The invisible bank: A customer-focused banking future

Key takeaways

  • Banks are not always known for customer service, often failing to communicate complex financial offerings.
  • Traditional banks are competing with fintech startups who want to simplify the customer experience.
  • An invisible banking model would not only make banking easier, it could automate products and services in the name of customer care.

How would you feel if a bank said to you, “We want you to stop thinking about us”?

Many people associate banking with confusing email communications, relentless advertising, and paper statements. Most have more important things to do in their lives than making sense of banking products. But what if instead, banks provided simple financial care? In order to compete in a rapidly changing industry, incumbents must rethink their customer experience, because the future of banking will be one where customers don’t even think about it. It will be invisible.

Financial companies are doing everything they can to draw attention to themselves — with new offers, interest rates, products and services. Yet, as they provide a surplus of options, fintech disruptors are showing that a simpler experience can entice customers away from traditional banks — for example, companies like Venmo or Lemonade.

If we take the concept of ‘simple’ further, can we imagine an environment where these services just happen, completely removing all pain points? Innovation in design often attempts to remove steps from complex processes, but what if we removed all of the steps, only putting them back in when proven absolutely necessary?

Here are a few ways an invisible banking experience could operate in the future.

1. The new job

It’s your first day on the new job, you’re anxious to prove yourself and want to dig in. Instead of having to fill out forms before a dollar moves and pay cycles line up, your pay simply appears in your bank via direct deposit — no need to enter routing or account numbers.

Pension, 401(k) or superannuation funds roll over automatically with the invisible bank, selecting the right investments for your life stage and risk appetite. As you learn more, you are prompted to update or change desired options, but your initial level of financial care is covered — and communicated.

2. Spending

You walk into the local grocery store and pick up some milk and bread. Walking out results in automatic payment — but only if it’s within your set budget. Amazon is already testing this type of experience with Amazon Go.1 Overspending can be budgeted or, depending on the priority of the items, covered by an automatic line of credit. The only time the invisible bank makes itself known is if there is an issue it is already addressing. Issues such as barriers to the development of cashless stores which limit the types of people who are able to shop are first addressed.2

3. Taxes

Tax time can be extremely stressful — collecting all of the forms, evidence, logging expenses, looking for benefits. What if April, June or any other month taxes are due in your country, goes by and you don’t even think about it? Your income and spending are automatically calculated, the most beneficial tax refund is calculated and the benefits are automatically added to your longer-term plan.

4. Saving and loans

As a reward for a series of late nights at work, a bonus provides you with a little extra money. It is automatically added to the investments relevant to your life. Perhaps it goes into your retirement savings plan, invisibly making choices that will last you for years. Or maybe, savings needed for the future are automatically distributed for purchase needs you’ve pre-identified – that new car, or stress-reducing holiday.

Future needs can be prioritised, but are not tied directly to products — if there are not enough funds available for a chosen need, savings can be shifted to a loan. This addresses one of the issues in current banking, where there is not enough recognition of the inherent connection between banking options. All are a prioritisation of needs and goals — savings for the future, loans for the current day. The concept of an invisible bank reveals these product linkages in support of the consumer’s wellbeing and long-term success.

5. Family

You have their potential names picked out, but you’re not sure when exactly you’ll have children. As spending is divided automatically between today and tomorrow’s needs, extra money can be connected to savings for future family members. In this way the decision between spending on things now, or kids in the future is simplified. One more thing you don’t need to think, or worry about, later.

6. Home

You drive past a ‘for sale’ sign on a four-bedroom mid-century modern, and it gets you thinking: perhaps it’s time for a new house? Instead of months of negotiations and financing, you can move straight in — the mortgage is covered, and you are only presented with neighborhoods and homes that would be right for you or your future circumstances.

Your family network is automatically embedded in your finances, making estate planning less necessary — specific structures ensure future generations get the benefit of parent and grandparent assets.

7. Job loss and change

The worst happens, the company is downsizing and you’ve lost your job. Luckily, the money the bank has saved for you covers the gap in employment. If the situation is dire, the bank reaches out to your network to find ways of shifting funding around — a sort of automatic version of Fundly or GoFundMe.

Or perhaps your car, faithful as it has been for many years, breaks down. The invisible bank negotiates the cost and covers the payments to revive it by reaching out to experts and validating that the right amount is being charged. In this way insurance and deductibles can be built into the process.

The customer factor

As the above scenarios show, financial advice and related transactions that respond to location, life stage and recent events could make invisible decisions on a person’s behalf. But it will only be the organisations with genuine customer trust that will have permission to launch these types of services. Recent investigations into banking practices prove this.3

Increasing customer expectations show the need for these simple, supportive and intelligent services, which can expand over time as trust is built. And for now, these services can come from established providers or new fast-growing market disruptors.

We are seeing some of this service mindset appearing with the Apple/Goldman Sachs partnership.4 This collaboration reveals the shift toward banking invisibility, a new focus on product design much closer to the consumer and separated from traditional banking products.

A better unseen future

When the invisible bank makes itself known, rather than another incomprehensible letter or email, the communication is one sent with care. It includes context (why you are being contacted), the reason it’s becoming momentarily visible (what’s happening) and the actions required (what the bank will do, or what you need to do). It could be a phone call from a person, alert or a note depending on urgency and preference.

Think back to how you would feel if the bank said to you, “We want you to stop thinking about us.”

Embedded in that statement is the future we can create for these services: “We want you to stop thinking about us, because we are thinking about you. We are here and have you covered.”

We think it’s the invisible future customers will want to see.


John Jones

John is a managing director in PwC’s New York Experience Center, PwC United States