Channelling the Digital Vision



  • Reflecting the growing popularity of digital devices, 58% of Irish citizens used online banking in 2017
  • Many banks offer a range of online services, with the potential to develop a greater range of options for business customers
  • 80% of Irish SMEs are looking to use new services driven by new technology


Businesses are looking for more from their banks in the digital space.

Anyone who has commuted by train over the last few years – or is the parent of a teenager – can testify to the popularity of digital devices. Smartphones and iPads are now used for everything from watching films or reading books to catching up with social media, buying food for the week or booking a much-needed holiday.

Increasingly, people are also using digital devices for banking activities, whether it’s making payments, transferring cash or checking current account balances.

According to recent figures from Eurostat, the EU’s statistics office, 58% of Irish citizens used online banking in 2017, above an EU average of 51%.


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The Banking & Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI) said in its H2 2017 Payments Monitor that digital banking transactions – a mix of online and mobile – had risen 27.3% year on year to almost 46m in the second half of the year. When looked at annually, transactions had soared from 23.3m in 2007 to 87.1m in 2017.

The trend is driven both by customer appetite for change and by banks creating new services.

Craig Sutton, business development manager at financial services technology provider Fujitsu Ireland, says: “Within the financial sector, digital technology has led to a dramatic shift in customer purchasing behaviour and service expectations. For banks and insurers, competition is fierce, and customers are demanding personalised and seamless services. Those institutions that try to understand what their customers want can stay one step ahead of competitors.”

A branch in your pocket

All of Ireland’s traditional high street banks are offering internet and mobile banking options.

Apps can be downloaded from all the main contenders, including AIB, Bank of Ireland, KBC, TSB and Ulster Bank. These vary in terms of their accessibility to digital banking via Apple Pay and Google Pay, contactless ability and mobile top-up software, coming with different bonus features on app download.

The main advantage of these differences is that the consumer can really tailor their digital banking experience to their own specific needs. There are a number of comparison sites available online that can make choosing your mobile banking option even easier. One such platform,, lists the properties of each, meaning customers have all the information they need to make an informed choice.

“Adoption of mobile banking has gone through the roof in Ireland,” says Matt Ryan, director of financial services at Deloitte Ireland. “It’s the primary channel of digital banking and it’s being led by the younger consumer generation. There is a big gap between mobile offerings for personal banking and for SMEs, but I do believe that businesses want to go through similar digital channels.”

Bridging the gap

So, what exactly is the position of Irish SMEs and other businesses when it comes to digital? What are their attitudes and needs, and are they being met?

Accenture’s Irish SME Banking Survey 2018 revealed that 80% of SMEs are looking to use new services driven by new technology. However, there are concerns around the quality and flexibility of banks’ digital offerings. SME customers in the survey were most interested in automated banking services such as robo-advisers and self-service AI tools. Cloud banking services were also high up the list, as were peer-to-peer lending and big data services.


“It’s harder to provide solutions for SMEs compared to consumers, and we are seeing fewer apps as a result”


Eoin Fitzgerald, senior development adviser – fintech, Enterprise Ireland


A third of SMEs were open to interacting via webchats, although they preferred direct contact with bank advisers for big-ticket issues such as funding.

“Like the retail banking customers in our annual Banking Consumer Survey, Irish SMEs are looking for a ‘phygital’ banking relationship that seamlessly combines physical and digital contact for convenience, speed and cost efficiencies,” the report said.

Richard Walsh, head of digital and payments strategy at the BPFI, believes businesses are also looking for a combination in online services – a blending of consumer and specialist business facilities.

“Mobile banking is just as relevant to SMEs as it is to consumers, and they would welcome a mobile-first approach from their banks,” he says.

Indeed, in addition to mobile apps for personal customers, most banks are implementing features specifically designed and created with business users in mind.

Walsh adds: "There is potential for banks to offer more online, such as tools for business planning, payment transfers, looking at transaction and payments history, networking and events.

“For larger SMEs the opportunity to authenticate payments and transactions to reduce the risk of fraud would also be attractive. They also need faster account opening, a smoother loans process and pre-paid cards for their core employees. Banks should be looking at offering more of these specific digital services for SMEs online and on mobile.”

Ryan agrees that such an approach would be a big opportunity for both banks and SMEs. “Businesses are the group who pay more for their banking services,” he says. “There are fintech firms presently offering online cash-flow management systems which can use AI to predict movements. SMEs would also be interested in looking at raising invoices online.”

Eoin Fitzgerald, a senior development adviser on fintech for Enterprise Ireland, picks up on the new options being offered by imaginative industry minds. “It’s harder to provide solutions for SMEs compared to consumers and we are seeing fewer apps as a result. That’s because SMEs need a greater level of trust before they use a new banking partner or service,” he says.

“However, they do want to see the experiences they have in their personal lives – such as ordering on Amazon and using smartphones – replicated for their business. There is still a gap to be bridged, but we are seeing more investment in fintech targeting the SME space.”

Along with the potential services identified by Walsh and Ryan, Fitzgerald suggests plug-in application programming interfaces (API) for accounting software, as well as foreign exchange and business banking services. “SMEs are looking for value-added platform solutions,” he says.

Walsh says traditional banks will be looking for more fintech partnerships to offer such services – particularly in the wake of Open Banking, with new regulations pushing banks to share their data more freely. “Fintech firms will be interested because they are looking for banks with large customer bases,” he says. “It’s good news for Irish SMEs.”

Services set to grow

Improvements to mobile and online channels could bring a range of benefits for Irish SMEs, including:

  • faster account opening
  • quicker loan decisions
  • better cash-flow management
  • links to other software such as accounting
  • authenticated payments
  • international bank transfers
  • foreign exchange

Comments 1

Chevy Johnston on Thursday, 16 August 2018 10:38

It's an exciting (as well as challenging) time for the banks, as they need to figure out how to be as nimble as new digital start ups but still give the benefit of their business growth knowledge on an individualised basis, through digital means...

It's an exciting (as well as challenging) time for the banks, as they need to figure out how to be as nimble as new digital start ups but still give the benefit of their business growth knowledge on an individualised basis, through digital means... :o
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