Corporate customer onboarding needs a disruption in order to become faster and more efficient. It’s no longer feasible in this digital world for a customer to take time out of their day to go to a branch and wait for the next available customer service representative to walk them through an account opening. If we can launch start-ups, trade stocks, and make massive purchases all online, why can’t we complete the entire process of opening and finalising a corporate bank account online, within minutes?
A lot of banks already offer online-only account set-up with the ability to digitally sign documents — but many still don’t. With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing nearly every industry to rethink how they can do business safely with customers virtually, many banks have hurried to catch up and adapt — but many are falling behind.
Onboarding customers faster and with less friction is indeed a problem to solve, as our recent survey revealed. The key is to provide a quick set-up while also ensuring thorough KYC and AML compliance, so that customers are satisfied and banks are protected.
On November 12, 2020, we surveyed 400 business owners in the UK who had opened a business bank account in the past 12 months, to find out how their experience went, what pitfalls they ran into, and how they felt about the overall process.
While we mainly focused our questions around the process of opening a bank account, we found some useful insights around customer onboarding.
The majority were able to open their account in less than seven business days. No one wants to wait to have access to a new bank account, and 88% of our respondents reported being onboarded quickly.
There’s a long way to go in terms of reducing customer friction. While a number of our respondents were able to complete the process fully online, half of our respondents still needed to go to a physical location, and print and sign hardcopy documents.
The majority of customers believe that banks are making KYC and AML compliance a major priority. 84.3% of respondents saw that banks were giving high or average priority towards doing their due diligence when it came to onboarding, including complying to KYC and AML regulations to keep everyone safe and secure.
Many customers had the bank come back to them for further information. While many of our respondents could open their account and not have to worry any further, 51.2% of respondents had the bank ask them for more information — sometimes up to five more times.
Customers will abandon the process if it’s taking too long. 31.8% of our customers had previously abandoned setting up an account mid-process. The biggest reason? It was taking too long.
Part 1: Who We Surveyed
On November 12, 2020, we surveyed 400 business owners in the UK who had opened an account for their business in the past year. Of those we surveyed, gender was split evenly (201 female, 199 male), and the majority of respondents (61.8%) fell in the 25–44 age range. Only 18.8% were under 25, and 19.5% were older.
In other words, our respondents are firmly Millennials, who were raised going to physical bank locations, but who adopted the digital world as it evolved around them. We’ll see how that physical/digital balance plays out in how they chose to do their banking.
What kind of entities were the accounts for?
Since all of our respondents are business owners, we wanted to know what kind of entities they were opening accounts for. Overall, nearly all of our respondents opened accounts for a UK entity (96.5%), and nearly all are British nationals (92.5%).
Customers turned to global banks the most
We wanted to know what kind of bank our respondents opened their new business account with, knowing that some people prefer their local bank, but also taking into account that there is a new rising trend of using digital banks.
Over half of our respondents (56.8%) decided to go with a global bank, such as HSBC or Barclays — ones that are larger and more institutionalised — while 14% opened their accounts with digital only banks such as Revolut and N26. A quarter of respondents (24.3%) went with a regional/local bank, while 3.3% chose a credit union.
How did respondents choose their new bank?
Our respondents were nearly split down the middle between self-assessment and following a recommendation. 43% focused on what the bank had to offer in terms of services — they evaluated their business’ needs and how the bank would fulfill them. 45.1% chose their bank based on what others had to say, whether it be colleagues, family, or friends (24.3%), or online reviews (20.8%). Only 10.8% chose the bank based on location.
Part 2: Corporate Customer Experience Opening a Business Bank Account
In today’s world, we’ve grown accustomed to speedy, frictionless experiences. We wanted to know how frictionless our respondents’ experience was in terms of how quickly they got their accounts opened, and were there any extra steps or roadblocks that prevented them from opening the account in a timely manner. We found that there were.
The process was pretty speedy — over 88.3% were set up within a week
Opening a business account should be a fast and painless experience so that the customer can focus on other business needs. We asked how long the process took, from the time they initiated opening the account to the time they could use it.
It didn’t take long at all, actually — 88.3% were set up within a week, with 42.3% up and running in one to three business days. For 31%, it was four days to a week, and for a lucky 15%, it was less than twenty-four hours. For the remaining 11.9%, opening a new business account took longer than a week.
Did one kind of bank have the edge over the other? Yes: Digital. 23.2% of digital bank customers were up and running within 24 hours, with 51.8% more set up within three business days (for a total of 75% of customers). This compares to 64.9% of regional/local bank customers set up within three days, and 52.4% of global bank customers set up within three days. Credit unions fared the worst in speed, with only 15.4% of customers set up within three days, and 7.7% having to wait over two weeks until they got their account.
This account set-up was much faster than previous times
For those who had opened a bank corporate account before, how did that timeline compare? For nearly half of our respondents (43.5%), this new account opening was a quicker process than opening previous accounts, while 30% found it was about the same. Only 14% found the process slower than opening previous accounts.
We found that those who banked with a regional/local bank or with a digital bank found that this was a faster process. Those who used a global bank found the process faster or also about the same as previous. And those who went with a credit union found the process about the same.
While we didn’t know if previous accounts had been at different banks, there is an overall trend towards speed. Banks want to get their customers to conduct their business without hold-up, and are speeding up the process.
Many were still required by the bank to go into the physical branch
A big contributor to speed was the fact that 56% of respondents could open the account entirely online or through a phone call. But that was only a little over half of them. 39.3% were required to still go into a physical location to finish the set-up — meaning taking time out of their schedule to travel.
Was there a particular bank that cut down on friction by not needing customers to go to a physical location? 96.4% of digital bank customers could open their account entirely online — which makes sense. Both global and regional/local banks were split down the middle, with half of the respondents required to go into a physical location, and half able to complete their account opening online. Over half of credit union customers (61.5%) needed to go to a physical location.
There was a smaller percentage — 4.8% — who didn’t have to go into a physical location, but chose to anyhow. In looking at the data, there doesn’t seem to be an obvious reason for this, as these respondents represented various demographics. This very well could just be personal banking preference.
Many were required to print and sign physical documents
We discovered nearly the same breakdown when we asked our respondents if they had to physically print and sign hardcopy documents. Half of our respondents (50.5%) said they did it all digitally, while 44.5% said they did have to print and sign physical copies of their documentation.
Again, there was a similar split to the last question, with 87.5% of digital banking customers able to fill out their paperwork digitally. Global bank customers were split between being able to fill out digital documentation (47.6%) and having to print and sign documents (45.8%). Regional/local banks actually required more of their customers to print their own documents — 58.8% — and credit unions overwhelmingly wanted their customers to print and sign physical documents (76.9%).
Again, there was a small percentage (5%) who didn’t have to print and sign documents, but did so anyhow, and again, we determined that it was based on personal banking preferences.
We certainly discovered insights into the customer experience in opening a business bank account. Overall, customers still turn to global banks more often, yet regional/local banks and digital banks have their fair share of customers. But it was digital banks that gave the most frictionless experience in terms of speed, and offering the ability to open the account and sign documents all online. Global banks and regional/local banks seem to be improving their processes as well, split down the middle between offering speedy online processing, and still requiring in-person set-up.
Part 3: The Focus on KYC and AML Compliance
Before a bank can fully open a business account, they must do their own due diligence to see if there will be a risk associated with having the customer. Banks must ensure that new accounts comply with Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Know Your Customer (KYC) regulations, which means verifying customer data and applying a risk assessment in order to keep everyone safe. We wanted to know how our respondents felt about how banks did their due diligence when opening their account.
Customers feel that some banks are making KYC and AML compliance a high priority, while others feel it’s simply average
We wanted to know how much of a priority our respondents felt the bank placed on compliance during onboarding. A good percentage — 37.8% — felt their bank placed a high priority on AML and KYC while onboarding, with 46.5% feeling the priority was average. This means that respondents were aware that banks were doing their due diligence in onboarding them for the new account. Only 5.5% felt it was a low priority, and 10.3% didn’t know if the bank was making it a priority, and perhaps weren’t aware of the process.
In looking at the types of banks and their rated priorities, all banks ended up being rated nearly the same in every area. No one gained the advantage here.
How did this compare to past experiences with opening accounts? Nearly half (49.3%) felt there was the same level of due diligence around AML and KYC as before. But 21% felt there was more focus on it. In looking further at the data, those who said there was more focus tended to be in the “High Priority” category for each bank — perhaps indicating that if there had been a past survey, their answers this time may have moved from “Average” to “High.”
Only 7.8% found there was less focus, with the remainder of respondents either replying that they didn’t know, or they didn’t have past experience to compare.
As part of those KYC and AML procedures, banks often came back with further requests
Did the respondent need to provide further documentation at the bank’s request? Half said yes, they did need to provide further information (51.2%), while the other half didn’t need to provide anything else for the new account. This half-and-half was split pretty evenly across all types of banks except for credit unions, who needed more information 92.3% of the time.
Of those that said yes, the majority needed to provide more information up to three times — some up to five times
Of those that had to supply more information, it wasn’t much more: 46.8% received one additional request. But 34.1% received two requests for further information, while 19% had three or more requests for additional information. This, of course, extended the time it took to open an account.
When we looked at the types of banks themselves making these requests, digital banks again edged out in only needing one to two more requests (84.6%), followed by global banks (82.6%), and regional/local banks (79.6%). But regional/local banks had a bigger ask of three or more requests (20.4% of customers), with global banks next at 17.4% of customers. In other words, there were less asks of digital banks, and more asks of regional/local banks.
We found that our respondents see their banks as having an increased focus on compliance by doing their due diligence when setting up the account, and covering their AML and KYC compliance requirements. This is incredibly positive for customers and for the banking industry. It puts safety and security as a main priority, and we found that level of priority mirrored across the different types of banks.
However, we found that half our respondents needed to provide additional documentation to their banks, sometimes two, three, or four more times, adding friction to the process and extending the amount of time it took to open an account.
Part 4: Prepping Your Bank For The Expectations of Banking Customers of the Future
Now that we’ve learned a bit about the process, we wanted to know what could be done to help improve the process going forward. Also, we wanted to know what reasons they encountered in the past for halting the process with a bank. We suspected the answer would be around speed.
Customers expect what they have experienced
In our previous section, we asked how long it took for the respondent to open their account. But we wanted to know how long they wanted it to take. Over half of respondents (51.7%) felt that one to three business days was a reasonable amount of time to open an account.
Interestingly, the difference over how long it took and how long they wanted it to take ended up being incredibly similar. In looking at the data, customers seemed to choose how long they thought the process should take with how long it actually did take them. For example, of those that choose “1–3 business days” as the amount of time it should take, 77% had opened an account in 1–3 business days. The remaining 23% were then split between a reasonable amount of time being longer or shorter. The same held true for “4–7 business days” as a reasonable time: 50% of those who responded that way had their accounts opened in 4–7 business days. Of the remaining 50%, some said shorter would be reasonable, and others said longer. Only when we got up to the higher numbers of 8–15+ business days did we see respondents wanting something quicker.
What does this mean? It could be that expectations are being set by personal experience, and that there is no industry standard customers see for how long it takes to open an account. It could also mean that customers have experienced such long wait times in the past that their view of banking is that things move so slowly. Whatever speed they can get, they’re happy with.
Customers have stopped the account opening process before
We were curious to know if anyone ever started opening a bank account, and then stopped mid-process. What we found is that 31.8% of our respondents had — a pretty high number. This means that something happened during the process to make them want to discontinue.
For those that did stop, the process to get the account opened taking too long was the reason
When we asked what the reason for stopping mid-opening was, the largest response we received (45.4%) was that the process was taking too long. Interestingly, even though we discovered the process is somewhat quicker with a digital bank, the majority of these respondents went on to open accounts at global or regional/local banks.
The second largest response (23.4%) was that they had found another bank that offered them better options. While we don’t know where they started and stopped the process, the majority of this group went on to bank with a global bank. But in our third largest response (16.3%), our respondents stopped the process because they were unable to provide the information or documentation that the bank required.
Banks are placing a focus on customer service
After all these questions around onboarding, we wanted to know what they thought of the service they received. 53.5% of our respondents believed that banks were placing a high priority on creating a positive onboarding experience. Within that number, global banks came in first (52.3%), with regional/local banks in second (28%), digital in third (16.4%), and credit unions last (1.4%).
Three Ways to Improve the Onboarding Experience for Corporate Customers
Finally, we wanted to know what our respondents thought banks could have done to improve the onboarding experience. One positive takeaway was that our largest response group (28.5%) thought the process was great, and said the bank didn’t need to change anything at all. When we looked into this satisfaction rating, we found that the highest satisfaction was with digital bank customers, of which 46.4% said everything was great, compared to 26.9% of global bank customers, and 23.7% of regional/local bank customers. (None of the credit union customers said everything was great.)
Of those who thought change was needed, here’s what they said:
1. Ask for more information/documents upfront so I didn’t need to send additional info later (25.3%): Considering that half of our respondents had to submit additional information to the bank — sometimes upwards of five different times — respondents wanted banks to tell them all the necessary requirements upfront. This shows a willingness for customers to essentially over-provide information at the beginning, so as to save extra trips or hassle down the road.
2. Not require me to physically visit their location (19.5%): In other words, let me open my account and provide all the documentation needed digitally. 56% of respondents were able to do everything online, and never had to go into a physical location, across all banking options. This shows that while the options are available, these respondents either don’t know about them, or are reluctant to partake in an all-digital online banking experience.
3. Speed up the process from start to finish (16%): Since business owners want to get up and running with their finances in a timely manner, one of the areas that banks could improve is speed. The largest number of customers were set up in just a few days. But considering that “It was taking too long” was a main reason why respondents stopped their account opening means that there’s opportunity for banks to find quicker processes to onboard: all-digital options, no required branch visits, making sure they have all documentation up front, and more.
There’s always room for improvement when it comes to opening new business bank accounts for customers, specifically around reducing customer friction to make the process as easy as possible. We found that some customers are enjoying faster set-up, with the ability to create their account, submit, and sign their documents all online, without the need to visit a physical location. We also found that these fast and easy advantages weren’t just for digital banking customers, but that global and regional/local banks were offering online set-up as well.
But if some banks are conducting their onboarding remotely, and using digital tools to create less friction for customers, why aren’t all banks? In other words, why are there still customers who were required to go into a physical location, to print and sign documents, and to take the time to provide more and more documentation? These banks need to recognize that the digital tools are available to create a more streamlined onboarding process for their customers — if only they’ll make the commitment to adopting them.