Study and ranking of 14 retail banks operating on the Belgian market, on the basis of 420 indicators measuring the level of digitisation of the offer, the effectiveness of digital communication channels and the performance of customer paths linked to the bank on a daily basis.
For the second year in a row, D-Rating is analyzing the digital proposition of retail banks in Belgium. In the context of a market where the use of digital banking is well developed (according to the European Commission’s Digital Agenda Scoreboard, 80.3% of Belgian assets will be online banking users in 2018 compared to an EU average of 63.4%), our study aims to identify the competitive positioning of the various players in terms of digital proposals: the 4 leaders, other traditional or medium-sized online banks, neo-banks.
2019 RANKING: N26 LOSES GROUND BUT REMAINS N°1 ON THE DIGITAL PROPOSAL; STRONG PROGRESS OF BELFIUS; ING BELGIUM IS OUT OF THE TOP5
For the second year in a row, N26 stands out with the highest score of Digital Proposal. After a discreet launch in 2016, the German neo-bank remains very small on the Belgian market with an estimated 25,000 customers in 2019 (10,000 in 2018). It is maintaining its position this year thanks to the lead it had taken with its « built-from-scratch » offers, but the gap is narrowing sharply. More than 21 points ahead of the average bank in 2018, it is now only 13 points left ahead and the 2nd and 3rd banks (Belfius and KBC Bank) have moved significantly closer.
Belfius goes from 3rd place in 2018 to 2nd place in 2019, it now offers an instant account opening journey via mobile. It is also making progress in integrating subscription access to banking offers on both the web and apps for customers and prospects.
KBC Bank loses 6 points between 2018 and 2019 and a place in the ranking. During the tests carried out in May-June 2019, the bank no longer has a dedicated chat room for prospects as in 2018 and has lost responsiveness with customers on the personal space chat room.
The performances of Revolut and Hello Bank! did not improve much between 2018 and 2019, but benefited from the dropout of ING Belgium.
MAIN FINDINGS OF THE STUDY
This 2019 study provides an updated overview of the competitive positions of key players in the Belgian retail banking market in terms of the Digital Proposal. Four key findings emerge:
Observation 1 – In Belgium, neo-banks have only a small disruptive effect in terms of Digital Proposal
Observation 2 – Performance in terms of customer journeys is very mixed: backward steps in terms of opening an account, the worst and the best for making an appointment
Observation 3 – The digital customer acquisition of banks in Belgium is generally not very relevant to real estate lending
Observation 4 – Crelan, a market potential n°5 far behind the other leaders
Observation 1 - In Belgium, neo-banks have only a small disruptive effect in terms of Digital Proposal
Journeys are no longer a major area of differentiation for neo-banks in Belgium today
Neo-banks are generally distinguished from other market players by the efficiency of their customer experience.
While neo-banks defy the market and offer almost instantaneous account openings(5 to 10 minutes is enough), established banks are generally more accustomed to applying regulatory requirements more strictly and often have to deal with poorly optimized organizational models and information systems.
The practice gaps with neo-banks then encourage traditional banks, engaged in digital transformation, to question their historical practices in order to become more competitive in terms of customer experience.
Thus, between 2018 and 2019, we are seeing a significant improvement in the time it takes to obtain access to the personal space on the Belgian market for new customers, which has gone from 7.6 working days to 5.8 with two traditional banks: Belfius and Bpost Bank, offering, like the neo-banks, immediate access immediately after the subscription validation is complete.
This evolution implies in particular a more efficient implementation of identification and signature systems via e-ID. We also note that this practice is on the rise in Belgium. In 2019, 6 banks offered this simplified registration by e-ID; only 2 of them did so operationally in 2018.
As far as customer paths are concerned, N26 and Revolut remain one step ahead, but are closely followed by Belfius, Bpost Bank and KBC.
Journeys are no longer a major area of differentiation for neo-banks in Belgium.
In terms of contact channels, neo-banks aim to optimise cost/efficiency rather than the range of choices
The diversification of contact channels and the ability to offer customers the choice of the channel they prefer are important assets in terms of customer experience. Several banks are differentiating themselves by implementing new and efficient contact channels :
BNP Fortis maintains a good score on contact channels between 2018 and 2019, thanks in particular to an efficient prospect and customer chat and the implementation of contact forms
Keytrade Bank is growing in power on the channels by being the only Belgian bank to offer functional video calls (on Skype) to its prospects and customers
Argenta launches this year a Chat on the app for its customers and prospects
Revolut, for its part, has expanded its offer in terms of search tools and self-service solutions, which has led to an increase from 8th to 4th place while N26 has moved from 4th to 7th place following the impossibility of reaching customer service on the Facebook and Twitter social networks this year. These two neobanks, which are growing very strongly internationally and have a shared back office for all countries, seem to be looking for solutions to control costs and quality in the context of increasing pressure on their customer service. For Revolut, this consists in focusing on solutions that limit the use of interactions with human stakeholders, while for N26, it is above all a question of routing customer contacts as much as possible to the device’s chat room.
Generally speaking, we note that the proportion of banks offering a Chat and a
Chatbot remained virtually unchanged between 2018 and 2019, unlike in France. Chatbots, when effective, can improve customer service productivity, reduce operational costs and increase the responsiveness of processing customer requests. It is likely that the implementation of a Chatbot by Belgian banks will be more complex and costly given the multilingualism requirements.
Belfius has chosen to remove its Chatbot deployed on its site while Revolut and N26 have set up a Chatbot on the mobile application processing mainly customer requests in English. However, Belfius communicates on the implementation of a Chatbot Messenger « Bbot » alongside other Belgian banks such as Hello Bank ! (HelloiZ) and ING Belgium (Marie). Messenger Chatbots can be an excellent way to position yourself on a mass market platform to promote the conversion of new customers and maintain a regular flow of conversation with them.
Digital offers and functionalities are becoming the domain of excellence of established banks
In terms of digital offers and functionalities, the outperformers in 2019 are traditionalBelgian banks.
The enhancement of the functionalities offered by these banks between 2018 and 2019 had the effect of pushing the neo-bank N26 from 1st to 3rd place and Revolut from 3rd to 7th place.
This is also a loss by neo-banks of a competitive advantage that had marked their launch on the Belgian market.
In the end, the Belgian market appears in 2019 to be less favourable to the development of neo-banks
When we compare the Belgian banking market with that of France, one key characteristic is clear: While we have 18 new banks (French and foreign) present on the French market, few have established themselves in Belgium. Only Revolut and N26 manage to attract tens of thousands of customers each. Compared to an equivalent population base with Internet access, the number of N26 customers in France is 6.5 times higher and Revolut’s is twice as high.
Observation 2 - Performance in terms of customer journeys is very mixed: backward steps in terms of opening an account, the worst and the best for making an appointment
The performance of retail banks’ customer journeys is on average higher in Belgium than in France (with a 2019 score of 63 vs. 58). However, this performance masks a very contrasting situation with very large score gaps between the best and worst in Belgium.
In terms of account opening, several players have gone backwards between 2018 and 2019
The proportion of banks in Belgium offering the possibility of subscribing to an online account did not increase between 2018 and 2019. We have seen the same stagnation in France over the same period with a 100% digital subscription offered by 68% of banks (compared to 64% in Belgium).
The specific trend we are seeing in Belgium, on the other hand, concerns the very strong development of branch openings to the detriment of subscriptions by sending paper contracts by post. We even note that some banks have reversed their efforts to digitize their account opening process.
Perhaps the most surprising turnaround is that of Beobank, which offered an online opening last year and now requires its new customers to go to a branch to sign their contract. New Beobank customers now have to wait a little more than 9 days compared to 5 the previous year to gain access to functional accounts.
The worst and best for making an appointment
The average score in Belgium for branch appointment booking trips is well below
that of France, where banks’ performance in this area is more consistent.
While Bpost Bank and Argenta score very low in this area (less than 10), Belfius and KBC Bank perform better than the maximum observed in France in the same year.
Observation 3 - The digital customer acquisition of banks in Belgium is generally not very relevant to real estate lending
Annual increase of 7% in real estate transactions in Belgium between 2018 and 2019 [i]
Despite low interest rates that penalize margins, home loans remain a major tool for acquiring and retaining customers. This field is also very dynamic since the number of real estate transactions in Belgium increased by 7% in volume between 2018 and 2019 (according to FedNot). This is excellent news for Belgian banks, which can find here an opportunity to win new customers and increase their income, as most current account offers do not bring them anything (In France, 14 banks out of 21 charge a monthly account maintenance fee; only 2 banks out of 14 do so in Belgium).
Promoting access to real estate credit through digital channels is therefore an essential challenge for online and traditional Belgian banks. It is also a relevant approach in response to neo-bank « attacks ». While the efficiency of the account opening process is a fundamental component of the neo-banks’ acquisition process, they often have only a limited range of products.
The matrix below shows the positioning of the 14 brands studied in relation to these two acquisition levers:
The observation is clear: apart from KBC Bank, retail banks in Belgium have limited use of digital access to real estate loans. A significant gap appears here compared to France. The majority of traditional banks in Belgium are thus missing an opportunity to compete less head-on with neo-banks and a possible source of growth.
Observation 4 - Crelan, a market potential n°5 far behind the other leaders
By acquiring AXA Bank Belgium, Crelan would become the number 5 in the Belgian.
market. The two banks are of comparable size: €66 million in net income in 2018 with 770,000 clients for Crelan and €66 million in net income in 2018 with 800,000 clients for AXA Bank. They will probably remain separate brands with potentially cross-distribution agreements.
In terms of digital proposals, we note that both brands score below the market average and particularly low in the case of Crelan. To meet the value development challenges expected in an acquisition project, it will therefore be crucial that Crelan / AXA Banque invest heavily in the development of its digital proposal to be able to compete with market leaders and strengthen its profitability through cost sharing.
This study is carried out using a « full outside-in » approach, without collecting internal information from the companies studied. It therefore does not take into account the banks’ internal priorities and strategic choices.
The channels and features tested are listed below
Note: This analysis will be supplemented by the study « Level of use of digital channels » available at the end of September for the retail banking sector in Belgium. This study will provide a complementary view on the level of use and performance of digital channels (Web, Mobile Applications and Social Network Accounts) in the context of interactions with customers and prospects, and the levels of satisfaction generated.