Can effective financial decisions be made without human interaction?

Last week’s Customer Experience Financial Services conference raised some interesting conflicts around the need for human interaction versus the capabilities of remote or automated servicing within the sector. At IFF Research, this is a topic that we have been considering from many different angles, through our own research with financial consumers, businesses and financial advisers.

Key speakers on the topic of human interaction in Financial Services

Ben Chisell – Product Director – Starling Bank

In a fascinating discussion Ben Chisell, Product Director at Starling Bank shared insight into the strategy that has led to the success of this digital bank, as well as how they have created a joint account that can be set up without any human interaction – although the customers wanting to set up the account together need to be physically close to do so! This process compares very favourably to the experience Ben himself had when setting up a joint account with a traditional bank, which involved juggling the need for face-to-face branch appointments around work commitments.

Sarah Leach – Senior UX Designer – Hitachi Capital

Later in the morning, Sarah Leach, Senior UX Designer from Hitachi Capital cited psychology theories around the need for human interaction when making significant financial decisions, as emotion plays an important role when making these decisions. This suggested that digital experiences should encourage people to engage their ‘slow brain’ so they make more successful choices, rather than encouraging more spontaneous actions. You ideally need human interaction to enable this.

Neil Dodd – Associate Director –

Meanwhile, we heard from Neil Dodd, Associate Director at, about how his company has successfully developed an online experience which pre-empts the questions that might have previously been posed in person via a customer helpdesk, in a very clear and intuitive way. This has improved the user experience, helping customers to review options and make decisions around which financial products to select, more effectively.

Reassurance that ‘a person’ can be reached

IFF Research has explored these topics with our Fintech Beacon community, where, despite all members being active users of digital-only banking or investment services, the need for having the option of human interaction still exists.

While these customers may be attracted to digital providers due to the innovative features, appealing monetary incentives or favourable brand identities (factors engaging the ‘fast brain’) knowing they can access some kind of personal interaction if things go wrong is essential.
However, this interaction could be facilitated via online chat rather than in person or by phone – the important issue is how well the issue is resolved. This is where the new digital-only providers seem to be excelling, complemented by automated features that delight on a day-to-day basis and – over time – help build trust. These issues are covered in our recent research papers, A New Normal: Customer Experience in Financial Services and Building and Maintaining Trust in Financial Services.

Still a place for personal relationships

There are some areas where the reliance on more traditional approaches to meeting financial needs still dominates and human relationships remain at the heart of the service. The take up of digital banks and remote servicing among businesses is slow compared to the consumer market. In fact, in research conducted via our regular Business Spotlight omnibus, we found there is very low usage of the new digital banks, and even those decision makers defined as ‘millennials’ are generally not active in seeking out these new digital services. Further analysis is included within our research paper on The Opportunity for Banks to Engage with New Millennial Business Decision Makers.

Despite the development of robo-advice, there is still a question as to whether this can fully replace the benefits of engaging with a professional financial adviser in person and receiving advice that is truly tailored to your individual circumstances. However, some members of our Fintech Beacon community recognise that robo-advice removes the potential for human bias and also removes the social barriers that may exist when considering engaging a financial adviser. Some financial advisers are looking at ways to efficiently service ‘lower-value’ clients and a hybrid robo-advice based offer is a potential solution. Financial advisers themselves are typically now serviced remotely by product and platform providers, so maybe it’s only a matter of time before they move to servicing their clients in this way too?

An ongoing issue – but what does the future hold?

This brings us back to whether big and important financial decisions can and should be made without any human interaction. There is certainly increased engagement with digital-only financial services and, so far, most are delivering a very positive customer experience. However, will these providers ever totally take the place of financial relationships that are routed in human contact? This is one of the ongoing issues that we are researching with our Fintech Beacon community.

If you would like to read any of our research papers, please click here to see the full list and download any that are of interest. Alternatively, if want to know how you can conduct your own cost effective research with our Fintech Beacon community or draw on our broader financial services expertise, please contact us:


Tel: 020 7250 3035
Georgina Clarke, Director