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Retail Banks Aim To Pump Up Digital Account-Opening

The number of clicks required to open a U.S. bank account using only digital means is as low as 24, but is often much higher. And each tap becomes increasingly important as account applicants place more value on apps that provide better user experience.

The importance of sophisticated digital account onboarding has grown during the pandemic and shows no indication of going away. With branches closed or imposing restricted hours, customers opened more accounts online and became more comfortable conducting many of their basic banking activities that way. Many of these restrictions have eased, but it appears so far that transactions aren’t returning to pre-pandemic levels.

It is clear that banks have gotten better at the onboarding process, which is now increasingly table stakes in the industry. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1: The Gap Between Digital-Ready Shoppers And Actual Digital Account Opening Closed In 2020, Partly Due To The Pandemic

Primary Account Opening Channel Actual vs. Preferred

Digital Account Opening Actual vs. Preferred by Year Opened

Base: Recent Purchasers (n=10,038) by year opened: 2020 (n=2,147), 2019 (n=2,684), 2018 (n=2,984), 2017 (n=2,223)
Q43: How would you prefer to open your new checking account? Q32: How did you open your current primary checking account?

Source: Curinos Customer Knowledge | 2020 U.S. Shopper Study


To be sure, a quick and easy onboarding process is appropriate for most customers. When it comes to cross-selling or deeper engagement, additional relationship discovery may be required. But first, you’ve got to get the customer in the digital door.

For now, financial institutions are targeting a streamlined, narrow account-opening funnel in the hope of building a healthy, long-term customer relationship. Principal to encouraging the applicant to complete the journey is a smooth transition between each step with few unnecessary intrusions, transparency about the process and specifics about what is involved from start to completion. Progress metrics, clear estimated journey timeframes and lists of requirements are essential for both the bank and the applicant.

In terms of account-opening process features, a number of simple yet highly effective best practices have emerged. For example, providing customers with the ability to save an application midway through — particularly if the process is time-consuming — can be useful if the customer gets interrupted or distracted during the onboarding process. The ability to resume the process should be equally as user friendly. Providing a review page on which the applicant can edit personal information prior to submitting their request can help ensure details are correct.

Many banks assume that because an applicant has downloaded an app or navigated the website, they are capable of completing the onboarding process independently. Nevertheless, best-in-class providers currently offer a helping hand throughout the process through anchored headers, tool tips or live chat services.

Identity verification has become an issue that laggards struggle with, while forward-looking banks use sophisticated technologies to enrich the all-important user experience. Identification image capture — typically scanning the applicant’s driver’s license — is a user-friendly tool that helps automatically fill in an applicant’s details. Some leading players tie this with selfie verification, allowing the bank to match the customer against the ID photo.

Over the past few years, customer-centric banks have looked to embed new customers into their accounts and other services as quickly as possible. This includes streamlining the account onboarding process and simultaneously allowing the applicant to assess other functionalities while encouraging them to begin using their account. Card customization during the application process has become a creative and impactful way of engaging the customer with the brand, such as Revolut offering a range of debit card design options. Those at the forefront of the market allow users to fund their newly-opened account through a variety of means — such as virtual cards — to allow for instant account access.

Relevant and specific cross-selling can help to initiate digital sales effectively, even within the account confirmation or welcome email that explains the functionalities and benefits of the new relationship. Emails and welcome screens that are uncluttered, crisp, intuitive and offer step-by-step guides can help shape the next stages of the user’s journey. They are particularly useful for non-digital natives. Here, banks have identified that a personal touch can go a long way in helping to embed the relationship.


Standards are only rising as the customer base becomes increasingly digital. Of the 20 largest U.S. banks by assets, 90% provide instant application decisions and 60% instantly verify IDs.

But the majority of banks are increasingly looking to innovate solutions and engagement points. As a result, they are testing ever-creative ways of improving the onboarding process. That’s in addition to an already highly competitive retail banking environment that has been forced to rethink the way people engage with their financial institutions, as well as their spending patterns.

There will be plenty of opportunities for digital-savvy banks. In the battle to enthuse customers to engage past the magic 60-day mark — the point at which many banks believe a new customer will be retained — significant attention must be paid to delivering best-in-class practices during that first handful of clicks.

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