It's 2022 and I reckon most companies are well aware of how quickly everything is changing in the digital landscape. Disruptions are now more of a rule, rather than an exception. What you initially could have described as a reluctance to innovate because of the risks involved, has now shifted towards a fear of not innovating at all, and lagging behind as a result. But as customer expectations continue to rise, companies are scratching their head, looking for new strategic opportunities.
This caused the onset of a new trend in digital strategy; the need for companies to look beyond their current relationships with customers. And a direct result of this trend, is Banx.
Banx is the fruit of a dedicated partnership between two Belgian corporations. One is Belfius, a banking and insurance service provider. The other is Proximus, a telco company and ISP. Imagined by Proximus, powered by Belfius, resounds the slogan. In a nutshell, Banx is a brand-new, mobile banking application. Especially for (somewhat) younger audiences who have become accustomed to online banking anyway, this is an absolute win. No paperwork in the mail, no weird fees, and never having to visit a physical location to sign off on something.
Belfius and Proximus have committed to making Banx a sustainable alternative to traditional banking. Minimal banking, with maximum impact. They refer to this as "slow banking". It's about keeping things local and inviting sustainable partners to the platform to reward clients. But why did this partnership occur between Belfius and Proximus? Why now?
What's a partner in life?
Proximus banding together with Belfius may sound like a bit of a weird marriage at first, but remember the trend I mentioned earlier: The need for companies to look beyond their current relationships with customers. In other words, they want to become "partners" to their customers, offering value at every relevant stage of their life journey, and not just customer journey.
So what are these companies doing differently? Let's first take a closer look at why this trend is happening.
As alluded to before, the advent of the internet has accelerated trends and disruptions tenfold. Disruptions are always dangerous to the success of a company, but the rate at which this is happening is rudely shaking up business models as well. How do I know this? All you need to do, really, is take a look at how digital has disrupted the very nature of competition:
👉 Digital competition shrinks value. Business models that revolve around providing services to people as a sort of intermediary figure, have become obsolete now that people can get the same information online, for free. Travel agencies are a perfect example of this. Who needs those anymore?
👉 Digital also has a tendency of consolidating value pools. Now, this sounds complicated but it just means there's, aside from making intermediaries obsolete, a bundling of services is also happening. When's the last time you made a call, used navigation, or took a picture, that wasn't done using your smartphone?
👉 Growth rates are plummeting. Should you find yourself in a position of comfortable growth, failure to respond to a (digital) challenge can send you down a negative spiral of decreasing growth. To survive, companies are forced to be first movers. This is what people mean when they say: "Whoever learns fastest, wins.
Beyond the customer journey
So, given the volatility of the situation here, what's the move? Where should companies be looking to find new opportunities to grow their business? How can they become first movers? How did Belfius and Proximus tackle this?
An initial reflex would be to look for gaps in your existing customer journey, but you may find there's very little to report. Then you ponder ways to increase your competitive edge. But you find people are already expecting a good quality product, great service, and fair prices. So what do you do?
One thing you have to remember, is that that the customer journey is like a snapshot. Relative to a person's entire life, their business with you only lasts for a small fragment of that. Yet people go through things constantly. What I'm saying is, it's possible that there are other stages in a person's life where you could be of service, outside your current customer journey.
That's the question Belfius and Proximus asked themselves. They looked at their target audience and wondered: A person at this stage in his life, what do they need? At roughly 25 years old, you've moved out, got a job, looking for a place to buy or rent, likely in a relationship... Lots of key moments in people's lives happening simultaneously that also require quite a bit of paperwork, so convenience is key. What if there was a singular service that made it easy to manage your personal finances without any hassle, and share accounts easily? Hello, it's Banx! Attention is shifting away from the tweaking an existing offering towards finding the key moments in people's lives where you can make yourself useful. Notice how Banx is a clear example of the trend I mentioned earlier; two companies looking beyond their existing customer journey and finding a shared opportunity.
From partnerships to ecosystems
But there's more to the story. Banx is not just a joint effort or a partnership between Belfius and Proximus. Remember that sustainability angle? Banx has also partnered up with a great deal of local, eco-friendly businesses, with the goal of incentivizing people to keep using Banx, and nudging people to make more sustainable purchases. In other words, Banx has implemented a rewards program for its clients. Every time a person completes a transaction or uses other Banx services, they receive points. These points can be accumulated and exchanged for rewards. Stuff like discounts on sustainable fashion, renewable energy, all the way to organic pet food.
Now what does this mean from a strategic point of view? As mentioned earlier, value for businesses is shrinking. So where can we find more value? Probably with people we otherwise wouldn't be able to reach. But how? Probably by offering services we normally wouldn't. And offering a wider range of services to customers is only scalable if companies collaborate. The cross-pollination between Proximus and Belfius, thanks to this partnership, is an example. But it doesn't stop there. With Banx' sustainable partner program, it's setting itself up to become an ecosystem.
To be clear, an ecosystem is nothing more than a whole bunch of companies sitting under the same umbrella; they all contribute to a singular, coherent solution. Compare this to the Google Assistant. You'd agree it's become an ecosystem as well right? Truthfully, the way they achieved this, is by simply opening it up to the public. Companies were "allowed" to build their own solutions for, or using the Google Assistant. Soon many products came labeled as being compatible with Google Assistant, making it's evolution into an ecosystem something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. I probably don't have to point out the similarities in approach with Banx...
As you can imagine, this is quite the feat coming from these two corporations, who'd otherwise be regarded as being more sluggish when it comes to innovation and strategy. Belfius and Proximus both defied that preconceived notion by aggressively changing their way of working for the Banx project. It took a mere 15 months to bring a brand-new, mobile banking application to the public. So a proper process, is key here.
That said, this partner in life strategy will only become more and more commonplace as time moves on. In my opinion, it's out of necessity. In the grand scheme of things, digital has made it so that customers win, and companies lose, relatively speaking. So companies must adapt, one way or another.