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By · March 14, 2020
8 minute read

Digital Onboarding Done Right: The Best Way to Win & Keep Customers

woman at desk working on laptop and smartphone

FS players are in a fierce competition to make the best first impression. Why? Because getting onboarding right is the crucial first step in winning and keeping tech-savvy customers.

  • No matter how attractive the bank’s products are, the efforts are all in vain if the onboarding isn’t catchy and easy enough;
  • From marketing promises to facts: onboarding can now happen anywhere, in minutes;
  • Europe: recent regulations, which created the Digital Single Market (DTM), opened a single market of 500 million potential customers;
  • Eyes on Asia & Africa: follow the numbers;


A growing number of traditional banks are investing heavily in digital transformation, spurred on by regulatory changes and the threat of new fintech players coming to market. They’re also acting to meet the demands of the tech-savvy consumer, who wants easy and instant access to the bank through multiple touchpoints.

And nowhere, perhaps, is satisfying this demand more important than in onboarding: it’s the opportunity to make the right first impression, and if a bank gets it wrong it could be saying goodbye to plenty of would-be customers. The facts speak for themselves: 38% of customers see user experience as the most important factor when choosing a digital bank, according to a recent Deloitte survey, so getting the onboarding journey right is critically important.

That’s why we’ve done the research for you and compiled this useful collection of facts and stats to help you understand the onboarding process, why it’s constantly changing, and what it takes to please the all-important customer.

1. The evolution of onboarding

First, let’s take a look at the term itself, because there are plenty of definitions out there. When talking about onboarding, some experts – mostly those from financial services (FS) or consulting backgrounds – talk about identification and registration steps; others focus on compliance and risks. Here are some commonly accepted industry definitions:

  • Onboarding is the process by which a customer establishes a relationship with the bank or the insurer. It requires identifying their identity with high level of security and low level of risk.
  • Onboarding in banks quite often is limited to the very first interaction with customers, collecting their data, and filling out a loan application, for example.
  • Digital onboarding is a process used in the banking sector in order to open accounts and gain new clients. The regulation marks a specific process (…), since it must comply with the eIDAS regulation and the recently approved AML5 last summer of 2018.

Onboarding has recently come to be talked about as an opportunity, mainly because of the arrival of EU regulations that allow increased data access to third parties through APIs. New players in the FS market – neobanks, FinTechs and tech enablers like FintechOS – take a customer-centric approach when it comes to onboarding.

For example, N26, the fully digital, German challenger bank, enables customers to manage their financial lives directly from their smartphone from day one. It invites customers to, “manage your bank account on-the-go, and spend and set aside money in real-time. Open your account in minutes, right from your smartphone.”

This offering makes perfect sense for the customer. Nowadays, “previously complex processes like onboarding can happen anywhere in minutes”, explains Cătălin Dediu, Product Marketing Manager here at FintechOS.

When he and his team in the FintechOS Studio speak to clients about what the ideal onboarding experience should look like, they usually talk through the following checklist:

  • Speed – onboarding has got to be fast;
  • It has to be 100% digital with no branch visits required;
  • It can be done on a mobile, tablet or laptop;
  • It’s 100% paperless – no paper forms or contracts to sign.

So, the way we talk about onboarding is pretty different these days compared to the definitions above, isn’t it? Here’s why: the language has evolved over the past few years to reflect shifts in expectations.

Dediu’s statement that “onboarding can happen anywhere in minutes” isn’t just a marketing promise – it’s a fact, and we’d rank it at the top of the list of key facts about onboarding today.

2. With 500 million potential customers, Europe spells opportunity…

According to Eurostat, more than half of Europeans have already shifted to digital banking. At $20 trillion, Europe has the second largest GDP in the world, so it’s little surprise that it’s also the most important source of regulation in the tech sector. The European Commission has set the bar for other regions to follow with a raft of regulations, including:

  • The Revised Payment Service Directive (PSD2),
  • The Anti-money Laundering (AML5),
  • eIDAS Regulation (for secure and seamless electronic interactions between businesses, citizens and public authorities),
  • The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

What’s the effect of all this regulation? Taken together, they form the regulatory framework for the Digital Single Market (DTM), in which digital information flows freely and securely. Importantly, the DTM has opened doors for all financial companies – banks, fintechs, insurtechs, telcobanks – to build products and services for a single market of 500 million potential customers.

3. … but Asia is the real battleground for the future of FS

We’re currently witnessing a surge in numbers joining the global middle class, and, as analysis by PwC shows, it’s forecast to grow by 180% by 2040. Asia is already outpacing Europe while Africa has the fastest growing middle class in the world.

Over the next 30 years, some 1.8 billion people will move into cities, mostly in Africa and Asia, “creating one of the most important new battlegrounds for financial services businesses”, according to PwC.

But Asia, the home to some impressive fintech and insurtech rising stars, is already THE battleground in this business. Four of the five biggest banks in the world – with total combined assets of USD 13.6 billion – are from China.

This battleground exists due primarily to the high number of tech-savvy consumers and early adopters. A McKinsey survey of 17,000 respondents from 15 Asian markets revealed that smartphone banking is outpacing all other types in growth.  The report goes on to show that “the percentage of digitally active customers has grown four times since 2014.”

This explains why approximately 55 to 80 percent of customers in Asia would consider opening an account with a digital-only bank. How have Asian banks responded to this shift in what customers want? They have adapted to the fast-evolving banking environment, being “particularly innovative when it comes to onboarding new customers”, notes a PWC survey. Seven Bank of Japan, for instance, incorporated facial recognition technology in its cash machines to help users open bank accounts directly from the ATM. In South Korea, Kakaobank, an internet-only bank, succeeded in onboarding around 1 million customers in the five days following its launch in 2017. Although more than half of the opened current accounts had no money in them, according to local press, the big success was obvious – and it was due to the bank’s “massively popular” KakaoTalk messenger app. “The brand needed no advertising”, commented The Chosunilbo Korean newspaper.

4. Serious about digital? Get onboarding right

But why is so much emphasis placed on onboarding? Maybe it’s because nearly 40% of customers abandon onboarding processes in digital channels. Why? Deloitte did some exploring and discovered that people give up when the onboarding process takes too long, or when it requires more information than people are willing to disclose. “Given that, it should be no surprise that at least 26 percent of customers feel that <easy enrollment and login> are the most important criteria on which they decide who to bank with”.

This insight might go some way in answering some of the biggest questions occupying the minds of those interested in the digital transformation of financial services, such as: why are some Asian digital banks so popular with consumers? and, how have N26 and Revolut managed to make such a mark in Europe in such a short space of time?

For traditional banks, adapting to the new world we’re living in is not easy. It requires either a completely new leadership mindset or huge investments. Take the case of Deutsche Bank, one of the largest financial institutions in the world, which in 2019 announced a “radical transformation” to drive long-term growth. What does this radical change agenda look like? Well, it involves an investment of €13 billion in technology by 2022. The outcomes have been interesting to watch: last year, the bank accelerated account openings for its corporate and institutional clients by introducing a digital signature.

If you cross the pond, you’ll discover that more and more banks, from Bank of America to Royal Bank of Canada and the U.S. Bank, are now digitally verifying a customer’s identity and are also issuing the account number in real time.

So, whether it’s Europe, Asia, Africa or the USA, digital banking – and the onboarding process in particular – will remain a hot topic for design thinking and action in the years to come. As Forrester Research puts it when describing the future of onboarding: ”make sure you get on board.”


Disclaimer: This article was compiled based on publicly available information released by owners*. It is not intended to be viewed, nor treated as an official source of information.*The sources consulted for this article: Chosun Media; CNBC; Deloitte – “2017 Deloitte Global Mobile Consumer Survey”; European Commission; Eurostat;; Forbes; Forrester Research; Journal of International Banking Law and Regulation: “Financial Technology and Challenger Banks in the UK: Gap Fillers or Real Challengers?” ; McKinsey & Co – “Asia’s digital banking race: Giving customers what they want“ (2018); N26 website; PwC Retail Banking 2020 (2014); PwC – The World in 2050;;; The Economist; World Bank; FintechOS competitive intelligence analysts (2020)

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