reason alone, we’ve set up a strong group of strategic-minded thinkers to ideate on where our digital offerings need to be, both near and long term.

Right now, our shift to an agile development model is what is in the best interest of our customers. They ask for the same thing they did 20 years ago: speed, security and simplicity. The difference today is both the redefined expectations and the inevitable comparison with our own bank site to the best websites and digital services available. At Regions Bank, we are committed to constantly pursuing a strategy of engagement — and iterative reengagement — to deliver the speed, security and simplicity our customers want at the pace, safety and ease-of-use they demand. 

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