Mike Gardner, Agreement Express: "Companies need to find the smallest area of improvement that will have the biggest impact"

Monday 11 April 2016 14:23 CET | Editor: Melisande Mual | Interview

A complete onboarding experience takes into account all of the steps through back office completion, not just the front end of the process

What is Agreement Express? What is the service you provide?

Agreement Express is software that automates the customer onboarding process for financial services companies in payments, wealth management, insurance, and banking.

Customer onboarding is one of the single biggest bottlenecks in financial services. You capture customer data from paper application forms, emails, and digital forms, then you have to pass the application around for approvals and signatures, and it has to make its way to the back office for data verification, compliance purposes, and final approvals.

At most financial institutions, its a mess; its extremely expensive, and it holds them back from offering a fast, modern, digital customer sign-up process. Our onboarding software solves all those problems.

Why do you think companies need to focus on improving the customer onboarding experience?

Consumer technology expectations are rising so fast, they simply expect that they can do everything online (preferably on the device of their choosing), and that it will be fast. If you dont offer that kind of experience, they will just keep searching until they find someone who does.

But many organizations pay too little attention to what happens after the initial application phase. Since financial services are highly regulated there are a lot of necessary and complex steps that need to be completed by the back-office. A complete onboarding experience takes into account all of the steps through back office completion, not just the front end of the process.

What do you see as being the biggest barriers for traditional companies looking to improve onboarding?

There are two main barriers that I see, and theyre often related.

1) Trying to change the world. Too many companies start with this idea that they are going to radically overhaul all of their onboarding processes, and create the one single ultimate onboarding experience. This results in a projects with massive scope, huge costs, enormous complexity and usually utter failure. Attract the users with superior experiences and evolve their existing experience; don’t disrupt them entirely.

2) An all-or-nothing mindset. Great onboarding projects focus on iterating quickly and bringing continuous improvements to the organization. Organizations that adopt an all or nothing mindset work from a philosophy that if they don’t have their integrations in place they can’t launch their onboarding improvements. It’s better to run integrations as a parallel project to onboarding automation, and then release the onboarding when it’s ready independent of legacy integrations.

What is the #1 onboarding problem that payments companies have?

Time bandits. There are so many parts of the onboarding process that steal time from the customer experience. Sometimes it’s in the form of trapped data forcing lost time to data entry, other times it’s in highly manual analysis and underwriting. In most cases organizations don’t even have sufficient visibility to see the entire onboarding process, let alone be able to make process optimizations or improvements.

If you were a traditional payments company, what companies would you be concerned with?

The obvious one right now is Square. Theyve mastered the fast, digital merchant sign-up process. You can sign up in a few minutes from your phone. Plus theyve found a way to live with razor-thin margins, meaning theyre slowly eating the market from the bottom-up. Even if they never turn into a Global Payments or a Heartland, theyve fundamentally changed merchant expectations forever. Even if you believe that they will fail in the long run, they will get replaced by someone that follows almost the identical model, but without the mistakes. That is worth paying attention to if you want to ensure your long term survival.

What is holding companies back from being the innovators (ie. Being disruptors instead of disrupted)?

Theyre either not trying at all, or theyre trying too hard to be the next Square. The answer is that they need to find the smallest area of improvement that will have the biggest impact.

I love the example of Charles Schwab addressing a similar threat in wealth management. They saw the Robo Advisor threat coming, and they simply rolled out their own Robo-type offering without overhauling their whole business. Today, their Robo service manages more assets than either Wealthfront or Betterment. The key is to think about what your minimum viable offering could be, execute on that, and then adapt/iterate quickly. Just start. You can’t win a race that you’re not in.

About Mike Gardner

Mike Gardner is the CEO of Agreement Express, the onboarding automation software trusted by Fortune 500 financial institutions all over the world. He has led Agreement Express to become one of the most respected onboarding platforms, helping financial institutions create fast, digital, client onboarding processes. Mike has become an onboarding thought leader with the Electronic Transactions Association (ETA), Merchant Acquirers Committee (MAC),, Mobile Payments Today, and more. Earlier in his career, Mike held management positions at Canadian Pacific, Cryptologic and PWC and he holds an MBA from Queen’s University.

About Agreement Express

Agreement Express is onboarding automation software for the financial services industry. We take the time, cost, and complexity out of the entire merchant onboarding process for everything from data capture to underwriting to final approvals. Our platform is trusted by payments industry leaders such as Global Payments, Vantiv Integrated Payments, and Cayan, who use Agreement Express to implement fast, digital, and efficient merchant onboarding experiences.

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Keywords: customer onboarding process, financial services, payments , customer data, Agreement Express, interview
Countries: World