Profile: Webster Bank’s Purcell on helping customers look around corners

As part of our series running on the Digital Banking Hub in which we speak with those who have shaped banking, we caught up with Todd Purcell, senior vice president,
head of the digital center of excellence at Webster Bank

Over the past twenty-five years, digital banking has been born, matured, and come to shape not just financial services but online commerce as a whole. Todd Purcell was there at the beginning, and has monitored and reacted to industry developments as they’ve arisen over the years. Today he is driving Webster’s digital transformation and has an eye on what the next wave of progress will mean for banking.

Following on from his discussions at CBA Live, here, he tells us about his career, the cornerstones of growth in digital banking, and what the future holds for the industry.

How did you get into digital banking? What was the appeal?

Early in my career, when I was working with Chase Manhattan Bank, we had a dial-up service that we were looking to convert to a web-based version of online banking. I was at the right place at the right time, where I was given the opportunity to look at it and think about the customer experience, and work with IT to build the new Chase online banking service. It was an opportunistic moment when I was given the chance to take a look at the customer experience and then think about how we can deliver that experience digitally. That’s where it started twenty-five years ago, with one of the largest brick-and-mortar banks at the time.

What were the major trends back then?

At that time, it was largely brick and mortar, branch-based distribution. But there were a handful of banks that were beginning to build pure-play digital, like Wingspan, who were trying to build a brand separate from the brick-and-mortar bank and deliver a pure play digital experience. And they weren’t alone, many banks were trying it. At Chase we knew we had a very established branch network and our approach was thinking about how we can take online banking not as a pure-play digital experience but really as an online banking compliment both the branch experience and the phone experience.

That blueprint that I had the experience of working on twenty-five years ago is still very much the same I work with today, which is around giving customers choice, building paths where they might want to walk. As opposed to forced channel shift, it’s about building very strong experiences digitally, to the branch, or to the call center.

Twenty-five years ago it was about pure-play digital or building online banking to compliment the other channels. You see that today – banks are still grappling with that. The neobanks are pure-playing and the established players, the big bank brands saying they want to build online banking to compliment the other channels. There’s a lot of similarities and I think some banks are still struggling with that.

Some of these phrases – omnichannel, multichannel – banks are still struggling with them today. How do you really deliver choice to customers, and let them decide how they want to interact with the bank? I think the best banks are those that provide choice, that don’t force channel shift.

How do you feel consumer’s banking needs have changed over the course of your career?

I think the core, fundamental needs still have to be delivered. Think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: I need to be able to go in and have a secure, intuitive, safe experience where I can check my account information, check my transaction activity, and really perform the self-service functions I expect to do with the bank, in my hand, on mobile.

What has evolved though is that customers expect more, and they expect more on mobile. Perhaps that’s obvious, but they really do expect the full bank in their hand. Where there’s opportunity is looking past transactional. If we meet the core needs of a customer transactionally – they can check their balances, see their transaction history, pay bills, deposit remotely, do transfers – that is the base need. But how do we then go past that and start to engage with them with relevant content? With relevant information, with deeper content beyond transactional, how do we establish a deeper relationship? Some of the banks that are doing that well now are really looking at bettering customers’ full financial health.

A phrase that’s been around for a while has been aggregation: how do I look at my relationship with the bank so I can have insight into my full financial life, and be able to manage it through my banking relationship? That’s an opportunity that’s still untapped. It goes beyond transactional and becomes much more of an immersive conversation.

I think maybe trust has held back aggregation for some time, convincing customers how useful it might be. Banks – especially community banks – that have a higher level of trust than perhaps some of the larger banks – have a real opportunity.

It’s about pulling it all together. No one wants to go to seventeen different places to manage their financial life. Some banks are helping clients with their financial lives, but they haven’t integrated. It needs to be integrated into the core experience rather than being a tab away, or a link away. If it’s fully integrated it’ll add more value.

How has the pandemic changed your own outlook on the digital banking space?

It’s been a difficult period for everyone, with professional and personal lives being turned upside down but for digital banking the pandemic has been an accelerant of the path we were already on.

At Webster we already had a relatively aggressive agenda to ensure our customers can bank online, bank via mobile and acquire new products through online and mobile. But the pandemic became an accelerant, and opportunistically it really shone a light on the need to continue to invest and to continue to pursue digital transformation efforts.

In a way for us it was a wake-up call. Even though we had a robust plan, that plan was accelerated. We had to go to offline channels, because the online channel wasn’t ready. For many banks this was the case. Some banks were caught completely off-guard, some had to rethink their strategies. Frankly, the pandemic was the accelerant to get back in gear and deliver on plans.

It’s long lasting. With almost all banks, when the banking centers shut down, we saw traffic immediately coming to online and mobile. We’ve seen some pull back as the banking centers have opened up as I’m sure other banks have too. We expected that, but we’re truly seeing real behavior change. We’ve seen all our numbers from penetration to usage increase and stay at a relatively high level compared to pre-pandemic.

How do you deal with the levels of uncertainty, from a strategic perspective?

We have hit the reset button. We are driving our strategy forward in the new normal. If things kick in and we go back to the situation we were in last March I think we’re ready for it. Regardless of the ebb and flow of the pandemic, our strategy is set.

What technologies do you feel have revolutionized banking over the course of your career?

Over the course of these past twenty-five years, mobile. It’s now the primary access point, with the pervasiveness and power of mobile devices. As my career has gone from Chase, to Amex to USA to other financial institutions, mobile is what has increasingly powered new thinking, and how to interact with customers through that device, thinking about the UI about responsive design. It’s challenged us in terms of delivering more through the mobile device.

How would you like to see digital banking evolving, looking forward?

We’re seeing an increased focus on personalization and becoming trusted advisors. I know my customers, how can I deliver a more immersive experience to them, and actually help them manage their financial life? Through access to information, understanding what they’re doing, through being a trusted advisor to them, providing guidance and advice. There’s a tremendous opportunity and a huge demand for it.

This is where digital banking becomes a much more valued part of your financial life than just transactional. We can help customers look around the corner and think about things that are important to them, but we may know about it before they do because of their own activity, the trends of other customers, and how we can bring this information to bear to make them financially healthier.

What does the future hold for you?

I’ve been so lucky to be on the ground floor of digital banking. That may have aged me a little bit! But growing online banking for a large bank and to take those blueprints that I learned at Chase and American Express and continue to be able to deliver experiences, meet customer needs, all through digital from a servicing, strategy, marketing perspective. I’ve been so fortunate to be able to do that and continue to refine my thinking and bring the same type of skill to many different organizations has been tremendous. I’d like to continue doing that – continually helping a financial institution understand customer needs, and deliver and exceed on them through digital. It really is my passion.

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