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Building trust in financial services is non-negotiable

It is crucial for fintech companies to spend time building access, educating customers and demonstrating reliability.
Andy Jury
By Andy Jury, Group CEO, Mukuru.
Johannesburg, 02 Feb 2024
Andy Jury, CEO of Mukuru.
Andy Jury, CEO of Mukuru.

There’s a great deal of talk about earning customers’ trust across vastly different industries. It’s one of those elusive things to define, but everyone intuitively knows what trust is – you either trust someone or you don’t; you can’t really invest in a half trust.

This makes earning customers’ trust crucial. On the other hand, losing it could build into a fatal flaw for a business. While customers may trust or distrust a business or a brand, the process of earning and measuring that trust is far more delicate and complicated than a simple yes or no answer.

At Mukuru, ironically, the more we invest in our physical infrastructure − where people can walk up to a booth and talk to a person who can explain a product or resolve an issue, for example − the more people tend to place trust in our digital ecosystem.

As this trust continues to develop, over time there is potentially less demand and need for the physical infrastructure we’ve invested in. This exposure to creative destruction is not unique to fintech firms; many other omnichannel service providers, such as banks, are also grappling with this challenge.

Fintech companies would do well to obsess about staying connected to their customers.

Trust is fundamental in the financial services ecosystem. So-called old-fashioned, physical cash has earned that trust. Everyone trusts the promise of value when they are handed a R50 note.

Fundamentally, we’ve tokenised value and wrapped it up in physical paper (or plastic) notes, and the value of these notes depends on trust in the system’s ability to exchange them appropriately.

For fintech companies, it is crucial to spend time building access, educating customers and demonstrating reliability. Trust, earned through transparent and reliable operations, is indispensable in the financial services industry, and it is no different with fintech.

Measuring trust

The case for trust has been made, but how can something so complex and yet so simple, be measured? In our minds there isn’t one magic metric, but we measure the voice of the customer, customer satisfaction scores, net promoter scores and the like.

If done consistently for a long enough time, these metrics provide a wisdom-of-the-masses view of customer feedback − which is qualitative data. We also measure quantitative factors such as customer lifetime, retention ratios, the number of products used and frequency of interactions.

All these metrics indicate the quality of services (from the perspective of a customer), especially in competitive environments where customers have alternatives. If clients trust us to consistently deliver on brand promises, then we’re able to build durable and mutually beneficial relationships.

Customer feedback loops

Central to any business’s success and growth is finding “canaries in the mineshaft” or early indicators. Coal miners in the UK used to send canaries into mine shafts to detect carbon monoxide to prevent a catastrophe of miners dying.

While the inhumane practice has ended, the concept is easy to understand: There must be tight feedback loops in any organisation if it is to remain on the pulse of its customers’ wants and needs.

A business must listen to what its clients say and what its staff says, especially as it becomes larger and more multi-layered. As businesses grow, connection with its customers is often lost.

Fintech companies would do well to obsess about staying connected to their customers. In our case, we’ve developed a culture of accepting feedback from customers and ensuring it reaches the right decision points within the business, whether it’s easy on the ears or not!

We don’t always get it right when serving customers and we learn an immense amount (as a business collective and as individuals) from retrospectively visiting the instances in which we get it wrong or erode brand trust. This practice will remain relevant as long as we have people interacting with people.

Using data responsibly

Furthermore, the more time one spends in the digital environment, the more one understands that strong customer feedback loops must exist alongside an appropriate data protection framework. This is critical to underpin trust.

Data can be used to build and enhance a mutually beneficial relationship with a customer, or it can be used to extract from or exploit a scenario. Financial services businesses find it useful to track where customers drop off in the sign-up process or where they engage with the app and then stop.

There's power in understanding why: Perhaps there’s an issue with loading a card or maybe they drop off when they see the rates. This is useful business information. However, using this data responsibly is crucial.

Building a team for data governance and protection is crucial in using data to enhance the customer proposition. Using data extractively, with the sole purpose of bolstering the bottom line in the short-term, will erode trust over time. Customers can discern authentic efforts at solving their genuine needs from those that are self-serving for a business.

It’s all about the people

Building and retaining customer trust also depends a great deal on a company’s employees. Any business will appreciate how digital transformation has opened up demand for new skills that didn’t exist a few years ago, such as search engine optimisation, app store optimisation, performance and programmatic marketing, among much more. What were buzzwords a few years ago are essential skills today.

While more than half of the transactions in our ecosystem are digital, a good portion of our growth has revolved around our people strategy. We hire people who we believe share our values and who we feel will behave in a manner consistent with our principles.

If people, aligned on values, put the customer first in a commercial environment and listen to what that customer says, positive outcomes will follow.

Recently I received a late-night complimentary e-mail from a customer who lives in Johannesburg but was travelling in London where he was mugged of his wallet and essential paperwork. He needed to get emergency travel documents from his embassy in London.

It just so happened that we had an employee doing an activation in the embassy on that day. Unaware that he was helping a Mukuru customer, our employee went out of his way to assist the gentleman in addressing the administrative puzzle that comes with filling out government forms.

We don’t hire people to solve consular problems for others, we hire people who are obsessed with solving problems for people. We make a big deal out of instances such as these and ensure employees are celebrated for delighting customers.

Not only will this man be a customer for life, but he will trust the brand forever. And, as we have ascertained, trust is like gold.