Two years ago to the month, Credit Suisse launched CS Chat, a tool that enables instant and compliant communication between relationship managers (RMs) and clients in Asia, without requiring clients to adopt a native Credit Suisse chat app that is not part of their daily diet.
But even during early design stages, the Asia-based team behind the tool were asking pertinent questions about how a digital messaging platform could facilitate everyday banker-client activities and increase wallet-share.
Currently, clients can use CS Chat to obtain information about their account balance and transaction status, to issue transaction instructions, and to send and receive documents and forms. RMs can share investment proposals and content, and provide updates on accounts and transactions.
The limits to what can be done via CS Chat — and other instant messaging services provided by banks to customers — are largely set by regulations rather than know-how.
Step-by-step, however, regulators are accommodating digitalisation across all aspects of the banking business, including in Hong Kong where, more recently, the HKMA took a pragmatic view towards interim measures adopted by banks to facilitate client onboarding amid social distancing.
Credit Suisse has continued to develop its flagship tool with the latest significant update coming in April this year, when support was extended to WeChat — the Tencent-developed messaging, social media, and payments application. CS Chat at first only supported Apple Business Chat (ABC).
Conquering North Asia via WeChat
There are good reasons for why Credit Suisse led with ABC. Apple device usage among the bank’s clients is high, and with ABC alone, the bank was able to reach around 90% of those clients with access to CS Chat from the get-go.
Adding WeChat was the a logical next step for us
But in North Asia, Android device usage, while still low relative to iOS devices is growing, and for Chinese clients especially, WeChat ranks highly as the preferred messaging platform.
“Adding WeChat [after ABC] was a logical next step for us,” explained Urs Lichtenberger, head of Front Office and Client Platform APAC at Credit Suisse, pointing to the bank’s strategic designs on the China market and the importance of adapting to clients’ preferences.
That begs the question as to which third-party chat platforms Credit Suisse will add next. Lichtenberger wouldn’t be drawn on the point, but obvious candidates are the globally-popular Facebook-owned WhatsApp platform and, in the case of Japan where the bank has a growing business, Naver’s Line.
Part of the daily routine
Lichtenberger and his team have embedded CS Chat into RMs’ daily workflows by making it more desktop friendly.
The tool was already accessible via desktop but doing so required RMs to take a number of steps within their browser — and those steps ultimately weighed on work efficiency and adoption.
“These are the little things that make a difference when CS Chat is more integrated into their desktops,” Lichtenberger told Asian Private Banker.
“[RMs] will receive notifications when the client is chatting, so there is no delay. It removes the need for an RM to look at their emails first and then respond. With this change, our RMs can react faster and, ultimately, interact more immediately with our clients.”
The changes have contributed to a swell in the adoption and use of CS Chat, according to Wong Fong-Cheng, head of Front Office Channel APAC Platform, and ‘product owner’ for the solution at the bank.
A swell in usage
“We have seen a four-time increase in the number of messages exchanged between our clients and RMs in the first half of 2020 versus the second half of 2019, and a six-time increase in internal messaging via CS Chat for the same time period,” Wong revealed.
Moreover, more than half of the messages sent on CS Chat today are from clients to RMs — a figure Wong said she was excited about because the balance of exchange replicates “real-life social interactions”.
The surge in banker-client communication on CS Chat mirrors a broader anecdotal trend experienced by private banks in the region, which say that client interaction amid social distancing has increased and intensified.
However, a recent survey of private banking COOs in Asia by Asian Private Banker has revealed that the quality of interaction declined slightly on average, although phone, digital chat, and video communication channels played a larger role. At the same time, COOs said clients had become more proactive in terms of seeking out investment advice and market views, especially around the March crash.
We have seen a four-time increase in the number of messages exchanged between our clients and RMs
Wong said that client demand for advice and views during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and market turbulence was evident in how CS Chat was being used.
“When bankers and clients were housebound or unable to meet in person, we observed a two-time increase in the number of attachments sent by RMs, including investment ideas and market updates.” Wong said.
Indeed, since August, the bank has allowed for outlooks and research content to be pushed out to clients directly through the tool.
Lichtenberger said it was important for the bank to disseminate its content “properly” and in a “front-to-back” manner, which meant digitising its thought leadership output and creating audio and video content that is compatible with the chat format.
Currently, the bank’s RMs are primarily responsible for curating content for individual clients. But as Credit Suisse collects more data on client preferences and behaviour, automated content distribution through CS Chat would become more personalised, Lichtenberger said.
“This is precisely the kind of thing we are looking into right now,” continued Lichtenberger. “We still see a lot of unrealised potential and opportunities coming from CS Chat. What all these growth figures demonstrate is that clients and RMs — who are a proud user base and will not hesitate to provide constructive criticism — have become much more comfortable with the channel, and we have received a lot of positive feedback from both.”