For decades, onboarding processes have remained the same. Manually done and prone to errors, this crucial step in a customer's journey is often a frustrating one—but onboarding is essential in anti-money laundering and know-your-client regulations, as well as in the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.

Onboarding seems, at its root, a simple task: gather the correct information from a prospect, check it with the correct regulations, and make sure that the risk of onboarding him or her does not hinder the firm's wellbeing. However, in the context of cyber threats, new regulations, new technologies and products employed by competitors, and the high stakes of data breaches, onboarding loses much of its simplicity.

Breaches are dangerous for both company and client. Losing confidential data can mean reputational damage and loss of trust. Security is thus of top importance, yet it may not be the main reason why onboarding is generally slow. It is often down to paperwork: to register, depending on the company, users often must provide paper versions of documents, be they standard IDs or more exotic documents that are harder to source like a birth certificate from a home country, proof of residence from a commune, or in some cases even gas bills. A missing document can become a hurdle, hindering the quality of an onboarding experience.

With millennials expecting institutions to function as fast as their fibre connections, onboarding should be a positive experience. It's generally the first contact customers have with an institution, and a negative experience can sully the rest of the relationship. Millennials, furthermore, don't want to waste time on physical errands, as a result of which the disintermediation is heavily digital. Mobile phones have become the gateway to customers, meaning that investment is often better spent on digital dexterity than on new brick-and-mortar locations.

Will the future of onboarding continue to rely on physical documents? Some have argued that a social media feed can better characterise a person than his or her birth certificate, though perhaps such a shift is still far off.