I am a millennial and my entire financial life fits in my front pocket.

Whether I am setting up automatic credit card payments, paying a friend back for a dinner he paid for, making my monthly rent payment, or buying the latest Wall Street darling stock; it can all be accomplished with four or five taps on my smartphone.

Since the advent of the iPhone in 2007, the app economy has flourished, and now there seems to be an app for everything. This is particularly true for the financial services industry. There are apps for banking, investing, measuring net worth, tracking expenses, processing payments, and for things that probably neither you nor I have even thought of yet.

This trend has spilled over from the world of simple financial transactions to the complex financial world. Exemplifying this perfectly is the astounding success of Quicken Loans, which has grown to become the third largest United States mortgage lender (by volume) after adjusting its strategy in the late 90’s to become a direct digital lender. And as you may have guessed, they have an app for that.

We live in a digital world, where traditional, time-challenged processes are quickly being uprooted for more digital, real-time ones. And the financial services industry is increasingly experiencing this shift. Yet, traditional banks continue to maintain competitive advantage when it comes to certain aspects of personal finance – more specifically the large-scale purchases.

Soon I will be entering a period of my life where I will consider buying my first house. But the idea of making the single most significant financial decision of my life with an app or a website is simply unnerving. When the time comes, I undoubtedly plan on going to the nearest bank branch to sit down with a professional advisor for an extensive walk through of the process.

M Walker BlogAs it turns out, I’m not alone. According to a 2015 satisfaction study by J.D. Power, 72 percent of millennials have visited a branch in the last 12 months – about 11 times per year on average. Brick and mortar branches play, and will continue to play, a crucial role in the mortgage lending process, even in a rapidly digitizing world.

But traditional banks still have reason to worry, as they still face a growing threat from digital competitors like Quicken and other financial tech startups. New research from LendingTree.com suggests that 21% of mortgage seekers use the web in regards to home loan shopping, and John Walsh, President of Total Mortgage Services, believes that this trend is only going to increase, not only in regards to mortgage origination but for all stages of the process, from initial research to the final closing.

To overcome this trend and retain the millennials like me, traditional banks must rapidly enable new capabilities that allow us to interact with complex transactions in the similar way they we interact with simple ones. Capabilities such as video conferencing with an advisor using a smartphone or tablet, virtual checklists of required documents, and electronic signatures are all things that could improve the traditional banks’ arsenal to attract and retain those hyper-digital generations. Coupled with the ability to spend time face-to-face with an advisor, these new capabilities would be a very compelling and comforting approach for me, or people like me, going through his first house purchase. When I choose to make that first house purchase, I want to be able to meet with my mortgage advisor at my convenience…be it in the branch, from my tablet or smartphone, or even from my laptop at home. Being able to connect with that advisor and have a face-to-face conversation from any of those locations will help me feel comfortable with my choice of home lender and help me make a smart decision quickly.

In our rapidly evolving world, there lies a delicate balance between digital and traditional processes, especially in the financial services industry. Consumers are demanding more digital and real-time interactions with their banks, from online banking to mobile apps. Yet they also seek highly personalized and secure options when making large-scale purchases. I think traditional banks have unprecedented opportunity to win in their industry, with the competitive advantage they have in the mortgage lending process that tech startups simply can’t beat. But it is ultimately up to them to decide if they will disrupt or if they will be disrupted.


Michael Walker

Senior Analyst

Cisco Consulting Services